Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves. [Matthew 5:7 (NTE)]
Yes: if you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.’ [Matthew 6:14-15 (NTE)]
When our pastor did a sermon series on “Dangerous Prayers,” he didn’t mention one many of us pray regularly: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After giving the disciples “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus elaborated on this single petition by categorically stating, “If you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.” The parable of the unforgiving debtor told in Matthew 18 leaves no room for ambiguity on this point. After the servant refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the angry king rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving man and sends him to be tortured in prison until the debt is paid. His debt (equivalent to several billion dollars today) was insurmountable and that torture would never end. Jesus warned his listeners that the same thing would happen to them if they withheld forgiveness.
Asking God to forgive us in the same way we extend forgiveness to others is dangerous. We are asking God to forgive us by the standard that we set—to deal with us as we deal with others! Called the “terrible petition” by St. Augustine, we’re actually asking God not to forgive us if we harbor any unforgiveness in our hearts! For some of us, could these words be a petition for condemnation rather than salvation, ones for death rather than everlasting life? If we’re unwilling to forgive, I suppose they are!
Paul’s words to the Ephesians tell us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, and harsh words and to “forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the king.” [4:31-32] Without a doubt, forgiveness is a difficult process and time is needed between our being hurt and our ability to forgive. The struggle to forgive, however, isn’t the sin; it’s the decision not to forgive, to hold onto our bitterness, that is!
Fortunately, forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit! Jesus said that good trees produce good fruit and that every tree failing to produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. Clarifying that people are identified by their actions, Jesus warned that only those who actually did the will of the Father would enter the kingdom of heaven! From His words, it seems that profession of faith alone does not equal salvation. While salvation is not earned by works, our faith is evidenced by them: by our willingness to do the Father’s will! Can there be an unforgiven Christian? I don’t think so. But, if we refuse to forgive, are we true disciples of Christ or merely hypocrites who say we are?
No part of His teaching is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything or that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own. [C.S. Lewis]