How Should I Respond to the Unrepentant? A Third Principle
Vengeance belongs to God. That was the first principle stressed in responding to unrepentant offenders.
The second principle we discussed raised the standard even higher. Christians are called to show love proactively, even to their enemies.
Still, we must ask if more needs to be said in formulating a Christian response to unrepentant offenders. What about justice? If we were to take our analysis of Romans 12:17-20 no further than these two principles, Christians might legitimately be accused of throwing justice out the window. We would be susceptible to the charge that there is no accountability or responsibility for evil. But Principle #3 completes a balanced Christian response that neither suspends nor dismisses justice.
Principle #3: Don't Forgive the Unrepentant, but Leave Room for the Wrath of God
Jesus told his followers that we ought to forgive people as many times as they ask for forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4). But what of those who do not ask for forgiveness? How should we respond to them? Should we automatically forgive? Remember the biblical definition of forgiveness includes the condition that the one receiving the forgiveness is repentant:
Forgiveness is a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.
Paul wrote that we are to "leave it to the wrath of God" (Romans 12:19), trusting that God will appropriately accomplish justice when and how he deems to do so.
In that verse, Paul quoted Moses from Deuteronomy 32. In this passage Moses encouraged Israel to rejoice in the truth that God will make sure that justice is done.
Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. . . . Rejoice with him, O heavens' bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people's land. (Deuteronomy 32:34, 43)Read those verses carefully. This principle of leaving room for God's wrath is how Israel was equipped to deal with those who would do evil against them. And the summary of that passage is that God does not forgive everyone and that Israel should rest in the truth that God will "avenge the blood of his children."
Second Timothy 4 offers an example of how Paul personally lived out this third principle of leaving room for God's wrath: Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)
[To be continued in Part Two]