Forgiveness is neither normal nor natural; it is, however, the foundation of our relationship with the Father, and it also sustains right relationships with other people. This is why when Jesus gave us a model for prayer, He said we should pray, “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we forgive our debtors (those who sin against us).”
This concept of forgiveness is so fundamental to the Kingdom of God that Jesus went on to say, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive your sins. But if you do no forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Jesus reaffirmed this assertion in Matthew 18 when He told the parable of the unforgiving servant –you might remember that the king had forgiven the entire debt of a servant who owed more than he could ever repay. When that servant then refused to forgive a minor debt to a neighbor, however, the king reinstated the servant’s entire debt –and then Jesus said these chilling word, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
I have had people tell me that since Jesus said this before His death and resurrection, this teaching on forgiveness is part of the Old Covenant –that the New Covenant of grace supersedes this command to forgive others if we want God to forgive us. But I don’t think we can blow it off that lightly. The Old Covenant taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth rather than to forgive those who have wronged us. I believe that this teaching is not at all a part of the Old Covenant –and in fact, not part of the New Covenant. This has nothing to do with covenantal laws; this is simply a reflection of the Father’s heart. Since His desire is that we have deep, abiding, intimate relationship with Him –and He knows that bitterness and anger and hatred prohibit intimacy –He commands that we forgive.
While I don’t want to get into a theological debate over either salvation by works or eternal security, we still have to understand that Jesus used very strong language here and we must take Him seriously. We can’t afford to let our theology get in the way of God’s desires for us. Clearly, this is important and there is an awful lot riding on our ability and our willingness to put aside what is natural and do what is right.