Are Christians Forgiven If They Don’t Forgive Others?
A big question we get asked is what happens if a Christian doesn’t forgive others and will they be forgiven by God in such a case. If we only had Matthew 6:14-15 to go by then the answer would be “no”, we would not be forgiven, but as you’re about to discover, those verses only described the kind of forgiveness that you could expect under the law. Let’s look at the verses.
[Matthew 6:14-15] For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Before I proceed, this one requires an upfront disclosure. We most definitely encourage forgiving others and we would not even slightly hint at withholding forgiveness for those that have offended us, so please do not read this post with an incorrect perception of what we believe at Jesus Without Religion. I could offer countless reasons why we should be very forgiving, but for this post I want to address what happens when a believer in Christ struggles to forgive, because according to popular religious teaching you will not be forgiven unless you forgive others.
With that said, let’s be honest, sometimes it can take months or even years to forgive someone, and it will often depend on the offence and attitude of the offender. Heck, it’s very possible that some will go to their grave having not forgiven someone. If Matthew 6:15 is true for the believer then that would imply the believer will not be forgiven, and let’s not water this down, if we are not forgiven then hell is the only acceptable punishment.
As we discover the fullness of the grace of God we again see that Matthew 6:15 does not apply to the believers in Christ. Now, before you make any incorrect assumptions please follow this post to the end, because it is so easy to misinterpret the true gospel message as a license to sin, especially if we miss the entire picture God has given us.
It Begins With Christians Not Understanding the Sermon on the Mount
The mistake believers make so often is that they want to put themselves in every verse, and they end up in bondage because they read letters like the ones written to non-believers (usually Jewish people that hold on to the law, instead of Jesus) and act as if God intended every word for them, because they fail to recognize the audience. This is often the case as we read the book of Hebrews, almost entirely addressing non-believing Jews, but we see a similar situation at the Sermon on the Mount. First, let me be clear, every word Jesus said is true. We DO NOT dispute this fact. But it’s true only for the intended audience. In this case Jesus is preaching to Jewish people that have not yet accepted Him as Lord and Savior. This audience looks to the law for the forgiveness of sin, and Jesus is literally burying them under the true standard of God’s perfect and holy law. Why would He do that? He did that to show them the hopelessness of salvation through the law and to reveal that He was the way, the truth, and the the life, so that no one could come to the father accept through Him.
In the sermon Jesus tells them in Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So we see the law of Moses elevated much higher. The point? Who could do it? Everyone listening was guilty. Mission accomplished. Good Job Jesus!
Jesus continues to raise the bar on the Mosaic law in Matthew 5:21-22 by saying “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court;
Once again, everyone in the audience is guilty. They would all be thinking “who could be that perfect”? And if you read on to verse 48 Jesus even tells them to be “perfect just as God is perfect”. I wonder is there one of you that thinks you are perfect, just as God is. I wonder how many of you misunderstand what Jesus was really doing on that day.
So now let’s circle back to what Jesus said about forgiveness. He said if you don’t forgive others then God won’t forgive you. Now, if you think that’s the gospel message for those that believe in Jesus then you also have to throw out verses that teach us things such as:
We are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8)
We are saved apart from Law (Romans 3:28)
God remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12)
You’d have to throw them out because you’d be saying if you don’t forgive someone then your faith is not enough, you are being judged by the law, and God clearly is remembering your sins. So again, Jesus was simply raising the bar on the law. Raising to bar on forgiveness. In others “God, dole out the same kind of forgiveness that I give to others”, and if that’s case we are all up a creek. Under grace God does not dull out what we deserve. Instead we are forgiven as a gift, apart from our human ability to be perfect and forgive everyone else.
Christians Fail to See the DIFFERENT Message in POST CROSS Verses
Now, let’s build on to what I said earlier. The words of Jesus were true, but His intent was to lead them to salvation through faith in Him. Once we place our faith in Jesus we are no longer under the law, but rather we have been freed from law of sin and death!
[Romans 8:2] For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Are you ready for some wonderful news that disputes this idea of not being forgiven if we struggle to forgive others? Here you go…..
After Jesus died on the cross there was not a single verse written to believers that threatened a loss of forgiveness if we failed to forgive others. Instead we are under a whole new system, and when we are faithless God remains faithful. Instead of a message of “you better forgive or God won’t forgive you” we now see the polar opposite message. We see a teaching of “because you have been forgiven then pass it on and do the same”.
Again, I Jesus meant what He said about forgiveness, but what we need to understand is that was true only for unbelievers, under the law. Keep in mind the covenant had not even begun yet because Jesus had not yet gone to teh cross, and that’s why we see a very different message after He dies.
[Hebrews 9:16-17] For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.
So the old covenant message was “if you forgive”, and the new covenant message is to forgive “because you have been forgiven”.
Let’s look at a couple of those verses:
[Ephesians 4:32] Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
[Colossians 3:13] bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Do you see it? In the new covenant all things have changed and it is not like the old one. Grace is lavished upon us, not by what we do, how much we give, or how well we forgive others, but because of our faith in Christ.
Hebrews 4 called the Jews to “enter His rest”. When we think our forgiveness comes through the standard of the law then we will fail to enter His rest. We simply must believe Jesus completely saved us from any and all wrath. Hebrews is all about the sin of unbelief, and Hebrews 3 makes it very clear why they did not enter His rest.
[Hebrews 3:19] So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
So now I ask you, where is your faith for salvation? Is it in the law or maybe the sermon on the mount? Maybe it’s in your ability to perfectly forgive others? Or is it in Christ alone? There really is only one answer. And His name is Jesus. To Him be the glory, less I boast even a little.
In conclusion, yes, let’s pass on what God did for us and forgive others that have sinned against us. But when we fall short of that standard remember you are not a Jewish man or woman at the Sermon on the Mount and if you are a believer then God is not interested in burying you under the law. You are a child of God, free from the law, and you will be presented holy and blameless. Praise be to God.
Author: Mike Cynar
Mike Cynar grew up in church and observed that countless people would go to church and then just stop. The church always referred to them as ‘fake Christians’ or ‘backsliders’ but Mike discovered the problem was deeper. The problem was the church message. The message was 90% behavior improvement and how bad you are, with a pinch of who you are in Christ, It was like every sermon was being preached to the church of Corinth. It’s in the Baptist church, Catholic, Pentecost, and most every other church. After discovering the true gospel message and how we are made right with God because of what ‘Jesus did’ (not what ‘we do’) Mike set out to free believers from behavior improvement programs and bring them back to Jesus. The Result – Jesus Without Religion was launched.