"Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." Luke 17:3-4
Must we forgive everyone every time? Don't we just become doormats and victims? Aren't we making ourselves easy targets for anyone who wants to take advantage of us? There is an idea in Christianity that we must give instant and easy forgiveness. That is only part of the picture. The topic of forgiveness is often painted with one easy stroke which leaves Christians easy prey and feeling frustrated with injustices that they repeatedly suffer or feel that they must suffer to obey Scripture.
Must we forgive everyone instantly? Yes and no. Certainly, we are not allowed to harbour grudges, take revenge, or hold bitterness. We are not to allow the offenses of others against us to cause us to stop praying for them. In our mind and before God we must forgive completely and whole-heartedly even before it is asked. If we don't, the root of bitterness can take hold, our relationship with God can be hindered, and we show unthankfulness for all that God has forgiven us for.
However, having said that, if someone takes advantage of us then asks for forgiveness, should we "forgive and forget" instantly? Is that what the Bible requires?
When we talk about human-to-human relationships forgiveness and repentance are linked. The fact that someone is asking for forgiveness is an admission that they committed an offense. An injustice has occurred. Part of the act of forgiveness is repentance. Among other things, it involves following the Bible instructions on restitution. Anyone who asks for forgiveness, but is unwilling to make Biblical restitution, is not sincere in their request.
Look at Jesus' statement above. IF he repents we are to forgive him. Forgiveness should already be in our hearts, but it cannot be extended to the offender until there is repentance which involves restitution. For example, God forgives us, but He could not do so until Jesus made restitution for our sins. Even then God does not forgive us until we accept the restitution Jesus made on our behalf. Forgiveness, repentance, and restitution go together.
How does this work? Let's take a simple example. Sin breaks relationship. If I steal $5.00 from you our relationship is damaged or broken. If I come and say, "Sorry, please forgive me" you need to open your Bible and say, "I would be happy to. Let's follow the Biblical steps of forgiveness, starting with restitution. You owe me $5.00 plus another $5.00 as the Biblically prescribed penalty." Then you will see how serious I am. If I pay you the $10.00, the relationship is restored and we can "forgive and forget." If I refuse, then the relationship remains damaged although you refuse to harbour bitterness against me.
What does this do? 1. It removes the profit from sin. I know I will have to repay more than I took so this decreases the temptation to steal in the first place. 2. This protects you from "having" to forgive me and have me continue to steal from you.
What if it was an accident that I need forgiveness for? For example, I come to your house and accidentally break one of your plates. Again, when I ask for forgiveness you take me to the Scripture. In this case, restitution involves replacing the broken item [or giving the same value] plus a 20% penalty. This motivates me to be more careful with your property.
What about forgiving seven times? Repentance also involves turning away from the sin. In the example Jesus gave, the forgiveness request must have been for seven different offenses since if it was for the same offense each time there would not have been true repentance to begin with.