I was doing a Bible study on the Lord’s Prayer in Mathew 6 last week. Leading up to the example of how to pray, Jesus is instructing people in the Sermon on the Mount. His lessons reinforce the theme of having a right heart that runs throughout the Bible; being righteous before God means having a heart that submits to Him out of love and seeks His glory. The Lord’s Prayer is no different.
One piece of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus saw fit to elaborate upon was the bit on forgiveness. Matthew 6.12 asks God to “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” In verses 14-15, Jesus goes on to instruct us that our failure to forgive others causes us to forfeit the forgiveness of God. That is a pretty huge statement! If I fail to forgive someone, that prevents God from forgiving me?!
In our Bible study, we discussed why this might be, and as usual, it came back to the heart of the matter. Forgiveness is clearly a central and foundational piece of the Gospel message; without forgiveness, we cannot enter into eternal life with God. Without forgiveness, we have no hope for today or tomorrow. Without forgiveness, we remain slaves to our sin and have no freedom to live as Christ. Forgiveness is an essential part of our transformation as Christian, and if we miss its significance, we miss the boat entirely on our salvation.
Remember the story of the wealthy man who owed an enormous debt of millions of dollars to the king in Matthew 18? When the man begged for more time to pay the debt back, the king simply forgave his debt, wiping the account clean. The forgiven man, upon leaving the king, came upon a man who owed him a few bucks. Though the man owing him begged for more time to pay, the man whose incredible debt was forgiven refused to show forgiveness to the one who owed him money. When the king heard of the man’s behavior, the king threw him in prison to be tortured until he could pay back the millions he owed (the debt that had been forgiven). What we often forget about this parable is that it starts with a question from Peter to Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” and it ends with a warning, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Make no mistake! Forgiveness is a central part of our lives as Christians. It is not merely a nicety, to demonstrate how good we are as people now that we have been saved. No, forgiveness is an essential part of our transformation once Christ sets us free. Our willingness to forgive others, no matter what they owe us, is a must if we hope to have the forgiveness of the Father.