The Danger of an Unforgiving Spirit
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” -Matthew 18:35
Forgiveness is a very important concept for Jesus. This verse from the parable of the unforgiving servant sheds a pretty strong light on how important forgiveness is in Jesus’ eyes. In fact, in verse 35 at the end of the parable, we get the impression that our final salvation hangs in the balance. What if I told you it does!? Now before you start to accuse me of some sort of “works righteousness”, hear me out. When I say that our final salvation hinges on our ability forgive what I’m really doing is asking a question, what does an unforgiving spirit say about our heart? Now there are certainly several questions that one can ask but ultimately it comes down to this: God, in Christ, has forgiven us of infinitely more offenses against Him than we could ever claim from anyone else. That’s what the debt of the first servant represents. Our own debt of sin is an insurmountable, mind-boggling debt that we could never, in all of eternity, even begin to pay off (that’s why hell is eternal, it takes an eternity to achieve retribution). However, Christ has come to take that debt upon himself. The only individual who could pay the debt, paid it on our behalf. We are free. However when we go out and refuse to forgive someone else who seeks our forgiveness we practically slap God’s kindness in the face. Although we’ve been forgiven so much, we can’t bear to show mercy on someone else’s meager insult to us (when I say meager I mean in comparison to our insults to God).
So, what does that have to do with our salvation? A lot. If we claim to be saved and claim to have been forgiven our sins, that will manifest itself in a forgiving spirit. When we are born again we are born of God and God is a forgiving and merciful God so it stands to reason that those born of Him would be forgiving as well. Now God is also a God of wrath, but while we are born of God we are not God so we don’t get to exercise all of his attributes. So, in other words, when we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us we might need to examine ourselves and see what that says about our inner heart. Can we say we have truly been forgiven ourselves if we refuse to forgive another? That’s a very important question to ask because according to Jesus an unforgiving spirit is a good indicator of a wicked servant.
Now, before some reader’s start gathering the angry mob, I want to point out some things about forgiveness that many people misunderstand and might make it a little easier to understand what I’m calling for in this post:
1. Forgive does not mean forget
Forgiveness does not mean we forget what people have done to us. What is means is that we do not remember, or recall it against them. That’s what God does for us. He doesn’t forget our sin. He just says he will remember it no more (Isa. 43:25; Jer. 31:34; Hebrews 8:12, 10:17). We simply chose never to bring it up again.
2. Forgiveness does not remove consequence
Forgiving someone does not mean that there are still not consequences. The ultimate consequence for our sins was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross. However that doesn’t mean that there still are temporal consequences. For instance, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys God by striking the rock with his staff when God simply told him to speak to the rock. God forgave Moses but that forgiveness did not remove the consequence; Moses was no longer allowed to enter the Promised Land. When we forgive others it doesn’t mean that they automatically get off easy. It just means that we have chosen not to hold a grudge against them and are willing to amend the broken relationship.
3. Vertical vs. Horizontal Forgiveness
There are two main parts to forgiveness; vertical (God and us) and horizontal (us and others). Forgiveness must first occur between us and God. That means we hand over the offense to the Lord and we say “Father, you have forgiven me, help me to forgive them.” That is a heart for forgiveness. Now, whether or not the person comes to you for forgiveness is of no importance, but what is important is that we maintain a willingness to forgive and we seek reconciliation with that individual whenever we can. For a more in-depth look at this I recommend the Peacemaker’s study Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande.
4. Forgiveness is not easy
Some hurts are very deep and very close. Forgiveness is not easy. Just look at what it cost God; His own beloved Son. But it’s part of counting the cost and carrying our cross. Often God calls us to do the things that aren’t easy. Christianity is a narrow and difficult road. It requires us to deny ourselves, deny our right to vengeance, and deny our right to personal restitution. It call us to turn the other cheek when wronged. But thankfully when God asks us to do the things that are not easy, He gives us the power of His Spirit to work them through us (Phil. 4:13).
So, strive to be forgiving. Seek to be merciful. How we respond may indicate the truth about our own soul!