The Importance of Forgiveness
“Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” Matthew 18: 21-22
Immediately after this exchange with Peter in the Gospel record, Jesus taught a parable about forgiveness, one that you are most likely familiar with (see Matthew 18: 23-35 if not). I’ll paraphrase: A king forgives one of his servants a large debt (about $10 million) and this same servant, upon leaving this merciful king, encounters a fellow servant and refuses to forgive him of a smaller debt (about $20), having him thrown into prison. When the king hears of the servant’s unmerciful actions towards his fellow servant for such a small debt, after the mercy shown him from the king for a very large debt, the king becomes angry and re-instates the original large debt, delivering the wicked servant to the jailers. Jesus ends the parable saying this:
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:35
In my previous blog, I discussed the Scriptural truth that God’s kindness should produce a change in us, focusing on a verse from Romans chapter 2, with the understanding that the word “repentance” in the original Greek suggests an internal change in our minds and thinking:
“Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:3-4
I would like to now expand upon this idea of God’s kindness and mercy having an impact on our thinking, and make the connection with the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness in Matthew 18 mentioned above.
It is obvious that the merciful king in the parable is our heavenly Father who has forgiven us a great eternal debt (not a monetary debt but rather an offense against Him that deserves death):
“For the Son of man (Jesus) came to save [from the penalty of eternal death] that which was lost.” Matthew 18:11 (Amplified Bible)
It is obvious also, that we are the servant who has been forgiven the large debt and who must now behave as one who has been forgiven when dealing with others (committing lesser offenses towards us). It is very clear in this parable that the realization of having been forgiven a large debt should have changed the behavior of the servant. Think of this, this realization of having been forgiven a great debt should produce a change in us! How important it is that we make sure that the reality of this situation has sunk deep into our souls and becomes a part of our thinking and acting! This requires an exercise of faith. It is not an exercise of using our imaginations to image ourselves as being forgive, no, it is making this truth of God’s mercy towards us a reality.
All of us had fallen short. In our past we did not honor God, nor did we give thanks to Him, nor did we follow His ways, but instead were focused on ourselves and our own happiness, pleasures, advancement, etc. This was an insult to our Creator and placed us under His wrath and judgment, and we are without excuse. This truth as revealed in Romans 1 applies to each one of us to one degree or another:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plan to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:18-22
My purpose here is not to have us feel bad about our past, but rather, it is to remind us of how great a debt that has been removed from our lives, the extent of which will not be fully realized until we stand before the Lord in the future.
When standing before the Lord, we do not want to hear words similar to the words spoken in the parable to the unforgiving servant:
“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Matthew: 18: 32-33
I would also remind you that this realization of God’s mercy applies to many circumstances in our dealing with others. How can we be so easily offended by others in the light of this? How can we be so impatient with others? How can we be so quick to judge? Our attitude of forgiveness starts long before an offending brother or sister comes to us asking for forgiveness. It starts at the time of the offense. It is our responsibility to confront those who have sinned against us, but it needs to be done in love. I believe that the realization of our position, i.e. the Lord’s mercy towards us, will contribute to this required love.
My advice (that I also apply to myself) is to periodically re-establish this realization of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness towards us and the extent of our debt that was redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Make sure when you are offended or in difficult circumstances with others that you recall this truth. I wonder how many divisions and conflicts could be avoided among the brethren if this reality of truth was implemented in the hearts of all parties involved.
Also, we must be very quick to forgive others and hold no one in a position of not forgiving them, no matter the crime against us, or how difficult the circumstances.
Walking by faith requires that we walk in the reality of God’s forgiveness towards us; walking in the flesh happens when we are devoid of this reality.
I want to emphasize that this is a very important and serious issue for us to resolve in our hearts and is not to be taken lightly. Please allow the Holy Spirit to clarify this truth for you. Take some time to meditate on this and let it sink in. Examine yourself if you have been unable or unwilling to forgive someone.
I also find it interesting that the king in the parable withdrew His previous mercy based on the servant’s wicked actions. This is very serious indeed if we are faced with similar potential consequences if we refuse forgiveness to others. Let me be clear on this, it means that we would have the penalty of eternal death put back in place on our lives, with our heavenly Father’s mercy withdrawn. This is not something that we want to happen!
I wonder how this fits with those who take the view that Christians are “once saved then always saved” or that we are “eternally secure” in our salvation, no matter what our actions. Included in this view is the presupposition that anyone who continues in sin after confessing to be a Christian was either not saved in the first place, or will be restored in the future. Since the Lord knows the future, He also knows who will remain faithful and who will fall away. Our finite minds have difficulty grasping the ways of an infinite God who is not limited by time.
For me the bottom line is that I do not want to put this theological doctrine of eternal security to the test. I want to make sure that my actions are not in question and strive to do all that is possible to live and walk in holiness and righteousness to the best of my abilities, by the power of the Spirit within me. Any contribution to this ability to walk in holiness is extremely valuable to me. Thus, the realization of God’s forgiveness as a means of contributing to my ability to forgive others and ultimately to walk in love is seen as extremely valuable by me.
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13
I am convinced that God expects us as Christians to walk in love, to take on the mind of Christ, becoming more and more like Jesus. I have found the key to achieving this love is to become spiritually minded as opposed to being carnally minded. A true and living faith, combined with the reality of the hope that was promised to us by God through His Son Jesus (including the forgiveness of our immense debt), is the means by which we can be transformed into this new creature that can walk in love.
May the Lord grant us the ability to walk in this love, and to continue in this walk until He returns or takes us home.