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Mark 11:25
11 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Does God expect us to forgive everyone? Does God forgive everyone?

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    Your question is answered within your own question : anything against anyone. – Nigel J May 14 at 15:14
  • @NigelJ Technically, this is said about our forgiveness, not God's ("if you..."). It is said that God forgives, not that God forgives all the people we do. That is, technically speaking. – Sola Gratia May 14 at 20:31
  • @SolaGratia, well, technically, Jesus says that a servant is not greater than his master. Certainly, we cannot be more forgiving than God. – Austin May 16 at 6:53
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The answer here is subtle. God forgives all people as per the appendix below - the sacrifice of Jesus was all-sufficient.

However, while God forgives and saves, if we are unwilling to forgive the wrongs done to us by others, then we harbor sin in our heart and show that we do not wish to accept a loving God. The result (of not forgiving) is catastrophic!

  • Col 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • Matt
  • John 13:34, 35 - A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
  • Luke 11:4 - And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
  • John 13:15 - I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
  • Luke 7:47 - But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

An unforgiving person is clearly a person that does not really care for Christ's example and does not have the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:8-10). On the day Jesus returns, such unforgiving people will react according to Rev 6:15-17.

SPECIAL NOTE - some people endure horrific crimes against them by others such as rape, incest, brutal beatings, financial abuse, etc. Forgiving such people means that the victim leaves the consequences to God; BUT that forgiveness does NOT mean that the victim and perpetrator are necessarily reconciled. Reconciliation is another matter entirely that depends on the reformation of the perpetrator (this might be the subject of another question!!).

APPENDIX - God saved (and forgave) all people but not all people want to be saved.

I know this is controversial but that is the message as listed below.

  • John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave …”
  • John 12:32, “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”
  • Acts 17:30, “God … commands all people everywhere to repent.”
  • Rom 3:23, 24, “… for all have sinned … and all are freely forgiven...”
  • Rom 5:8, 10, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”
  • Rom 5:15, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to the many.” [Note the same word, “many” applies to all people.]
  • Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all people, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all people, resulting in justification of life.”
  • Rom 11:32, “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
  • 2 Cor 5:14, “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
  • 2 Cor 5:18, 19, “…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ …”
  • 1 Tim 2:3, 4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all people.”
  • Heb 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours [Christians to whom John writes] only but also for the whole world.”
  • Isa 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
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  • It might be worthwhile to also point out the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. 100 denarii is a sizeable sum (100 days wages), but is paltry compared to 10,000 talents (1 talent = 6000 denarii = approx. 20 years wages). If God has forgiven our '10,000 talent' debt, surely we should be willing forgive a '100 denarii' debt. – cdjc May 14 at 22:59
  • @cdjc - I fully agree - but I did not to make a sermon out of the answer, nor an exhaustive nor exhausting answer. – Dottard May 14 at 23:18
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    The texts you list do not demonstrate the conclusion you state that 'God saved and forgave all people'. The correct exegesis of every single one of those listed texts leads to another conclusion altogether. – Nigel J May 15 at 7:12
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    Indeed. He that confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall find mercy. Not only is the humbling of confession required but the renouncing of the practice is also essential. I agree. But the redemptive work necessary to eradicate those sins, in the righteousness of God, is effective for God's chosen people. It is not for all men. That is a fallacy. – Nigel J May 15 at 15:35
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    @NigelJ - We are discussing two different parts of the plan of salvation - you are discussing the reformation of the person, I am discussing the atonement which is universal - only a few accept that atonement and respond to God's prompting. – Dottard May 15 at 21:59
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The issue is that if we are unwilling or unable to forgive people who have sinned against us, then God will not forgive us.

Any sin committed against us, no matter how terrible, is trivial in comparison to our sins against God. If God has forgiven us of so much, how could we refuse to forgive others?

It is not that God forgives everyone - it is that we, as recipients of God's grace, must exercise forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.

Mark 11:26
26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses
King James Version. 1769.
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    Does not God wish all to be saved? Yes, He does (1 Tim. 2:4). Does not this imply necessarily that He will to forgive all? Yes, it does. Is God's will impeded by any action on our part, even the action of recalcitrance in repenting our sins? No, God's will cannot be impeded by this. Then what obtains? Nothing but that God indeed forgives all, but not all accept this through their own recalcitrance and not repenting. Unforgiveness is from us, not, never from God. – Levan Gigineishvili May 14 at 20:01
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    @LevanGigineishvili - 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Repentance is a pre-requisite to being saved, according to the Bible. – Lesley May 15 at 8:15
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    Yes, repentance is a prerequisite for being saved, who can object that! What I mean is that God's embraces are always agape for embracing any sinner, for He loves sinners even while they are unrepentant and miserable, and always invites them love-fully to repent. We also should be like God: always loving all sinners and love-fully waiting for their repentance and always ready to embrace them in love. When we hate sinners, we fall out from God, who loves sinners even while they sin. That's why Christ was blessing his murderers even at the very moment of their act of sadistic murdering. – Levan Gigineishvili May 15 at 10:34
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    "To err is human, to forgive divine" a quote from Alexander Pope's poem 'An Essay on Criticism'. – Lesley May 15 at 11:01
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    @LevanGigineishvili, it may be said that God forgives everyone in an abstract sense of potentiality by virtue of grace and the cross, but God has not forgiven everyone and will not forgive everyone, otherwise, he would condemn no one to the fire for their sins. – Austin May 16 at 20:46
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Does God expect us to forgive everyone?

Well, let us let Jesus help provide clarity regarding his stance on our duty to forgive. What does Jesus say?

3 "Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and IF he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4

Here Jesus says that your forgiveness of your brother is conditioned upon your brother's repentance. Under the condition that he declares repentance, you must forgive him... every time.

And again, What does Jesus say?

Matthew 18:15-20 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (See also

The passage in Matthew parallels and extends the passage in Luke. In Luke where Jesus says "rebuke," in Matthew he says "tell him his fault." In Luke, where Jesus says "if he repents", Jesus says "If he listens to you," in Matthew. (Here listening is a synecdoche for the whole process of repentance.) And when Jesus says "forgive him" in Luke, in Matthew he says, "you have gained your brother. Forgiveness is all about relationship. Forgiveness is all about reconciliation. And if your brother refuses to repent of his sin, even before the whole congregation, there can be no reconciliation. He is to be treated as a traitor or a member of an enemy nation. These are not light personal offenses but sustained, ten commandment level sins - lying, stealing, adultery, etc.

So, no. In long-form, Jesus makes it clear that we are not to forgive everyone under every circumstance, for repentance is a necessary prerequisite for repentance.


The way Jesus talks about forgiveness in Mark 11:25 is kind of like the way that Jesus talks about judgment when he says,

“Judge not, that you be not judged." Matthew 7:1

But then he says,

"Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24

...and, as we read before, he tells us to rebuke when one sins against us. We can't rebuke without first judging that one has sinned.

Jesus, in Matthew 7, is not saying never judge, but do not judge in such a way (unrighteously) that you bring judgment on yourself.

Similarly when Jesus says,

"..If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins." Mark 11:2

He's not saying forgive absolutely everyone under any circumstance, but that we are to forgive in such a manner that we do not forfeit God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness by our hypocrisy. We should forgive, therefore righteously.

*Note. Also, it seems to me, in the phrasing of Mark 11:25 there may be a distinction between a "thing" and a "sin." In light of John 7:24 and Luke 17:3 we should not be judging people for things that are not sins or for which they already repented.


Does God forgive everyone?

Well, no. Otherwise, why are people thrown in the fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels, if God unconditionally forgives everyone? Indeed, the blood of Jesus has the power to take away the sins of the world, and that it does, but not everyone benefits from that power, for God's forgiveness is ultimately conditioned on repentance.

14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV Strong's)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ Acts 3:19-23

And so Jesus commands

47 .... "that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Luke 24:47

If this is Jesus's command, why is it that so many proclaim forgiveness without repentance?

Also, let us recall Jesus's words

16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. John 13:16

40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40 (ESV Strong's)

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master... Mat 10:24 — Mat 10:25 (ESV Strong's)

So, let those of us who claim to be disciples of Christ, therefore, not presume to out forgive God.


Note: It should be noted, that forbearance is an option short of total condemnation or full forgiveness, that God uses to maintain a relationship in the hope of repentance and full reconciliation.

4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:4-5

If we continue in a relationship with someone who refuses to repent, we too can forbear in the hope of full reconciliation.

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  • Forgiveness is an outcome of love: one cannot forgive unless one loves. Thus, the only foundation upon which forgiveness can be based is love, which is not only a ground but also the cause of forgiveness. Now, Jesus commands us to love enemies, even those who do not repent their sins against us. Therefore, the imperative of love is not abolished when our enemies continue to oppress us. And this is hard and Christly: exactly for that reason Christ is hated by majority of mankind, majority of nominal Christians included, for He does not let us to sweetly indulge even in just hatred. – Levan Gigineishvili May 16 at 18:25
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The only thing I'd like to add to this, aside from Lesley's excellent response - Jesus also instructs us: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). The 2 are inextricably linked.

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When a great German poet Heinrich Heine was dying, he was asked about what he thought about his post mortem fate, on which he answered: “God will forgive me, since it is His profession to”. Thus, if his intuition is right, and surely it is right and inspired intuition, God cannot help not being in His profession of forgiving, and thus He forgives all. Unfortunately not all are clever and humble enough to accept this divine forgiveness. But this notwithstanding, He calls us all to be like Him and be disposed to forgive all.

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    Whenever humans presume that God will forgive them, and particularly because he either "ought to" or because he "must", they show they have completely failed to grasp the grace of God choosing to forgive on the basis of his righteousness, not our supposed righteousness or deservedness, or that God is obliged in any way. Poet Horatius Bonar wrote: "Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak. Thy power alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break." Anyone presuming on the grace of God is in for a shock when they step out of time and enter eternity. – Anne May 15 at 7:25
  • @Anne From the perspective of eternity, God is eternal in His will, which means that He eternally wills all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and this will cannot be altered even by our worst action and behavior, which is our recalcitrance to repent to God and let Him re-embrace us, which is His only and unalterable will. Thus, it is aspect of His unalterable nature to love and forgive, and He cannot help loving and forgiving all, but unfortunately, not all use their freedom in a good way and, alas, remain unrepentant. Unfrogiveness is a self-inflicted harm, it does not nay cannot come from God. – Levan Gigineishvili May 15 at 10:28
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I’ll offer a dissenting view.

(I have several such posts percolating around the site--best way to find them is to navigate to a post on a hot topic and then scroll down for 10-15 minutes =) )

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The narrow question - what is said in this passage

The passage from Mark is clear that we are expected to forgive everyone. The passage neither affirms nor denies the proposition that God forgives everyone.

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The broader question - what we can derive from other passages

Jesus Himself indicates that not all sins will be forgiven:

but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matthew 12:32)

So whether that means some people will be forgiven or very nearly all people will be forgiven, the option “all people will be forgiven” has been ruled out.

To be sure, I am not suggesting that God doesn’t offer forgiveness to everyone--rather, there will be those who do not accept it and therefore remain unforgiven and unchanged (or at the very least, not as changed as they might have been).

As ably demonstrated in other answers, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was made for all people:

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

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From what are we saved?

I propose that this subject is not one-dimensional. Let’s take 2 specific examples.

Death

The resurrection of Jesus Christ will bring resurrection to all people--everyone, wicked or righteous, will be resurrected:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)

28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,

29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done devil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28-29)

Sin

As noted above, not all sins will be forgiven.

Peter explained the process that leads to accessing the power of God unto the remission of sins:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)

Why would God condition forgiveness upon repentance?

  • It is not because forgiveness can be earned
  • It is not because God lacks power
  • It is because God wants to transform people into more than they already are. The things that are required of us (e.g. Matthew 7:21) do not pay for salvation; their purpose is not transactional, but transformational:

2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’m not there yet--nowhere close. Nor will I ever be without the grace of God.

What then makes the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost unpardonable? This is as much a theological question as it is hermeneutical, but may I suggest that given that God desires salvation for all, what makes this sin unpardonable is not that it surpasses the power of Christ’s atonement, but that it is a line which, once crossed, the person will never return. God hasn’t cut that person off forever, that person has cut himself/herself off forever.

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Wait--Why?

Why would God command us to forgive everyone if He will not?

His words to Samuel express it well:

the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

God can see the depths of a person's character that we cannot--thus forgiveness in the eternally efficacious sense of the word is His prerogative, and His alone. We do not know another person's heart, and as sinners ourselves are expected to be forgiving, leaving judgement to God.

After all, God is willing to forgive all people--then should not we be so as well?

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Response to some specific passages

John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This incredible offer of salvation has indeed been made to all the world--the implications of that statement are enormous--but God will not take away people’s sins against their will. He so completely respects people’s freedom to choose that He will let them reject His offer and choose to remain in sin. (so also Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16, Romans 5:15, Romans 11:32, 2 Cor. 5:18-19, 1 Tim 2:6, Titus 2:11, and 1 John 2:2 cited above)

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God wants everyone to repent and accept His covenants--I don’t argue against that at all. Sadly, not everyone will. (so also Acts 17:30, 1 Tim 2:3-4)

Heb 2:9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

Jesus overcame physical death for all--see section “from what are we saved” above. (so also 2 Cor. 5:14)

John 12:32 “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”

Jesus will indeed draw all people unto Himself--at the resurrection all will be brought before Him to be judged (see John 5:22 & Revelation 20:12-15). That reunion will be wonderful for some and terrifying for others.

Rom 5:8, 10 “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”

We do not have to attain perfection before accessing God’s grace (such a program would not work). So yes, while we are fallen, imperfect sinners, grace is offered to us. We are justified by Jesus Christ, not by our own merits--see discussion of grace below. (so also Romans 5:18)

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Grace

May I respectfully offer what I have found to be a valuable hermeneutic principle? If we understand something said by Paul to contradict/overwrite something said by Jesus, 99 times out of 100 it is because we have misunderstood Paul.

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Romans 3:23-24)

We are justified by the grace of God--we are given something we could never earn. I have argued elsewhere on the site that grace describes not a free lunch but a covenant. Grace is a gift, but a specific type of gift.

As discussed at greater length in the aforementioned post, “grace” from the Greek χάρις (“charis”) did not in Paul’s day describe a free lunch, it described a covenant relationship in which the stronger party gave something to the weaker party that could never be earned--but the weaker party cannot just take the gift and run--there are obligations associated with accepting the gift.

I submit that salvation--in the most complete sense of the word--does not come without those covenants of grace. God allows all to accept or reject His covenants.

My thoughts on grace are described cumulatively in much greater detail here and here.

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Conclusion

God offers forgiveness and justification to all, but not all will accept it. But becoming clean from sin (as important as that is) alone is not enough--God’s program isn’t a reality tv show in which He watches people fall down and figure out how to get the help they need to get back up--He has something much greater in mind. God wants to transform us--everything He asks of us is not about earning our keep, but about what we are becoming through the process.

If we say that we want God to forgive us of our sins but allow us to continue along exactly as we were before, then we have entirely missed the point. Christ's atoning sacrifice is designed not only to make people clean, but to make them holy.

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The OP’s question brings to mind the prayer of the Our Father.

  • And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. (Luke 11:4)

With these words, we acknowledge that we have sinned and ask for God’s forgiveness, and we testify that we ourselves also forgive those who trespass against us. These two things are, in a sense, the dual aspects of what God desires of us - on the one hand to acknowledge our debt to God, and on the other, to forgive those who are indebted to us. In other words, on the one hand is to repent and on the other, to show mercy.

But, to reiterate what has been already stated by others, it is not that salvation can be earned by anything that we do. Salvation is by the grace of God, the “gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:15). Our part is only to respond to God’s grace.

Repentance and mercy are our means of cooperating with God’s grace. They signify that we have listened to his word and taken his teachings to heart, that we have learned the meaning of the words: “I desire compassion, rather than sacrifice” (Mt 9:13, Hos 6:6).

As to whether God always forgives, perhaps it is not for us to know God’s counsel.

  • What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? Far from it! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I show compassion.” 16 So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy... 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 9:14-18)

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