Have you ever experienced conditional forgiveness? You know, the kind that says “I’ll forgive you, if you pay me back the $200 bucks you owe me.” Or, “I forgive you, if you’ll agree to wash my car for a year.” No? Well, have you ever offered conditional forgiveness to someone? Maybe a “I’ll forgive you if you’ll promise never to do that again” or “I’ll forgive you if you’ll watch whatever I want to watch on TV for the rest of the year, no questions asked.” No?
When I think of forgiveness, what comes to mind is the forgiveness offered to us by the Father, through the blood of Jesus on the cross. I think of forgiveness as being something I’m totally undeserving of, yet totally in dire need of. I think of forgiveness of sins that is by grace, “through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8) I think of forgiveness offered in absolute love.
And I tend to think it’s unconditional. Don’t you?
Yet Jesus said our forgiveness IS conditional. He said that our forgiveness has one condition. In another one of those “hard sayings” of Jesus, the Lord hits us with this one:
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart ,does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Matthew 18:35
And in Mark 11:26 Jesus said “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
Did you get that? Did it make you stop in your tracks? It did me. My forgiveness depends on how I forgive those who have sinned against me. This really should surprise us, since Jesus taught us to pray this very thing:
“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Matthew 6:12
Going back to the verse from Matthew 18 above, Jesus spoke these words after telling the disciples a story about a servant who had been forgiven a very large debt by his master, only to promptly go out and have one of his own debtors thrown in prison for a much smaller debt. Upon hearing of it, the master threw the unforgiving servant into prison until he paid “all that was due to him.”
We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Totally. Entirely. Completely. Gracefully.
I’ve experienced this kind of forgiveness in my life. My beautiful wife has been a walking, talking visible sign of the grace and forgiveness of God in our marriage. She has forgiven me, not as I deserve, but as she’s been forgiven. It’s not easy, just ask her. But it’s the way we, as Christians, are to be. Quite honestly, I think the reason this is an indicator of our own salvation is that when we realize just what God did to forgive us our sins, and what it cost Him, everything else should pale in comparison. As Jesus said:
“Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the sameloves little.” Luke 7:47
When we’ve come face to face with the love of God in Christ Jesus, and the forgiveness offered by His sacrifice on the cross for us, how can we not love enough to forgive?