32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:32–34, NKJV)
We learn the depth of God’s willingness to forgive as we meditate on Christ’s words while He hung on the cross. God is ready to forgive sinners who answer His gospel call to repent (Lk. 5:32; Matt. 11:28-30). We should also understand what did not happen when Jesus prayed for His enemies. He was not tolerating their sins. His murderers were not forgiven immediately (like the repentance criminal, Lk. 23:39-43). We must not confuse Christ’s prayer as accepting them as they were. They would have to believe the gospel, repent, and be baptized in His name for their sins to actually be forgiven (Acts 2:36-38). Some believe sins of ignorance will not condemn a person. That is false (Acts 3:17-19). Some believe God accepts people regardless of their moral condition. That is also false. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Jesus died so sinners can approach God’s presence and obtain merciful forgiveness (Heb. 10:19-20). We pray for sinners to be forgiven, and we teach them the gospel so they can believe, obey, and be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Jesus died to save sinners, not so that God will accept us even as we continue practicing sin (Rom. 6:1-2; 2 John 9).