I am sure that we have all told our children to forgive their brother or sister or cousin at one time or another. Teaching them how to forgive is another matter. Forgiveness is something we all need, something we all are happy to receive, yet it is at times something that seems impossible to do. God has a lot to say in His word about His great gift of forgiveness and about our need to forgive others.
In Matthew chapter 6:9-15 when Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray, He tells them to pray, “…and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors…” Right after He finishes the “Lord’s prayer,” He adds, “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.” This is really strong language Jesus is using.
In the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:23-35 we learn of a servant who has been forgiven a tremendous dept by his master. No sooner is he forgiven when he searches out his own servant who owes him a small debt in comparison and he refuses to forgive. The master is told of the unkind actions of the slave he has just forgiven. The Master then punishes that slave by throwing him in prison till the original debt is paid. Jesus ends this parable with these words, “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” Forgiveness is obviously a big deal to God.
Forgiveness from the heart is more than just mouthing the words, “I forgive you.” It is treating them the same way God treats us when we ask for forgiveness. How many sins does He forgive? All of them. Read Mark 3:28, Psalm 103:10-12; Micah 7:19. How many sins does He remember? None of them. Read Hebrews 8:12; 10:17.
Many times, we want to forgive only when we feel like the offending person deserves our forgiveness. But God clearly commands us to forgive based on our own forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”
I don’t have the space to delve deep into forgiving even when the offence is a very serious and life changing one. How to forgive, even when you can’t trust is a complicated matter. But forgiveness is something you do in your heart. It is not holding the sins done against you, against the person who did the wrong. It doesn’t mean they won’t have some consequences and if the wrong is serious enough, they may be very big consequences. But it does mean that you personally let go of the right to hold a grudge or bitterness toward them. Wow! Forgiving isn’t easy but it is something that God clearly wants us to do. So, what if we don’t. Will we lose our salvation? Will God stop forgiving us?
It is for these kinds of questions that we are committed to the whole counsel of God. Scripture says clearly that when we trust in Jesus, we are made the children of God, John 1:12-13. We are given eternal life, life without end, John 5:24. So, if we have become God’s children, passed over from death to life, and if it is everlasting, John 3:16, then it is impossible to lose it. In fact, we are told that we can’t earn our salvation but that it is a gift, Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23.
So what does it mean when Jesus says that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven? When someone wrongs you, there is hurt, pain, disappointment, and sometimes anger. These emotions bubble up without us having to do anything. We must walk through them to get to the other side which is forgiveness. If we get stuck in them, we will be bitter or carry a grudge. We will be unforgiving.
Jesus wants us to forgive but this takes effort and is impossible without the help of God’s Holy Spirit living in us. It is when we yield to the conviction of the Spirit agreeing that we need to forgive and then rest in His forgiveness to us for our sins that we will find the motivation, power and strength to forgive those who wrong us. It is a work that God does in us, for us, and then through us, Philippians 1:13. If we don’t submit to the conviction of the Spirit, we will find that God will have to discipline us, Hebrews 12:5-10. He will convict His children of unforgiveness. He will discipline us when we don’t forgive. He will help us to forgive when we are willing. We have been forgiven much! It is not too much to ask that we forgive the sins committed against us for Christ’s sake. He asks us to do it and He is worthy of our obedience.