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.
The purpose of Christianity is to reflect Jesus to those around you. Christians are to be like Christ, conformed to His image (Romans 8:29). Followers of God must strive to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-15). Nowhere is this perhaps more readily seen than when saints have a merciful, forgiving attitude. God is a forgiving God, for which I am greatly thankful. He promised, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). The grace by which Christians are saved would not exist without that mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5). We owe everything to the fact that Jehovah is merciful and forgiving.
Therefore, Christians must also be merciful and forgiving. That is easier said than done. Jesus knew that, which is why Jesus gave the famous “seventy times seven” statement when Peter (perhaps boastfully) asked if the limit of his forgiveness of those who wronged him should be up to seven times, showing that forgiveness should be limitless (Matthew 18:21-22). God’s forgiveness is limitless, and so the Christian’s forgiveness must be limitless as well. Yet so often it is not, which is why Jesus immediately told Peter the parable of a servant who owed his king such a large amount of money that he would never be able to pay it. He begged the king for patience and time so he could pay it, and the king had pity on him and forgave him the debt. Yet that same servant immediately found someone else who owed him a comparative pittance, and refused to show mercy when that man begged him for patience and time for him to pay. Upon hearing of that servant’s unmerciful attitude, the king called him back, chastised him for his lack of mercy, and then threw him into jail until he could pay off the unimaginable debt he owed the king. Christ gave the point of the parable at the end: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart” (Matthew 18:23-35).
Think about that last statement. If followers of Jesus refuse to forgive others, God won’t forgive them…and if God doesn’t forgive a person, that person does not go to heaven but instead goes to hell for all eternity. If such is not enough motivation for one to work towards having a more forgiving attitude, there’s no hope for that person!
Why is it so hard to forgive? One reason might be found in the hearts of people who are generally good and upright themselves (or at least consider themselves to be such). Knowing that they have their own lives under control and are basically good people, they might reason that everyone else should be the same; if others aren’t the same, the conclusion is that they don’t want to be and thus should not be forgiven of the wrongs they do. That attitude is basically the prideful and self-centered mindsets of the Pharisee and older brother whom Jesus condemned in two other parables (Luke 18:9-14; 15:11-32). It ignores the fact that we all have fallen in the sight of God and thus need His forgiveness, no matter how good and righteous we may be (Romans 3:9-12, 23). If we despite our comparative goodness still need to be forgiven, how much more so do we need to forgive others who penitently beg for our mercy (Luke 17:3-4)!
There are benefits to having a forgiving spirit, the greatest of which being salvation from an eternity in hell as mentioned above. Yet godliness – in this case the godly attribute of forgiveness – “holds promise for the present life” as well as “for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Unmerciful people generally are very unhappy, bitter, jaded souls. Their anger consumes them to the point where they find no happiness and contentment in this life. How tragic to live this life in such a way and then be condemned to hell forever in the next! See why it is so much better for us to choose to forgive? Jesus knows this.
How merciful are you, friend? How much like God are you?