Really? Are we only forgiven in the way or to the extent in which we forgive others? That sounds a little depressing to me.
Not that I don’t want to forgive others. I know that forgiveness is release for me, more than it is for them. I understand the value of forgiveness in my life. But sometimes I am a little slow to forgive. Sometimes the hurt lasts a while and so does the anger.
I know that my forgiveness doesn’t make a lot of difference in the lives of other people. Most of them go blissfully on their way after they do their thing and they don’t really worry about my forgiveness. The ones who come to me in humility to ask forgiveness are easy to forgive. Many times the issue is settled in my heart long before they come back. I want to forgive because I want to let things go.
But when I read that the Lord’s forgiveness is contingent on my forgiving others, I am concerned. To be honest, that scares me. I don’t know my own heart well enough to be sure that my forgiveness is as complete as I need the Lord’s forgiveness to be. What if I meet someone and find that the old feelings come back? Does that mean that the Lord hasn’t really forgiven me?
Frankly, if you believe that “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” means that God’s forgiveness is limited to your forgiveness, you should be afraid. That would negate any hope for assurance and call into question your eternal future. In fact, it would be coming back under the law.
NO! Our forgiveness is based on the love of God! Our forgiveness has come through the act of Jesus on the cross. Nothing of us was involved. Nothing of ours can stand against it except unbelief. He forgave us because He loved us—and He forgave us all the way. I do not earn my forgiveness by being forgiving toward others; nor do I lose my forgiveness when I find it hard to forgive others.
I know that Jesus went on, after giving the Lord’s Prayer, to say this:
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
It seems very plain, but it cannot mean what you and I have been taught. If our forgiveness is based on our actions, then we are—and always will be—under the law. There is no grace in earning our forgiveness.
So what does Jesus mean? Well, that is hard. If you read the comments on this blog, you will know that some say Jesus said this to people under the law as a statement of the futility of life under the law. You will also know that I think there may be something even more here. But the point is that it cannot mean that forgiveness is based on human action.
How do we know that? We know that salvation comes by grace through faith. We know that salvation is a gift from the Lord, that no human works could ever earn it. We know that this amazing gift was given freely. These are all easily found in the Scriptures. And we know that forgiveness is part of what we have received in Christ through salvation.
I had reason again to discuss this with friends. There may be great mystery in the application of what Jesus said. There is certainly truth, but truth that is deeper than what we usually encounter. We may not fully understand the ramifications of what He says in this passage . . . but we know that we do not earn or deserve our salvation. That we know.
So, yes, you should forgive others. Of course. In fact, your enjoyment of your forgiveness will not be complete until you are willing to forgive others. As long as you keep them under the law, you will feel like you are under the law. But you will still be forgiven—and you will forgive them.