Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
God’s gifts to His children require something of them. As His children, we are to imitate Him (Eph. 5:1). Our lives should bear the family resemblance, we want and work, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to have the character of our Father.
Jesus concludes His teaching on prayer by reminding His disciples about the importance of forgiving others. Christians are forgiving people because they are forgiven, people. God has forgiven us and canceled the record of debt that stood against us in Christ (Col. 2:14).
If we forgive those who trespassed, sinned against us our heavenly Father will also forgive us. Jesus is not talking about justification here but the restoration of our relationship with God. He is not saying that if we forgive people, we can merit God’s forgiveness which he grants in justification. If we interpret Jesus’ words this way, we distort the gospel.
Rather, if we choose to not forgive someone when they have sinned against us and asked for our forgiveness our fellowship with God will be broken, and God will not restore it until we repent.
Peter asks Jesus a question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21. He asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when they sin against him. Peter, no doubt thinking he was being charitable, asked if he should do it seven times.
Jesus responds, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Jesus is not teaching Peter that He should keep a record of how many times he forgives his brother. He is not saying, “Peter once you forgive Andrew 490 times you do not have to forgive him the 491st time.”
No. Disciples of Jesus do not keep a record of how many times their brother sins against them. We know that we have sinned against God more times than we could count. We forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ when they ask for it. We are not begrudging. We are liberal in granting forgiveness.
The culture of the kingdom of God is forgiveness. Jesus tells a parable to His disciples after answering Peter’s question (Matthew 18:23-35). A king forgives a servant who owed him ten thousand talents, the equivalent of six billion dollars today. The servant was forgiven this massive debt. You would think he would be rejoicing. But he seems to have vengeance on his mind.
After being forgiven the servant leaves his master, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii or about $12,000. This is a big amount but nothing compared to what the servant owed his master. He seizes his fellow servant and chokes him telling him to pay what he was owed. His fellow servant pleaded with him, but the forgiven servant would not listen had him put in prison.
Some of his fellow servants reported the account to their master. The master calls the servant in and scolds him for not being forgiving and then throws him in jail until he can pay off everything he owed. With the amount that he owed he would no doubt die in his prison cell.
Jesus has a warning for His disciples and us today. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Our lack of forgiveness is evidence that we have not been forgiven by God. A person can claim to be a disciple but if they do not show it through forgiving those who sin against them, they are not a disciple of Jesus, and they should expect God’s judgment unless they repent.
The grudge you are holding against someone who sinned against you can eternally damage your soul. The bitterness you have in your heart because someone close to you sinned against you and greatly hurt you is dangerous. Forgiving others is a vital aspect of our relationship with God. Withholding forgiveness will hinder our prayers and our relationship with God.
A couple good diagnostic question to ask is, “Do you value your relationship with your heavenly Father? Is He worth forgiving that person who deeply hurt you? Are you willing to forgive so that you might grow closer to God?”
You and I were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We cannot glorify Him and enjoy Him without being forgiving people. We can read all the books on theology we can get our hands on, and we can follow Paul’s line of reasoning in Romans with precision. But, if we are not people whose character is marked by a forgiving spirit, those actions will not glorify God, and they will not lead us to enjoy Him. They will puff us up and make us conceited.
If this is a struggle for you ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart, to make you more like Jesus.
If you are not sure if this is an issue for you ask the Holy Spirit to search you and see if there is an unforgiving bent to your life. Also, consider asking a close friend whether you struggle with holding onto grudges, bitterness, or resentment towards others. If the Holy Spirit or your friend says you do then repent and confess your sin to the Lord and know He will forgive you (1 John 1:9).
Children of God must forgive those who sin against them because their Father has forgiven them much. We have sinned against God more times than we could even count, and that might just be today’s tally. He forgives us when we come and ask for our fellowship with Him to be restored. May we glorify our Father by doing the same when our brothers and sisters in Christ ask the same from us.