Forgiving others is not optional for Christians; it is a command. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. He made it clear that God’s offer of forgiveness is inseparable from our willingness to forgive others. So what is the nature of this link?
Read Matthew 18:21-35
First of all, forgiving others when they wrong us is part of our grateful response to God’s forgiveness of our own sins through Jesus’ death on the cross. His forgiveness is based exclusively on his unconditional love and grace. We do not deserve it. The Greek word for sin in Matthew 6:12 means literally ‘debt’. Because we have broken God’s law we have debts towards him that we can never pay back. If we ask God to cancel our enormous debts while we refuse to cancel the tiny debts that people owe us, then we act at best inconsistently and at worst hypocritically.
Read Colossians 3:12-15
Secondly, forgiving people is a powerful demonstration of loving them. As God is our loving Father he wants to forgive us our sins, to restore our relationship with him. Just as God requires us to love our neighbour, so are we to forgive them.
- Who is your neighbour?
- How does this passage challenge us in our relationships with people who have hurt us?
Finally, forgiving others what they have done to us is a reliable test for our faith. Does our faith make a real difference in our life? Forgiving others is not easy. It is not natural – our natural response is to want to take revenge. But Jesus forgave his enemies who crucified him – before he died he prayed; ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). You may protest that Jesus was the Son of God, and we are not, that it is beyond our sinful human nature to love our enemies as Jesus commanded us to do. However, if Christianity is about having a personal relationship with God, and if God is real and powerful, then surely he will empower those who trust in him to experience the power of his love and forgiveness in their own lives.
Without forgiveness there is no genuine peace. As all of us do wrong and hurt each other, we need to ask forgiveness as much as to forgive. Saying sorry and asking forgiveness from people we have wronged is sometimes even harder than forgiving those who wronged us. But if with God’s help we decide to make forgiveness our way of life, then this way will lead us to peace – peace with ourselves, with others and with God. This peace is a great and wonderful blessing that God wants everyone to enjoy.
- How unique is Jesus in terms of addressing the issue of forgiveness?
- Are there any people that you need to forgive or to ask forgiveness from?
- What are the social implications of the Christian faith, in terms of bringing reconciliation between different people?
The writer, Dr Chawkat Moucarry, is a tutor at All Nations Christian College. He is the author of The Search for Forgiveness: Pardon and Punishment in Islam and Christianity (IVP, 2004).