Matthew 6:14-15 and Luke 6 37 seem to say if we do not forgive others then God will not forgive us. So, if we believe in Christ and confess our sins, are we forgiven? So, do these verses mean there are conditions to us being forgiven?
Many people have read Matthew 6:14-15 and then asked, “If we do not forgive others, will God not forgive us?” Here is Matthew 6:14-15. It says,
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 (NASB)
The last part of the passage usually causes people concern because the verse says that if any person does not forgive others, then God will not forgive that person. This is a true statement and it applies to Christians and non-Christians. But it applies differently to Christians and non-Christians. This short study explains Matthew 6:14-15 and provides an application. The study has two parts.
First, we must discover what the Bible teaches about forgiveness for non-Christians, that is, unbelievers. The Bible tells us that every person has sinned (Romans 3:23). We are not by nature good people. Jesus said that only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Therefore, Romans 6:23 says we have earned a wage.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (NASB)
A wage is something a person earns as a result of some work he or she did. Therefore, Romans 6:23 says that as a result of our sins, we have earned spiritual death.
In order to rescue or save unbelievers from spiritual death, Jesus died on a Roman cross so that our sins can be forgiven. Romans 5:8 says,
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NASB)
Those who confess their need as a sinner to be forgiven and believe Christ died to forgive our sins will be forgiven (Acts 10:43; 26:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). Romans 5:2 says we are saved by faith or by believing in Jesus Christ. I did that when I wanted my sins to be forgiven. I believed I would be forgiven because Christ had died so I could be forgiven. As a result of believing in Christ, I confessed my sins and repented of my sins and begged to be forgiven. Christians often refer to this decision and prayer as being saved.
When God forgives, He acts as a judge and declares the believer to be legally forgiven forever. Romans 5:1 uses the biblical term “justified.” That is, at the moment of saving faith, a person is legally declared to be righteous. That is, the individual is no longer condemned and guilty by their sin, even though they will still sin. Romans 8:1 promises believers that they are no longer under condemnation. They will go to heaven (1 Peter 1:3-9). In addition, five times in John 6, Jesus promises believers that He will not lose even one person (John 6:37, 39, 40, 44, 46, 54). At the moment a person believes in Jesus, all of his or her sins are permanently forgiven. They obtain eternal life and it lasts forever. This is called positional forgiveness in theology.
A person who never believes in Christ will never be forgiven and will go to hell. Consequently, Matthew 6:14-15 applies to them in the worst sense. For when a non-Christian does not forgive others, that sin will be added to the list of all his or her sins that will used to demonstrate they deserve to go to hell.
Second, we will now discover how Matthew 6:14-15 applies to Christians. 1 John 1:9 tells us that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive. That applies to Christians. It is a relational forgiveness. This forgiveness does not determine if someone goes to heaven or hell. Remember that Christians are positionally forgiven (see earlier discussion). So, this confession reestablishes a believer’s relationship with God. It is an “I am sorry” forgiveness.
This forgiveness of sins is for the sins a person committed that day or some sin he or she had not yet confessed. It restores one’s relationship with the Holy Spirit. This forgiveness is required to be filled with the Holy Spirit or to walk in the Spirit. This forgiveness is practical forgiveness. Christians must remember that all of their sins are legally forgiven and will not be used to send him or her to hell.
Jesus refers to this biblical principle in John 13:10 when He said this to Peter, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.” That is, Peter was already completely forgiven (justified or positionally forgiven), yet he needed to have his “feet washed” (to take care of his practice). So, 1 John 1:9 takes care of “the practical side of our relationship. 1 John 1:9 refers to a forgiveness that restores a believer’s relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Third, now we consider how Matthew 6:14-15 and Luke 6:37 apply to a Christian. When Christians do not forgive others, they sin. That hinders the relationship with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5;19). If a Christian does not forgive someone, then they will need to have their “feet washed,” as Jesus told Peter. Their daily relationship with the Holy Spirit is hindered because they grieved the Holy Spirit. The same principle also applies to Luke 6:37.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Luke 6:37 (NASB)
So, Christians need to forgive others because God wants us to forgive others. So, a Christian who does not forgive others will not be forgiven. That is, we could say Christians need to have their feet washed, remember Jesus’ discussion with Peter, in order to stop grieving the Holy Spirit. Christians, who have been pardoned for all of their sins, should forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
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