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Christian Counseling: Forgiveness and Reconciliation

To make clear the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation, let’s define them. To forgive is a decision to extend an act of grace to one who has committed a harmful offense by setting him or her free from a debt owed, while reconciliation speaks to the restoration of a relationship by mutual change.

Today, many Christians believe in the false theology of total unconditional forgiveness (forgiving everyone for everything regardless of an offender’s attitude toward and behavior of confession and repentance). Simply put, Scripture’s repeated message is there is no forgiveness of God or requirement of His people to forgive if an offender fails to genuinely confess and repent or demonstrate them by a changed attitude and behavior. In general evidence is the unified, conservative Christian belief that salvation requires both confession and repentance, or proof thereof, in order for God to forgive and reconciliation to take place. Further evidence is God who models withholding forgiveness in the Old and New Testaments. Here is only a sampling of verses that reveal the appropriate withholding of forgiveness: Jer 18:23; Ex 23:21; Mat 6:15; 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:1-13; and Rev 6:10.

We find in Scripture that forgiveness is required when an offender makes a sincere confession and follows it up with a repentant attitude and changed behavior. In that spirit we can say, forgiveness is required (and add) and reconciliation is desired. God does not require us to reconcile with anyone but Himself, which is part of the process of salvation or restoration after sinning. In our human relationships God wishes for us all to reconcile, but does not require it due to the great complexities of things, such as differences in conscience, beliefs and in desires and needs for safety, trust and love, among others, which can lead to serious, continual conflict that can devastate adults, as well as observing children. Even in a Christian marriage (the highest and most important of all human relationships) there is righteous room for a couple to remain apart from each other and not be reconciled (1 Cor 7:10-11).

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