If I Don’t Forgive, Am I Not Forgiven?

ernieyip asked a question:

Hi, I have a question about forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, there’s the part that says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Also, in Matthew 6, Jesus says “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. To me it looks like the verse says that God’s forgiveness is conditional on our own acts of forgiveness, but I don’t think that’s the case. Could you help me better understand this passage? Thanks

Hey my friend, the passage you mentioned definitely scares me too.  There are also other similar ones.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. — Mark 11:25

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. — Luke 6:37

In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” — Matthew 18:34-35

At first glance, all these passages seem conditional, as if God will only forgive when we forgive others.

But as with any Bible passage, we must always balance out singular verses with the rest of the Bible in theme, intent, and the GospelOtherwise, we end up with a lopsided theology that might be half-right, but is therefore all wrong.

In one of my favorite Bible stories in Luke 7, a “sinful woman” anoints the feet of Jesus with her tears.  Jesus then says,

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

In other words, “Those who know how much they’re forgiven will also forgive.  Those who have been loved much will also love much.”

Where did the idea of forgiveness come from?  Is it natural to our human flesh?  No.  We perpetuate cycles of retaliation and vengeance because we believe in justice.  Forgiveness is paying off the debt that a wound incurs, and it means we absorb the hurt that was dealt to us.  And the original forgiveness comes from God Himself, through His Son, and that forgiveness is a gift for us that we can give to others.  It starts with Him and does not originate with us.

As far as I can tell, the Bible languages are suggesting that when we forgive, we are showing we understand the forgiveness we’ve first been given.  We are showing we know that it costs something; it cost God the life of His Son.  This sort of divine complete forgiveness is not only unconditional, but counter-conditional.  Our debt has been wiped clean, which compels us to wipe the debt of others.

— J.S.

8 thoughts on “If I Don’t Forgive, Am I Not Forgiven?

  1. This is a tough one because our cultural theology affects our response. If we do not forgive we show we have not been forgiven. That is one category. But Paul also talks about those who have tasted of Crist and then rebel. If we cannot forgive/love our Christian colleague, then we don’t love God. In other words, it is hard to soften or sugar-coat this one. Vengeance belongs to God according to Romans, so when I seek revenge or hold a grudge I am playing God. That is always dangerous. See where it got Lucifer! I accept that that this is very literal, those who can’t forgive don’t know forgiveness and do not know how to love.
    Remember forgiveness does not release anyone from responsibility. For humans it releases us from the prison another holds us in when we hold onto to hurts (real or imagined). Forgiveness first releases us and then opens the way to resolution, maybe even reconciliation. But if I am unforgiving, how can God work with that? I show my friendship with God by how I reflect God in my life.
    We are called to be a light on a hill, not a flamethrower!


  2. I recently preached a sermon on this very topic. The full text can be found on my blog, but basically, I think we need to take a harder line on this. Jesus’s language was hard. He taught with authority. I think the cases are also very complicated, and that forgiveness is an extremely difficult task, which is way God’s forgiveness of us is so divine and costs so much.


  3. I’m with the majority commenting here. I too wish I could leap-frog scriptures like this, as I’ve seen many pastors do, esp. those who hold to a hard line eternal security theology. Yet, it’s very congruent with other hard scripture Like Luke 12 etc.

    In many ways the church in America esp. needs to stripped of our pet-doctrines and theology and return to a bible-only framework. I’ve noticed that many expositors overseas do just that. but it would be wildly unpopular in America. The slate in terms of our sin is completely clean, and grace is most certainly a free gift that can’t be earned. I agree as I think most would.

    What’s not abundantly clear is this idea from scripture of once save always saved and no other perpetual violations that can cause some (according to scripture) to literally wander away from the faith or to forfeit salvation. I use forfeit because I don’t believe in the idea of “losing it”. Hebrews 6, Hebrews 10, Luke 12, 2 Peter 1:10. All tough texts that I’ve seen many-a-pastor casually dismiss or conveniently not cover as they preach. Most in softened American evangelicalism dismiss such as scriptures under the notion that they lead to religiosity if unchecked. I agree with that, but it still requires contemplation and sincerity in addressing what often time Christ clearly states.



  4. Thank you so much for this post! Someone just told me that God doesn’t forgive you unless you forgive others. I initially had a bad feeling about it but I couldn’t think of a passage to go against what they were saying. Context is key!!


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