by Greg Gwin | via collegevuechurch.com
Jesus was clear that forgiving others is absolutely critical to our own salvation: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). It is, therefore, essential that we properly understand this important subject.
First, when a problem arises, we must determine if the issue involves sin or not. If there is no sin, then we can and should forgive unilaterally. For example, if someone simply ‘hurt my feelings’ or I felt slighted in some way, there is no sin in that. Perhaps it was an oversight, or maybe a case of bad judgment, but there was no sin. In such cases I don’t even need to address the other person. I can just let that pass. Certainly, I ought not let this linger or case hard feelings. I can simply ‘let it go.’
Jesus described this type of unilateral forgiveness in Luke 7:41, 42: “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” The Lord’s point is clear—those who are forgiven the most are, or at least should be, the most grateful. But notice the scenario He described. Two men incurred debt. There’s no inherent sin in that. The creditor just waived the debt on his own, and without conditions. We can do the same, and we ought to do so. Often Christians are much too sensitive, even petty, about the issue that they allow to become major problems. When no sin is involved we need to forgive unconditionally.
However, if sin has occurred, this changes things completely. In cases where sin is involved we are instructed to forgive just like God forgives: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). It’s hard to imagine how a statement could be any clearer. We are to forgive “just as” God does. Therefore, it is important to observe how He extends forgiveness.
First, He is willing to forgive, and we should be, too. Unfortunately we sometimes act like we want to keep an issue alive. We carry ill will and have a ‘chip on our shoulder.’ These things ought not to be. God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) and is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He is clearly willing to forgive, and we must be too.
In fact, we could say that God is ‘aggressive’ about forgiving us. He “commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God didn’t have to do that, but He did. Our Lord taught us that we should have that same urgent desire to forgive those who wrong us. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15). Don’t wait. Take the initiative. Be like God. Be ‘aggressive’ in making forgiveness available to the one who has sinned against you.
With these points in mind, we must emphasize that God’s forgiveness is conditional. That is to say, He requires us to do certain things in order to be forgiven. For the alien sinner those conditions are clearly stated in what we often refer to as “the plan of salvation.’ One must hear (Romans 10:17), believe (Hebrews 11:6), repent (Luke 13:3), confess Christ (Romans 10:10), and be baptized (Acts 2:38) in order to be saved. Omit any of these requirements, and salvation cannot be obtained. For one who has already become a Christian but sins again, the terms of pardon involve repentance, confession, and prayer (Acts 8:22). Would we argue that—since God has imposed these conditions—He is not a loving and forgiving God? Of course not! As already observed, He is willing and ready to forgive, but His conditions must be met.
What about us? What should we do when someone sins against us? The answer is obvious—forgive them “just as” God does. That means that it is proper to expect them to meet the appropriate conditions of forgiveness. Jesus taught that our forgiveness is to be conditional: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
Some are uncomfortable with the idea that our forgiveness should be withheld until the sinning brother repents. They suggest that the loving thing is to forgive unilaterally and unconditionally. But, think! In doing so we would not be taking important steps to bring our brother back from sin. We would not be motivating him to be right with God. We would actually be facilitating his continuation in a sin that can cause his soul to be lost.
…to be continued