By: Undre Griggs, Jr.
There is a distinct difference between “fruits of repentance” and “forgiveness”. The confusion appears to be the result of not understanding who will benefit from each. Many people believe forgiving someone is a benefit to the person who is forgiven. That mindset will help explain why people believe a person needs to do “something” before they can be forgiven. Some will say that “something“ can be as small as an apology, while others may feel a remorseful person should attempt to nullify each wrong they committed against the person.
2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV): For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
It is clear in scripture we should immediately forgive others of any wrong we have endured. We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to apologize to us before we forgive them. The reason is also clear; an unforgiving soul is not a soul that is in fellowship with God. Our issue must be resolved for us to partake in the Lord’s Table (Matthew 5:24) and for us to pray to our Father. Some will go days, weeks, months, or even years before they forgive another; but we should not go a moment without the ability to communicate with God.
Mark 11:25 (NKJV): And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Fruits of repentance are something that happens over time and are separate from our ability to forgive others. The outpouring of love will prick the person who needs to be forgiven to change their life for the better. It is no different than our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus had already forgiven us when He came to the world as a human being and died in our place. We showed no fruits of repentance to encourage Jesus Christ to die for the remission of our sins.
Romans 5:8 (NIV): But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Similar to the people who actually placed Jesus on the cross, we put Jesus on the cross with our sins. Also comparable is the way Christ forgave the people who crucified him without them apologizing or showing sorrow for their actions. It is true that we need to be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved; but does the consequence of our action/inaction reflect on whether God forgave us? Consider someone guilty of murder being required to serve a mandatory sentence of 20 years. There is nothing that the victim’s family can do to shorten the criminal’s sentence; but they can still forgive them of all consequences they can control. They can pray for the person and write encouraging messages to them. They can feel sorrow (instead of joy) for the person who is about to lose their freedom. Sin separates us from God and the wages of sin are death, so the mandatory sentence is the mandatory sentence. That is why we must put to death our old body in the watery grave of baptism - so we can live again with our new body in Christ. But the fact that we have an outlet only proves God has already forgiven you.