The title for this article comes from a conversation I had with a young lady several years ago. We were having a discussion about someone who had really offended her. The offender was a Christian and had asked for forgiveness, apologizing for her behavior, but the young lady could not find it in her heart to forgive.
This is not uncommon, dear sisters. Every so often I run across this same problem. Frequently it involves those outside the body of Christ, but sadly enough, you guessed it. It happens within the body too. As a matter of fact, numerous splits have occurred in the Lord’s body over just this very issue – inability to forgive! This is a very serious issue, ladies, because if we cannot forgive, we cannot be forgiven! That is exactly what I had to tell that young lady. Thus, her response was, “But I really want to go to heaven.” Well, I suppose we must ask ourselves, “How badly do you want to go to heaven?” Let’s let the Bible tell us what is required of us regarding this matter, because our feelings are just that – feelings, and everyone has them, but they are not always alike, nor are the authoritative, so let’s see what God has to say about the matter.
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus tells us: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” Obviously, the offender needs to state that they are repentant of their behavior. When that is done, the one who has been offended is obliged to forgive – “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven,” Matthew 18:21-22. From these passages we can readily see that we need to have a spirit of forgiveness in our heart. We need to be ready and willing to forgive just as the Father was ready to forgive the prodigal son, meeting him as he was walking the path home to his Father’s house (Luke 15:11-32). But we also see remarks that Jesus made regarding the one who was offended: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift,” Matthew 5:23-24. Whether we are the offender or the one who was offended, our Lord wanted us to “work it out!” Fix it! And do it quickly before it festers and spreads and causes more problems. Our worship to God can be hindered. Our brother/sister’s worship to God can be hindered. This is a serious thing. We all want our worship to be acceptable to God, don’t we? We cannot harbor malice or hatred in our hearts and worship God in spirit and in truth.
When we have ought against our brother/sister and that one has repented, it is God’s will that we accept it at face value. We are not capable of judging the heart as Jesus did. If we dwell upon the issue, it will only eat away at us, causing us to become ineffective as workers in the vineyard. We cannot do our best for the Master when we are consumed with hatred, anger, discord and revenge!
Having examined the Scriptures and realizing that we must forgive when one repents of sin, I believe we would be remiss if we didn’t consider one more point; the most important point of all – and that is the forgiveness that our Father and His Beloved Son displayed in the sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary. Think for just one moment – did you deserve forgiveness? Were you sin-free? Are you sin-free now? What if………just what if our Father had said, “I don’t really believe that these people are deserving of being saved, especially not at the expense of the life of my Beloved Son!” Where would you be today? Where would I be? That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? We would ALL be lost in our sins! But my Father is loving, and kind and forgiving, not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Thank God for His loving kindness, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Considering all this, I must ask myself, “Do I have the audacity to believe that I do not have to forgive when one sincerely asks for forgiveness, but God must be willing and ready to forgive me when I repent?” Am I wiser than God? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” Isaiah 55:8-9.
Again, I ask, “Do you really want to go to heaven?” If that’s the case, we need to have a kind and forgiving spirit, and realize that each of us will sin at some point and need the grace of God as well as the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness,” Colossians 3:12-14
Nancy is the wife of Bill Goring, gospel preacher for the Chipman Road church of Christ. She has 4 children, 11 grandchildren and has taught Bible class for over 40 years, published several books including: Behavior Becoming Holiness: Studies in Titus Chapter 2 and Overcoming our Self-Imposed Prisons.