“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus offers this short piece of wisdom during the famous Sermon on the Mount where He preaches verse after verse of counter-cultural messages. If someone hits you, don’t hit them back; instead let them hit you again. If someone steals from you, don’t take your belongings back; instead give them more. You’ve heard it said don’t murder? Well, I say don’t even be angry. Every line of the Sermon on the Mount challenges the natural worldview of Jesus’ audience both then and now.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus has just finished giving his disciples an example of how to pray: the Lord’s Prayer. In it, he offers praise, petition, gratitude, and repentance. It’s a short, but loaded prayer. However, immediately after he finished, He decides to expand and clarify only one aspect of his prayer – forgiveness.
He tells us that if we neglect to forgive those who sin against us, God will not forgive us. That was radical. In fact, it still is. So often we think of verses like John 3:16 and Romans 8:1 that reassure us that so long as our faith is in Christ, we will be unconditionally forgiven. Some may even find these verses to be in contradiction with Matthew 6:14-15. The truth is that these verses all work together to create an image of the love, mercy, and justice of God. It is absolutely true that all who believe in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life, and it is absolutely true that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. It is also true that if a Christian fails to forgive, he will not be forgiven.
The two ideas actually go hand in hand. For if one has experienced the grace of God and has believed in the salvation of Jesus, how can he withhold that grace from another? In reality, experiencing the loving mercy of God through faith in Christ yields no other result than a yearning to share that love and mercy. If you know Christ, you know that you have been forgiven much. If you have been forgiven much, you will love much. Do not deceive yourself and so believe that you have little to be forgiven for, and therefore very little forgiveness to offer.
Christ tells his disciples in John 13:34, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” There’s really very little difference between this command and Matthew 6:14-15. He says that as He has shown us love, we must show love. As we have been forgiven, we must offer forgiveness. By doing so you offer the very love of Jesus Christ to those who have trespassed against you. You turn the other cheek, you walk the extra mile. Forgive as you have been forgiven, it will set you free.
Forgive me my trespasses, and help me to forgive those who have trespassed against me. Let your love and mercy overflow in my life to those around me that your name will be praised.
In Jesus’ Name,