Q&A: Forgiveness

Q:  What does it mean when you say, “We forgive from the heart when confession is not made (Mark 11:25).”  This seems to run counter to statements about transacted forgiveness when someone asks for forgiveness by acknowledging sin and one grants forgiveness based on that request.  Could you please clarify this as I am a bit confused! 

A:  The distinction between transacted and heart forgiveness is spoken about pretty commonly in biblical counseling literature — for instance both Robert Jones (Pursuing Peace) and Chris Brauns (Unpacking Forgiveness) speak about it, though they may use slightly different terminology.

Transacted forgiveness emphasizes that if someone does not actually confess sin, then there is nothing to transact with them (i.e., there cannot be a giving or granting of forgiveness, since they have not sought forgiveness).  Just as the Lord does not unilaterally forgive sin without confession (see the conditional sentence in 1 Jn. 1:9), so there can be no transacted forgiveness without repentance/confession.

That being said, the sinned against person cannot continue to cultivate bitterness and anger over the sin.  So Mark 11:25 makes clear that even if the sinner does not confess, the sinned against person needs to let go of the sin and not hold that sin against the sinner any longer.  (The principle is also suggested in Eph. 4:26-27 — when resolution between individuals cannot happen, the sinned against person needs to resolve the situation with the Lord “before the sun goes down” — entrusting that the Lord will be righteous in resolving the sin, Rom. 12:17-21.)

Heart forgiveness will need to be applied when forgiveness cannot be transacted because the sinner is either unrepentant or inaccessible (perhaps because of separation by distance/location, or even death).  When the sinner is unable or unwilling to confess, the sinned against person still has an ability (and responsibility) to respond inwardly with grace and a forgiving attitude toward the sinner.

I acknowledge that there is a fine line between these two kinds of forgiveness because heart forgiveness will look like transacted forgiveness in that the sinned against person will treat the sinner with grace, peaceableness, and generosity.  I (and others who also hold the position) am simply appealing for not simply overlooking and ignoring sin, but being active in pursuing genuine (transacted) forgiveness and reconciliation when sin happens.

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.

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