People naturally talk about forgiveness. Forgiveness is offered by all sorts and to all sorts. But the question in my mind is ‘is forgiveness possible without the cross?’

The Bible is clear that sin has a cost. There must be some sort of payment for sin. In the Bible there is not unconditional forgiveness, in the sense that someone or something must pay for the sin – there is a condition attached to the forgiveness of sin. In the Old Testament it was at the cost of the life of a lamb. In the New Testament it is at the cost of the life of the Lamb.

This means that I am able to forgive someone else for one of two reasons:

1. Their sin has been paid for by Jesus on the cross if they trust him.

2. Their sin will be paid for by judgement falling on them when Jesus returns.

As a result I am able to forgive because I know judgement will fall on that sin in one of these two ways and I do not need to enact any judgement.

But what then of people who don’t know Jesus? Can they forgive?

Often people recognise the need for payment for sin, but rather than seeing that it is paid by Jesus or will be demanded by Jesus they demand it themselves. It may simply be in the form of an apology (‘I won’t forgive them until they say sorry’) or in some larger form. But they demand a payment.

However, according to the Bible this payment is insufficient, and demanded by the wrong person. It needs blood, not simply an apology. Therefore the ‘forgiveness’ offered is not based on actual payment for sin. Is this then a vacous forgiveness?

Another option would be that although they do not recognise the cross and final judgement of Jesus, that it is still this that makes their forgiveness possible and meaningful.

The answer to this obviously effects how we counsel others. If real forgiveness is only possible with a recognition of the Jesus in both the cross and his final judgment then any talk of forgiveness must be ‘evangelism’ – full of the gospel.

What do others think?