Probably one of the hardest and unnatural things to do, especially in the face of unprovoked oppression, is forgiveness.
I recently spoke on the issue of forgiveness and mentioned the verse that if we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven. (Matthew 6: 14, 15). The verse itself is pretty clear with no room for doubts. I also mentioned that, by inference, I will have forgiven sin since the last time I forgave someone.
However, since the sermon, I have received several questions on the issue – Is forgiveness conditional? Won’t it be salvation by human effort then? Can sin be backed up?
The verse is pretty clear – if we don’t forgive, we will NOT be forgiven. So yes, our forgiveness is based on the fact that we forgive others. But, this is NOT talking about salvation. Salvation is by grace, not by works and it is a free gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
However, even though salvation is by grace, Christian life has an effort component. Philippians 2.13-14 says, “Work out your (free) salvation with fear and trembling”. So we have to work out our spiritual life (obviously, God gives us the strength to do it). Paul says that he beats his body to make it his slave – I Cor 9.27, illustrating the effort component of christian life.
So the issue of forgiving one another is not an issue of Salvation but one of Christian Living, once a person has become a believer.
In I John 1.9 it says – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins….. Every promise comes with a condition. The promise here is forgiveness. The condition is confession. What happens if I don’t confess? Then, our sins wont be forgiven. So what happens if our sins aren’t forgiven? Then they will be backed up and I will face the discipline that results from unforgiven sin. God may love the sinner, but he hates sin. Since he has provided us a way to ask for forgiveness and move on, not using the opportunity to get forgiveness is akin to pooh-poohing God’s grace.
In the same way, Matthew 6:14,15 says that Not forgiving others will also result in unforgiven sin. (Hey, I didn’t make the rules!). In addition, there is an example of sin backing up in the bible. In Romans 3:25, Paul talks about unpunished (and unforgiven) sin accumulating prior to the coming of Christ. Even though the context there is about Salvation, the same concept can be applied in Christian Living. Sin has consequences. Sin is punished. The two are different. When God forgives sin, he may not take away the consequences of that sin, however it will take away the punishment of that sin. If sin is not forgiven, then the consequences remain and the punishments remain.
My point is that Unforgiveness is a much more grievous issue for God than we usually talk about. The grievousness is because we refuse to give what God freely gave us, namely forgiveness. The parable in Matthew 18 is entirely about that.
Unforgiveness may not affect our salvation and therefore our destiny. But it certainly will affect our Christian Life here on earth.