return to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3/4). There is no idea in this passage that there would be forgiveness without repentance. In verse 3 it is made clear that there must be repentance. However the question may be asked: “How do we know that there is repentance ?”. This brings us to verse 4 where it is said that the brother says: “I repent”. That is, he makes the fact that he has repented known to the one he has sinned against. The two thoughts need to be taken together, else it might be said that we should forgive a person when his word is obviously not the truth, that is, he has not really repented. There may be such cases. John the Baptist spoke saying: “Produce... fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Paul takes the same line before Agrippa and speaks of: “Works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). What this means is that there must be genuine repentance before there is forgiveness, not just the mouthing of the words “I repent”. Of course, unless there is evidence to the contrary we should forgive. We should not assume that repentance is not genuine unless we have good reason to believe that it is not. Note that Christ says rebuke thy brother if he sins. The object of this would be to bring about repentance.

It may be mentioned here that a person may be a Christian and had his sins forgiven so that he will not pay the ultimate penalty of “everlasting destruction from [the] presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), but he may suffer God’s discipline here if he does not walk righteously on earth (James 5:15; John 5:14). If his attitude to others is not right it will affect God’s attitude to him (Matthew 6:14/15; 18:21-35; particularly verse 35).

Individuals can, of course, only forgive sins which are in some way committed against themselves (see “against thee” above): not against other people. The assembly may however forgive one who has defiled it (2 Corinthians 2:1-11).

There is another point to remember. We may rightly consider that it is important that we forgive a truly repentant person (Matthew 18:21/22). However it is much more important that God forgives him. When Christ was crucified he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He did not say I forgive them. They were not repentant, so far as the record goes, but Christ acknowledged