Forgiveness to Nonbelievers

Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, are called to be leaders by the mandate given by Christ himself when he ascended into heaven; he instructed his followers to go make disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). For centuries, Christians have interpreted this mandate in several different ways, but one thing has been clear in understanding if not always carried out in practice: Christians are to forgive as God has forgiven mankind (Mt. 6:14).

This can seem challenging in an ever-increasing hostile world against Jesus and his teachings. How can Christian leaders be expected to teach others forgiveness when there is a rejection of Jesus’ call to salvation?

Individuals learn about forgiveness by effectively receiving forgiveness from others (Roberts, 1987, p. 11). Though Christians cannot serve as a complete imitation of God, they can serve as a close reflection of him and demonstrate forgiveness the best way possible (Lincoln, 1990, p. 310) The Apostle Paul claims that forgiveness is a key virtue (Fedler, 2006). In Ephesians 4:32-5:2, he calls Christians to be imitators of God, as his beloved children, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven, and it is this imitation of God that makes those out of relationship with him aware of his grace (Mitton, 1951, p. 175). This imitation of God brings forgiveness alive for others, in turn bringing the love and forgiveness of Christ alive. (Clarke, 1998, p. 351).

Christ does not give everyone an experience such as the one Paul had journeying to Damascus (Acts 9), but he does place his beloved children in the world to reveal his nature and character. Christians should be the first to exemplify forgiveness out of their strength in Christ and their imitation of the Father, thus fulfilling the mandate Christ gave to go and make disciples.


Clarke, A. D. (1998). “Be imitators of me”: Paul’s model of leadership. Tyndale Bulletin, 49(2), 329–360.
Fedler, K. D. (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.
Lincoln, A. T. (1990). Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 42, Ephesians (First Edition edition). Waco, Tex: Thomas Nelson.
Mitton, C. L. (1951). The Epistle to the Ephesians. Oxford Clarendon Press.

Roberts, R. C. (1987). The Fruits of the Spirit. The Reformed Journal, pp. 9–13.

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