Forgiveness-Does It Matter If The Abuser Is A Born-Again Christian?



By Rev. Renee


          Awhile back, we received an e-mail which posed an interesting question.  I answered it after prayer, as I always do.  The points that the Lord gave me to make really sum up a lot about forgiveness which I believe is worth passing on.  Until this e-mail, I had not realized that there might be any confusion in anyone’s mind over this particular issue and its answer.  But apparently some points do need clarification for some folks, and they deserve to have this cleared up and to increase their understanding.  So the Lord has led me to publish this very good question and the answer he gave me so that all of us may benefit from it.  I pray that you find them enlightening and helpful in your desire to achieve forgiveness of those who have injured you.

            The reader thought we were possibly missing an important point on forgiveness.  She asked if it would make a difference if the person you are ‘forgiving’ is a born-again Christian who is trying to follow God’s word.

            The short answer is, “No, it wouldn’t.” 

            Now here is the long answer:

          “Greetings in the precious name of our Lord Jesus.

            Thank you for writing to us.  I am not quite sure what your question is, but I will try to answer.

            Our ministry teaches abuse victims that they have permission to protect themselves.  The perpetrators that we discuss are abusers, not Godly Christians who might occasionally or inadvertently offend, and then not hesitate to apologize and repent.  Some people claim to be born-again Christians because they feel it allows them to feign innocence when victimizing others, but they are not in reality Spirit-filled children of God. 

            By definition, a TRUE  righteous Christian cannot be an abuser.  The Bible makes clear distinctions between the behavior of the children of God, children of the world, and children of Satan. Those who are sincerely trying to follow God and heed his word are just not going to have ONGOING PATTERNS of unacceptable behavior towards others.  An ungodly person will show behaviors which include control, manipulation, unlovingness, jealousy, envy, narcissism, selfishness, greed, exploitation, hostility, treachery,  dishonesty, etc, etc.- all exactly the opposite of the behavior of a real Christian.  One who is really heeding God’s word is not unloving and hurtful to others.  Victims have the right to protect themselves from such actions and/or words.

            There are born-again Christians, who although they may have been saved decades earlier, have never become MATURE Christians and had what is sometimes referred to as their “Second Salvation”.  These folks display all the outer signs but not the inner signs.  They pray, read the Bible, attend church, etc., but they have no works- they do not serve or give.  They talk the talk but do not walk the walk.  They have received the benefit of being born again, which is salvation, but they do not do their part to balance the other half of the equation, which is giving something back, not just following, but WALKING WITH the Lord.  They do not heed his voice, and serve him by works, ministries, and loving others.  Their hearts may change a bit, and they will be satisfied with that, but their hearts do not change all the way to a heart of love.  They do not continue to grow in the Lord. They are not Spirit-filled.   Although technically “born-again”, they remain worldly and self-centered, and do not “dwell with God”.

            A truly righteous Christian cannot by nature be a taker or a user.   He is a humble servant, who expresses his faith in his acts of love towards others.  He serves God by doing kindnesses for others.  He does not think that others exist for his use and benefit, and does not act as though the world revolved around him.  A true Christian is a giver, not a narcissist.  He does not victimize others, and so does not put himself in the position of needing the forgiveness needed by those we discuss on our website.

            Another major difference is that an unrighteous person will not REPENT when he is rebuked.  Godly people accept rebuke, learn from it, make amends and change their ways.  Real Christians, who have goodwill and love in their hearts, and truly don’t mean to offend, have no problem doing this, and so could rightfully expect to be forgiven.  They do not make excuses for offensive behavior, they apologize and correct it.  But ungodly people show no remorse and have a variety of defenses for justifying behavior which hurts others.  When rebuked, they will deny, make excuses, pout, become defensive, lay on a guilt trip, display unrighteous anger, minimize their offense, claim it was a “misunderstanding”, turn it around and pretend to be offended, etc., etc.   They will blame the victim, or someone/something else, for their behavior, including the devil!  What they are overlooking is that they were given free will.  No one can say, “the devil MADE me do it”- the devil may tempt, but the human makes the ultimate choice.   Such people do not take responsibility for the hurt they have caused and  will not admit the victim is right to be hurt or offended by their actions.  These are the people our site is referring to.

            The unrighteous are not humble, like true Christians are.  They are very prideful.  They do not want to admit they are just WRONG and they should not have done whatever they did.  They will do everything to avoid committing to a PERMANENT CHANGE in their behavior, as if it is not really under their control. They will say things like, “We BOTH are wrong” or “We have BOTH hurt each other”, when in reality the victim has done nothing wrong at all.   They may or may not grudgingly apologize, but they rarely CHANGE their ways.  In the Bible, those who do not listen to rebuke are referred to as “fools”, not  “righteous” , “Godly” or anything Christian-like, and we are instructed not to waste our time trying to reason with them.  We are admonished to stay away from those who will not listen to rebuke.

            It is important to understand  that nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to “analyze” or “try to be understanding” of one whose actions are cruel or unloving.  Scripture very simply teaches us to rebuke if we have been offended, forgive if there is repentance, and have nothing to do with one who does not repent or listen to rebuke.  An abuser’s list of excuses (unhappy childhood, stress, trauma, drugs, alcohol, etc.) are meaningless and do not make his actions or words any less destructive.  No one has the right to inflict their issues on other people.  The “reasons” for unacceptable behavior don’t matter.  Christians are to take a stand against wickedness and all forms of evil. 

            There are even more Scriptures referring to the rebuke of a “brother” (fellow Christian) than there are about rebuking a non-Christian.  Children of God are held to an even higher standard than children of the world, and certainly higher than children of the devil.   A child of God is supposed to be setting an example for others, not behaving just as badly, or even worse than, everybody else.

            In Galatians chapter 5, Christians are instructed to expel an immoral brother from among them.  Paul specifically tells us not to judge those OUTSIDE the church, but to judge those INSIDE the church. I HAVE WRITTEN YOU IN MY LETTER NOT TO ASSOCIATE WITH SEXUALLY IMMORAL PEOPLE-NOT AT ALL MEANING THE PEOPLE OF THIS WORLD WHO ARE IMMORAL, OR THE GREEDY AND SWINDLERS, OR IDOLATERS.  IN THAT CASE YOU WOULD HAVE TO LEAVE THIS WORLD.  BUT NOW I AM WRITING YOU THAT YOU MUST NOT ASSOCIATE WITH ANYONE WHO CALLS HIMSELF A BROTHER BUT IS SEXUALLY IMMORAL OR GREEDY, AN IDOLATER OR A SLANDERER,A DRUNKARD OR A SWINDLER.  WITH SUCH A MAN DO NOT EVEN EAT.  WHAT BUSINESS IS IT OF MINE TO JUDGE THOSE OUTSIDE THE CHURCH? ARE YOU NOT TO JUDGE THOSE INSIDE?   GOD WILL JUDGE THOSE OUTSIDE. EXPEL THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOU…..1 Corinthians 5:9-13NIV.  In Deuteronomy, the children of God are told, “YOU MUST PURGE THE EVIL FROM AMONG YOU” six separate times (17:7; 19:19; 21:21, 24; 22:21; and 24:7).  These are just some of the Scriptures instructing us to hold fellow children of God accountable for their behavior.

            Now if you are asking about GOD’S forgiveness, then of course one has to be a Christian, that is, to accept Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior and believe in him as the Son of God, in order to have one’s sins forgiven by God and enter into heaven.  Being “born-again” refers to GOD’s forgiveness, not human forgiveness.  Even God does not forgive everyone.  He does not forgive stubborn, “stiff-necked” people, and doesn’t expect us to, either.  The Lord requires repentance, and so should we.

            If you are talking about HUMAN forgiveness, we are required to forgive those who have damaged us WHEN THEY REPENT, whether or not they are born-again.  Repentance is not a mere apology.  Anyone can do that, and then go right back to doing exactly what caused the problem in the first place.  Repentance is  looking within and re-evaluating one’s life, turning from one’s sinful ways, showing true remorse,  making amends, having a change of heart, changing one’s behavior from unloving to loving, etc. not just giving these things lip-service.  Repentance takes effort.

            If this truly happens, God wants us to forgive.  However, there is no timetable on forgiveness.  It often takes months or years of a former abuser proving that he has truly changed before his victim can feel comfortable enough to trust him again- and that is OK.  But most abusers are narcissists, and they want what they want NOW.  They are not willing to put the time or energy into proving themselves, and the victim often has to put some distance between herself and her abuser in order to escape his pressure to forgive and buy herself some time to make her own decision.

            It is also erroneous to think that forgiveness means the relationship must automatically be reconciled.  A victim may forgive in her heart and choose never to reconcile.  Forgiveness does not require exposing oneself again to someone who has damaged you in the past.  It is perfectly fine to forgive someone in your heart and still not want to be with them anymore.  Sometimes, as you grow in the Lord, you come to see that you need to be selective in your relationships in order to progress and not regress in your walk with God.

            I’m not sure if you are asking if a born-again Christian somehow merits special consideration over a non-Christian when it comes to being forgiven by a victim.  Again, repentance is the only Biblical criteria.  A Christian who does wrong and does not repent and permanently change his ways is no more entitled to forgiveness than a non-Christian.  The Bible does not tell us to consider whether or not someone is a Christian when we forgive.  We are to forgive EVERYONE who demonstrates remorse and changes their ways (NOT everyone who apologizes but doesn’t actually CHANGE anything) , and only time will tell if that has truly happened.  If the person REPENTS, he merits our forgiveness  (but NOT necessarily reconciliation), whether he is Christian or not.  If he doesn’t repent, he doesn’t get cut any extra slack over a non-Christian  just because he claims to be Christian.  Someone with a track record of hurtful or unloving behavior is not entitled to our forgiveness simply on the basis of claiming to be “born-again”.

            All of these things are discussed in much greater detail, with Scriptural references, on our website.   I don’t have the space to go into such great detail here, but I hope I have been able to answer your question.  I encourage you to read all the articles on our site, and most importantly to read the Word of God,  as you will gain a much greater understanding this way.

            Thanks again for your interest and God bless you,

                                     In his love,  Rev. Renee ‘