In Matthew chapter six there is a passage which has caused many believers great stress and serious difficulty in their Christian walk. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). I’ve heard sermons in which it was suggested that “forgiveness” is a necessity for salvation. To me that sounds like forgiving others is a good work that brings God’s forgiveness and our salvation. If we forgive, then we will be forgiven. Some of you may disagree with me on this, but I’m convinced this is not true for the believer today. Forgiving others is not a good work that saves you any more than baptism or any other attitude, act or deed. I know some deeply committed Christians who have needed to extend forgiveness but needed time and prayer to work through the depth of the offense before they could do so. This means there is a time that these believers could leave this world without being forgiven by God. What would happen to them if this happened?

Jesus often used the law to do what it was intended to do. It was intended to bring all mankind to their knees in recognition of their sinfulness. When He spoke to the lawyer and several others who wanted to know what they needed to do to earn eternal life, Jesus always pointed them to the law or to specific exhortations that should have brought them to the realization of their sinfulness and of their need for a savior. But His reply to the rich ruler and the lawyer ended with either an attempt to justify themselves or in great despair knowing that He was asking something way beyond their ability to provide. It’s the same today. If you try to apply everything that Jesus said to your own life today, you will end in utter despair. Jesus’ exhortation to his followers to “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” wasn’t instruction on how to gain God’s approval and earn entrance into the Kingdom of God. It was the presentation of standard that sinners are totally incapable of attaining.

When we read the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, we must keep this in mind. When Jesus taught, “You must forgive in order to be forgiven,” He was magnifying the demands of the law in order to provoke people to understand their need for a Savior. Paul clarifies the truth about forgiveness in several of His letters. We don’t forgive so that we’ll be forgiven, quite the opposite. We forgive because, and only after, we’ve been forgiven. Ephesians 4:32 instructs us on forgiveness. It says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Further in Colossians 3:12-13 we read, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…just as Christ has forgiven you.”