Jesus Warned Us to Forgive. Maybe It’s Time to Take His Advice.
Jesus meant what He said, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” We live in a culture where we don’t always mean what we say. Consequently, we do not believe others mean what they say to us. A person’s word is not taken seriously.
It begins in childhood. A parent tells a child, “If you do that again, you’ll get a spanking.” The child not only does it again but several times more after that. Following each episode, the child receives the same warning from his parent. Usually, no corrective action is taken. If correction does take place, it is either lighter than what was promised or more severe because the parent is frustrated.
Both responses send a message to the child that you don’t mean what you say or what you say isn’t true. The child learns to think that not everything authority figures say is true. So he becomes confused about when and if he should take authority figures seriously. This attitude is projected onto other areas of his life. He views his teachers, friends, leaders, and bosses through this same frame of reference. By the time he becomes an adult he has accepted this as normal. His conversations now consist of promises and statements in which he says things he doesn’t mean.
But when Jesus speaks, He wants us to take Him seriously. We cannot view what He says the way we view the other authorities or relations in our lives. When He says something, He means it. He is faithful even when we are faithless. He walks at a level of truth and integrity that transcends our culture or society. So when Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses,” He meant it.
To take this one step further, He does not say this just once in the Gospels but many times. He was emphasizing the importance of this warning. Let’s look at a few of these statements He made on different occasions.
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
Forgive, and you will be forgiven. —Luke 6:37
Again, in the Lord’s Prayer we read:
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. —Matthew 6:12
I wonder how many Christians would want God to forgive them in the same way they have forgiven those who have offended them. Yet this is exactly the way in which they will be forgiven. Because unforgiveness is so rampant in our churches, we do not want to take these words of Jesus so seriously. Rampant or not, truth does not change. The way we forgive, release, and restore another person is the way we will be forgiven.
In Matthew 18 Jesus sheds further light on the bondage of unforgiveness and offense. He was teaching the disciples how to be reconciled with a brother who had offended them.
Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). He thought he was being generous.
But he received a shocking reply. Jesus blew away what Peter considered generous: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21–22). In other words, forgive as God does, without limits. A person who cannot forgive has forgotten the great debt for which they were forgiven. When you realize that Jesus delivered you from eternal death and torment, you will release others unconditionally.
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