Matthew 6:14-15~ 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
A Nobel Peace Prize winner once wrote, “Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” Without forgiveness, there will never be eternal life. Forgiveness is one of the essential teachings of the Christian faith. It weaves throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation … from the beginning to the end.
Forgiveness is the reason why Jesus was born and came into this world. Forgiveness is why he gave up his life and died on the cross, that we may receive the “forgiveness of sins”. Jesus did all these things so that you and I can be forgiven, for without forgiveness, there is no future nor is there eternal life.
Even though forgiveness is the one of the core teaching of Christianity, there are so many confusions and misunderstandings about forgiveness. There are three essential things that we must know about forgiveness.
1. First, the reason for forgiveness is God
The reason why you and I forgive people who have wronged us is because of God. We forgive because God has forgiven us. The Apostle John wrote that “your sins are forgiven for [Jesus] name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). It is for his sake that we are forgiven. It is not for our sake. And because we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, the Bible teaches that “in like manner” we are to forgive others. In other words, we forgive others for Jesus name’s sake and not our own.
One person noted that if we do not forgive those who have wronged us, we are digging two graves … one for that person and the other for ourselves. This may be true. Then again, we may only be digging a grave for ourselves. But, is that the real reason we need to forgive people? No, it is not. We forgive others because God has forgiven us.
One of my friends counseled a grieving person who was unable to forgive the party that victimized her. He told her that she was only hurting herself if she could not forgive this person. The anger … the bitterness … the resentment that were building up inside her only added more satisfaction to her victimizer and added more punishment to her soul. My friend told her that she must learn to forgive for her sake. That may be true. But again, is that the real reason why we forgive others? No, it is not. We forgive because of Jesus name’s sake. We forgive because God has first forgiven us.
Jesus put it this way in a parable that he told his disciple concerning forgiveness in Matthew 18:23-35. A slave owed his King a great deal of money. He could not repay when the King asked him to give an accounting. So, he begged the King for time and mercy. The King graciously heeded his pleading and had compassion on the slave. The King forgave the slave all of his debt.
But that slave went and sought out another servant of the King who owed him very little money compared to the great debt he had with the King. The servant pleaded and begged the forgiven slave for time and mercy. But the forgiven slave showed no such favor to the servant. He casted the servant into prison. When the King found out, He was enraged and questioned the worthless slave, “Should you not have mercy on your fellow slave IN THE SAME WAY that I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33). In other words, should you not forgive the one that wronged you the same way that I have forgiven you?
The reason you and I forgive those who have wronged us is because God has forgiven us. We do not forgive because forgiveness benefits us (although it does). We do not forgive so that we could avoid pain (although it does). The benefits and the painlessness are just biproducts of the real reason we are to forgive. We forgive because of God. We forgive because Jesus has forgiven us. He is the reason why we forgive. We are not the reason.
2. Second, the purpose of forgiveness is relationship
The end result of forgiveness is to restore relationship. Most people think that forgiveness is about not retaliating or seeking revenge or wanting some kind of retribution. The Bible says that vengeance belongs to God and He will repay (Romans 12:19). Not seeking vengeance but letting God execute vengeance on our behalf is not forgiveness.
I had a friend who was so hurt that he took comfort in the fact that God would take vengeance on his behalf. He said that he had forgiven that villain who hurt him by not taking vengeance but letting God take the vengeance on that villain. Really? If that is a person’s idea of forgiveness, then please do me a favor and keep your forgiveness … I don’t want it nor need it.
Vengeance … Retaliation … Retribution … these are matters of justice. No, forgiveness is about restoring a broken relationship. When someone violates me or wrongs me in some way, my relationship with that person is broken. Forgiveness is to restore that broken relationship.
This is what Jesus did. He forgave us of our sins. We have wronged the God and He forgave us. But what does that forgiveness look like? When He forgave us, He restore us back into relationship with Himself. Forgiveness is restoration of relationship.
3. The way to forgiveness is repentance.
The last thing that we must know about forgiveness is that there must be repentance. Repentance must proceed forgiveness. If there is not repentance, there can never be forgiveness. A relationship cannot be restored if the person who had committed the wrong does not repent and ask for mercy.
Looking back at the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 18:23-35, the slave asked for mercy and the King granted it to him. At first, the King was seeking justice for what belonged to Him. He granted forgiveness only when the slave asked.
Jesus had this to say about needing repentance before forgiveness. “If you brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).
There must be repentance before there can be forgiveness. Even God does not forgive until there is repentance. In the same way, we cannot forgiven until there is repentance.