But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. -Matthew 6
We don't often think of forgiveness in this way do we? That our forgiveness is contingent on whether or not we are forgiving others. I don't know that I have ever heard a sermon dealing with this text. It kind of seems to go against the common understanding of forgiveness doesn't it? I don't think many of us know what to make of this verse so we just ignore it.
So does this mean that unless I forgive other people God will not forgive me? And what does it mean for God not to forgive me?
There are several different views of forgiveness that are common...
- We are forgiven only when we ask to be forgiven. I find that this understanding is very common. It's probably why many people automatically ask for forgiveness every time they pray. Some even think you have to be pretty specific and name each sin That you are asking forgiveness.
-Some believe that there is a particular moment in ones life in which they are forgiven for everything they have, or will, ever do. It is usually associated with the "salvation" experience. In this understanding you have to ask to receive, but it's pretty much a one time event.
Here is an argument for what I think the verse could be dealing with.
First there is really no other text to support the idea that one who doesn't forgive other will not be forgiven by God' except for the parable of the unmercifully servant, which deals more with the bondage that being unforgiving brings. I don't know too many people who really hold to the view that they are only forgiven if they forgive others.
Here's what I think...
I hold to a view that through Jesus Christ we have been forgiven. This has nothing to do with us. We can not earn it, and we can not lose it. That seems a little too good to be true right? And that, in my opinion, is where faith comes in. Of course it seems too good to be true, and thats why it's so hard to accept. It's hard to accept the possibility that we have actually been forgiven isn't it? But It seems to me that the GOOD news of Jesus should seem too good to be true.
This is what I think it means that one is saved by grace through faith. We need faith in order to actually live as if we have been forgiven. Faith is not a condition to receive something that is unconditional...We don't need faith to receive forgiveness, but it takes faith to trust we have truly been forgiven.
So where does the verse above come into play. Here's my thoughts...
When we have faith and therefore trust that we have indeed been forgiven, then we are much more likely to show the same forgiveness to others around us. But when we live life as if we ourselves have not really been forgiven, it is going to much harder, if not impossible, for us to show forgiveness to our trespassers.
So, when I pray I don't ask for forgiveness, instead, I thank God for the forgiveness I've already received and pray that I can have enough faith to live in it daily.
Grace and Peace,