Chapter 10: Have you forgiven everyone?

In this chapter we will examine whether the Bible teaches that we must forgive others in order to be saved.

Before we can really do that I would like you to let your imagination take you back in time. Close your eyes, and translate yourself back into the 16th century. You see people. You see horses. But you don’t see cars. At that time the automobile was not invented. The primary form of land transport was the horse (besides walking, of course). Picture that.

Now, picture me coming to you, and telling you that, in a few hundred years, man would build huge airplanes that would carry over a hundred people across the sky, at the height of 30,000 feet, and at the speed of 500 miles per hour.

Would you believe me?

Most people living in the 16th century would find it difficult to believe such a statement. Yet it would be completely true!

So what is my point? My point is that sometimes it is difficult to believe the truth. Sometimes, we need to expand our mind to accept the truth. So go ahead and expand your mind now. Put yourself in a mental state that would enable you to believe your 16th century friend who tells you about airplanes that fly. You are going to need that expanded mind as you read this chapter.

Now come back to the 21st century. You are now a typical Christian who has heard that the only requirement for salvation is ‘faith.’ If I was to tell you that, in addition to faith, you must also forgive everyone in order to have your own sins forgiven, would you believe me? I am essentially proposing something totally new – something that perhaps few people have brought up for discussion in the last 2000 years. But what if I could make a good case for it? Would you believe me?

When Martin Luther appeared on the scene in the 16th century, hardly anyone would have been willing to teach that faith was a requirement for salvation. Yet it was right there in the Bible. For almost 1600 years, the truth about the role of faith in salvation was not openly preached. 1600 years! That is a long time for something so important to be hidden.

So what is my point? My point is that if it took 1600 years for the common Christian to realize that faith is a requirement for salvation, why should it be such a big stretch of the imagination to believe that it took 2000 years for us to realize that our forgiving others is a requirement for our salvation?

Somehow, forgiving others as a requirement for salvation seems to have slipped through the cracks and ended up in the gutters of Christian theology. In the 18 years that I have been a Christian I have heard just a handful of sermons on forgiving others. Of these, none have focused on forgiving others as a requirement for salvation. It is as if people are afraid of adding any new requirements. Yet, the teaching is so clear in Scripture.

The mantra in today’s theological circles seems to go like this: Is faith a requirement? Yes indeed! Repentance? May be. Anything else? God forbid! That seems to be the attitude of the typical pastor and the typical Bible teacher today. It is as if they are afraid that they will lose their congregation and be labeled as heretics if they go beyond faith and repentance. It doesn’t seem to matter that Scripture teaches it. Indeed, I have found the common Christian more open to this teaching than the common pastor.

Clear as the teaching of Scripture may be (and I will back this statement shortly), the creativity that some people display in explaining away the verses of Scripture that teach this doctrine amazes me. It is as if they lose all objectivity. It is like showing someone an apple and saying, "This is an apple," and they look at you uncomfortably, and do their best to explain why the apple that you are holding in your hand cannot be an apple. It is weird.

Yet, if what I am saying is true then I should expect nothing less. Satan has kept this a secret for over 2000 years. He will do everything he can to continue to keep it a secret. If you agree with me (after reading what I have to say) and begin to teach that forgiving others is a requirement for being saved you can expect opposition. It is not without reason that Paul said that those who desire to live a godly life based on the Christian faith will be persecuted (2 Tm 3:12).

Our love for the truth will be tested here. Are we going to stand with God on Scripture or are we going to be crippled by the fear of men? Jesus said that the fear of man is a hindrance to believing the truth (Jn 5:44).

However, Jesus also said that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away (Mt 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lk 21:33). It was this same Jesus who taught that forgiving others is a requirement for salvation. So please consider carefully what is written below, and may God grant you the grace to believe.

Is forgiving others a requirement for our salvation?

Jesus taught us that unless we forgive others from the heart our own sins are not forgiven. Since we cannot be saved unless our sins are forgiven, our forgiving others becomes a requirement for our own salvation.

Let us first look at Lk 17:3,4.

Lk 17:3,4 "Be on your guard! If your 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."

Lk 17:3,4 teaches that God expects us to forgive our brother each and every time he comes to us saying that he has repented.

But that is not all. Did you notice the ‘Be on your guard’ tucked away at the beginning of Lk 17:3?

Isn’t it strange that Jesus should preface His statement with such a warning? Why should we be on our guard? What are we protecting by being on our guard? Could it be that forgiving others is not such a mundane act? Could it be that there is something significant at stake if we don’t forgive?

Consider this scenario. Your child goes to school. She doesn’t take the bus, but walks to school. On her way she has to go around a large, deep pit. You are concerned that she can get careless and fall into it. What do you tell her? You tell her to be on her guard. She needs to be on her guard because every school day the pit is waiting to engulf her.

In the same way, when our brother sins against us, we are at the edge of a large, deep pit. We need to be on our guard. If we let our guard down and give in to the temptation to not forgive him then we have fallen into the pit. If we are on our guard and always forgive him then we have walked around the pit.

Jesus did not use His words lightly. When He says that we should be on our guard it is good for us to ask why. We need to know what the pit is.

Now let us look at Mt 6:12 and Lk 11:4.

Mt 6:12 "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Lk 11:4 "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us."

Both of the statements above are a part of the Lord’s Prayer. Mt 6:12 was spoken during the Sermon on the Mount, whereas Lk 11:4 was spoken in response to a question on how to pray. Note also that Jesus is addressing people who can call God their Father. This is because in the beginning of the prayer He teaches them to say ‘Our Father.’

Now note the comparison that Jesus makes in each of the above two verses. Jesus explicitly asked us to pray that God forgive us as we have forgiven others (Mt 6:12). He says that we can ask God to forgive us our sins because we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

The point Jesus was making was that God forgives us in the same manner that we forgive others. Our forgiving others is a necessary condition for God to forgive us. If we forgive others easily then God will also forgive us easily. But if we forgive others with difficulty then God also will forgive us with difficulty. If we do not forgive others at all then God also will not forgive us at all. God forgives us in the same manner that we forgive others.

Next, notice that the tense is past tense (for those who know Greek, it is the aorist tense) in the case of our forgiving others (‘as we also have forgiven our debtors’), and the present tense in God forgiving us (‘forgive us our sins’). The aorist tense indicates that the action (of our forgiving others) is already done. Before we can even come to God for forgiveness for our sins we must have already forgiven others. Only then can we ask God, in the present, to forgive our sins. A person who has not already forgiven others cannot even ask God to forgive him. Such a person cannot pray the prayer in Mt 6:12.

Now notice that in Lk 11:4 the tense is present (present active indicative, to be precise). ‘For we ourselves also forgive’ implies that we not only have forgiven but that we continue to forgive as and when it is needed.

Note also in Lk 11:4 that we are to forgive everyone who is indebted to us. If there is a single person whom we cannot forgive then we cannot ask God to forgive us.

Therefore, taking the sum of Mt 6:12 and Lk 11:4, we can conclude that in order to have our sins forgiven we must have forgiven, and must continue to forgive, everyone who has sinned against us.

Now we can understand what the pit is. Now we can see what we must guard against. The pit is that God no longer forgives us. When someone sins against us, if we do not forgive him or her then we force God to not forgive us. That is a very bad position to be in. That is why we must be on our guard when our brother sins against us. We must make sure that we do not fall into the pit. We must make sure that we forgive our brother, even if he sins repeatedly.

Lk 6:37 tells us the same thing. We will be pardoned if we pardon. Our being pardoned is tied to our pardoning others.

Lk 6:37 "And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned."

If you are scratching your head now and thinking, "Huh? How can that be?" you are in good company. The disciples must have been doing the same thing. Jesus must have seen that. That is why He spoke Mt 6:14,15.

Mt 6:14,15 "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."

At the end of the teaching of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in the book of Matthew Jesus clarifies just one particular part of the prayer, just in case his disciples had any doubt left regarding what He meant (Mt 6:14,15). He said that God would forgive us if and only if we have forgiven others. He took explicit pains to make the implications both ways. It was sufficiently important that there should be no room for doubt.

What is the consequence of what Jesus said? The consequence is that our forgiving others is a requirement for our own salvation. After all, we cannot be saved unless God forgives us our sins.

From these verses above it should be clear that the Bible teaches that our forgiving others is a requirement for our own salvation. The teaching is as clear as it can be. There is no room for ambiguity.

Some of us are like Peter. We don’t get it the first time. Peter didn’t get it when Jesus explained it in the sixth chapter of Matthew. So he asked a related question in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive a brother who has sinned against him (Mt 18:21).

Mt 18:21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"

Jesus replied by telling a story (Mt 18:22-35).

Mt 18:22-35 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle {them,} one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have {the means} to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell {to the ground} and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and {began} to choke {him,} saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell {to the ground} and {began} to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Peter wanted to know how many times he must forgive. However, instead of focusing on the frequency with which we should forgive Jesus focused on the reason why we should forgive, and in doing so, answered the question about the frequency as well.

What is the point of the story? The point is that no matter how many times we need to forgive we must forgive. We must forgive because the forgiveness of our sins depends on our forgiving everyone else.

This story teaches the same thing that the verses I pointed out earlier teach. In addition, it also clears up the picture on timing. It helps us answer the question regarding what happens if a person is saved and then decides to not forgive someone. Is that person still saved?

Note that the man in the story was forgiven at one point (Mt 18:27,32), and therefore is a picture of a person who is saved. It is clear that this man was forgiven because verse 27 says that the lord released the slave and forgave him his debt. Also, in verse 32 the lord tells the slave plainly that he forgave him all his debt.

However, at the end of the story we see that the debt was reinstated and the man had to repay all that was owed (Mt 18:34). This tells us that we can no longer consider ourselves saved if, after we are saved, we do not forgive every person who has sinned against us.

Mt 18:35 tells us that this story applies to us. ‘My heavenly Father will also do the same to you’ tells us that God will require that we pay the price for all our sins (even after He has applied the forgiveness through Christ to our account) if we do not forgive our brother from our heart.

From what we have seen so far, we can say that at any given point in time we stand justified before God, and have fellowship with God at that point in time, based on whether we have forgiven everyone. If we die at a point when we are not justified with God then we are not saved! That is how serious the consequence of not forgiving even a single soul is.

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