In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus made a very strong statement: "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."
Over the years I've heard this quoted quite often in the church and used as a principle that Christians are to live by. After all, Jesus said it, so of course it applies to us... right?
Back up just a minute. Do people really consider what Jesus is actually saying here? As I said, these are strong words. Very strong words! Jesus is telling His listeners that GOD WILL NOT FORGIVE THEM if they don't forgive others!
So is it true that if we don't forgive others, God won't forgive us? If that's the case, then how many believers are actually forgiven? And if they aren't forgiven, are they actually saved? What if a person dies, unforgiven? I'm just making the point that I don't think Christians really think about all of this stuff when they go around using scriptures like this.
But anyway, fortunately there's good news here. Very good news!
Let's remember that these words of Jesus (and so many of His other words) were spoken for a particular reason at a particular time under a particular covenant to a particular group of people! Without getting into all of that right now (although I'm certainly willing to go there, and I've written about it plenty in the past, such as here and here), in short I'll just say that these words of Jesus were spoken before the Cross, to the Jews who were under the Old Covenant. They do not pertain to Christianity (in our co-resurrected lives with Christ), and in fact they go against New Covenant life. Old Covenant principles (such as "if you do this, God will bless you," and "if you do that, God will punish you") were always against us and contrary to us! (see Col 2:14).
But now, with the post-Cross resurrected life of Christ, we have a new reality - a New Covenant reality - with teachings that say we are already forgiven of all sins, not based upon what we do or don't do, but rather upon the Blood of Jesus! We're now encouraged and exhorted to forgive others, not commanded to forgive others with the threat of not being forgiven if we don't. Why are we encouraged to forgive others? Because God has already forgiven us completely. Since we've been the recipients of such wonderful mercy and grace, let's turn around and show the same to others.
We can now stop worrying about whether or not we're forgiven, based upon whether or not we've forgiven others. Instead, we can fully experience and enjoy the fullness of God's grace and mercy, and our redemption and forgiveness that's not based at all upon what we do, but that's based solely upon the finished work of Jesus!
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Eph 4:32
(Note: We discuss all of this on this week's "Growing in Grace" podcast with me and Mike Kapler.)