Forgiveness is not a “Get out of Jail Free” Pass

“Let every soul be subject to the authorities that are in power, for there is no authority except from God and those that exist are appointed by God. Thus, those who resist this authority resist what God has decreed.  Those who resist will receive judgment.  Indeed, the ones who rule are not a terror to those doing good works, but to the evil ones.  If you want to not be in fear of the authorities, then do good things and you will have praise from them.  For he is a servant of God and there for your good.  But, if you do evil, you shall fear!  He does not carry the sword in vain.  For God’s servant is the avenger of God’s wrath on the ones who do evil.  Therefore, the necessity is to be subject, not only because of this wrath, but because of the conscience.”

(Romans 13:1-5)


            God institutes laws and governments for the basic purpose of rewarding good and punishing wickedness (see also 1 Peter 2:13-17).  As believers, we have an obligation to submit to those governments and laws even when those laws are harsh (note that both Peter and Paul were executed by the governments that they were telling us to submit to).  The only time a believer has the authority to go against the laws of the government is if those laws would cause you to sin (for example the account of Daniel and the law forbidding him to pray to God—see Daniel 6). 

            One of the things that Christians often struggle with is do they hold someone accountable in a legal sense for something that they have offered forgiveness to another for.  Or, from the opposite side of the coin, should I still be held legally responsible for my acts if someone forgives me.  This is a difficult question and should be made both in prayer and in subjection to the law of the land.  There are times when the law would allow you to prosecute someone who has sinned against you, but to do so would be vindictive, and that would be a sin.

            Yet, if someone has caused you monetary damage, then it is perfectly valid for a believer to expect the other person to provide reasonable restitution even after forgiving the other person.  The Christian has the right to show grace on the offender if he or she is so led, but should not feel guilty about asking the person to repair or replace what has been damaged or taken.  Likewise, the believing Christian, who has wronged another Christian, should expect to repay said damages whether or not forgiveness is offered.

            But, there are some cases that the law demands legal action be taken.  If a severe offense like murder, arson, rape, abuse, etc… is committed, then the law of the land demands that the offender be tried and receive the government’s standard of justice.  The Christian should not stand in the way of this.  Forgiveness should be offered, but your forgiveness of the offender does not satisfy the demands of the government.  When Christians stand in the way of governmental rulings in such matters, they are rebelling against the authorities that God has instituted for his purposes and to do so is to doubt God’s purposes.  It would be sin.

            Loved ones, when someone wrongs you and you offer forgiveness, you should not feel afraid to expect that damages should be repaid.  These damages or costs should not be inflated and should be reasonable.  In turn, when you are forgiven for having wronged another, you should expect to repay any losses unless the offended person chooses to show you grace.  And lastly, you should not interfere with the exercise of the State’s legal action even after you have forgiven them—the state is doing what God designed the state to do, whether the state is overly benevolent or overly harsh.  Let your conscience be at peace and forgive, trusting that God will put all the other pieces of the puzzle in their proper places.



  1. Rohan Roger David Zener

    That’s my problem with forgiving! You insist that God will take care of everything; are you a little child?
    And what if God’s purpose was to put you in jail in place of your own offender?! I’m not about to allow my own offender to imprison me in forgiving her!


    1. preacherwin

      Rohan, obviously there is some back story that I am not aware of going on here, but let me remind you of two principles set out very clearly in scripture. The first is that God is sovereign over all things and he will use all things to bring about his divine purposes…in the life of the believer, that means conforming us into the image of his Son. That is a painful process, indeed, but the eternal weight of glory that is to come outweighs these “momentary” sufferings of life in a fallen world. If you want some texts to reinforce this, spend some time with Ephesians 1; Romans 8-9; and 1 Corinthians 4-5 (in that order). First principle.

      The second principle is that God demands we forgive for vengeance does not belong to us, but instead to God alone. More importantly, because in repentance and turning toward Christ, we have been forgiven a debt of sin by God that is greater than any debt of sin that can be brought against us by another human (or group thereof). Because we have been forgiven much, we are called to forgive much. In fact, in the prayer that Jesus taught, that we know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” we petition God to forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive others. Or, in other words, we are asking God that if we withhold forgiveness from someone then we think that God should withhold forgiveness from us. That is the only petition in the Lord’s prayer that Jesus goes back to and explains. Check out Matthew 18 and then go back to read Matthew 6…they are pretty convicting in this matter.

      Now, that being said, not knowing your story, let me share one more principle on the matter. There is a difference between our personal forgiveness of someone and the State’s responsibility to see that justice is done. If someone murders another person, for example, I might forgive them for their evil, but my forgiveness does not abrogate the responsibility of the State to seek that justice is done for the crime. These two concepts should be seen as complimentary, not contradictory, as the Bible limits the State’s role to that of punishing wickedness and rewarding righteousness. I have a dear friend of mine from my childhood, for example, that is in prison for a very long time for a pretty horrible crime. I have forgiven him, his wife has forgiven him, and even some of those he offended have forgiven him…but he still has an obligation toward the State for his crime which he is doing behind bars.

      You mention being put in jail in place of the offender. Obviously this is a case where the State has miscarried justice and one should fight to have the sentence overturned as evidence is presented that would clear your name and place the guilt rightfully on the guilty party. Still, I encourage you to forgive.

      Talking more metaphorically, again because I do not know your back story, holding on to unforgiveness will be what imprisons you in your anger and hatred. It will consume you and rob you of your joy. Forgiving will release you of that mental/emotional prison and offer you freedom even if you happen to be behind bars.

      Hopefully that is helpful. Most importantly, don’t rely on my authority, read the scriptures yourself and let God be your authority.




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