The sermon at our church this past Sunday was about the mandate of forgiveness. A mandate is an official order or commission to do something. Consider this verse, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32). For me, his verse sheds light on the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus teaches us to ask our Father to forgive us. It’s in this prayer that Jesus explains God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others are connected. We ask Him to “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). He goes on to tell us that “if [we] do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will [our] Father forgive [our] trespasses” (vv. 14–15).
This text seems a bit difficult at first reading. Does Jesus mean that our forgiveness of others earns the Lord’s pardon for us? If God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others, is salvation suddenly not all about grace? The answer to both questions is no. Christ is not speaking of how we receive forgiveness, but He teaches us about the Christian’s disposition concerning forgiveness considering God’s grace towards us. As fallen people because Adam first sinned, we have nothing good in ourselves to bring before the Lord. Our only hope is to abandon any pretense of our own goodness—to reject any thought that the Father owes us pardon and favor—and throw ourselves on God’s mercy (Luke 18:9–14). When we do this (leaning solely on the grace of God) it becomes clear that we too must be merciful toward those who have wronged us. It would be arrogant to withhold our forgiveness from those who ask for it sincerely. Since the Creator forgives us when we repent, how can we who are unclean apart from God’s mercy in Christ dare to refuse others our forgiveness?
Simply put, if we do not forgive, we are setting a higher bar than God does. We are exalting ourselves as better than other sinners in the Lord’s eyes, revealing that we have likely not understood the grace of God at all. We show that we are not relying on the Father’s promises alone but are instead trying to bring something before God to earn His favor. We are demonstrating an attitude that says, “I deserve God’s forgiveness, but others do not.” If we insist on withholding our forgiveness from repentant people, we reveal that we do not understand Christ’s love for us. John Calvin put it this way, “Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them, devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them.”
My prayer Father is to help me to forgive. Take the burden of unforgiveness and bitterness away from me. Help me to give up my right to get even. Free me from wanting to hang on to any wrongs that have been done to me. I want to forgive as you have forgiven me. I don’t have the strength in myself, but I know with your strength and in your power, I can forgive. Show me the way Jesus. Amen