“For if you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” Matthew 6:14
Jesus here expounds on the topic of forgiveness that was brought up during the Lord’s Prayer. He links two “if/then” statements, which are logically simple, and yet emotionally quite heavy: If you forgive people, your heavenly Father will forgive you; if not, then you will not receive forgiveness. It is not qualified, it is not amended, it stands as its own unshakeable truth.
We can be very uncomfortable with any relationship like this between how we relate to God and how we relate to others. It’s perhaps because it can be easy to sanitize our relationship with God, who we can’t see, and justify our actions and attitudes there, whereas other people bump into our egos and plans all day long. They can be annoying, selfish, boring, and also hurtful towards us. We want a kind of freedom to do as we please with other people, and practice a sealed off piety towards God. Jesus rejects this notion squarely.
The nature of true forgiveness may help us unlock this passage. Forgiveness from God is not a “get out of jail free” card for those associated with Jesus in some way who would flippantly pursue things Jesus hates. Knowing that Jesus suffered to the point of death receiving the punishment for our sins should produce in those who consider it a soberness, a humility of awe at both how much pain I deserve, and therefore how much pain I have been spared. Considering that a new power for new life is offered to me as a free gift, through the Holy Spirit, purchased for me by the risen triumphant Jesus, should well up in me a joy, a renewed desire to chase after what he has put in front of me.
God promises that all who approach him truly confessing will be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9); a person in that posture is a person experiencing humility. This humility, which recognizes a need from God, is going to be primed to extend forgiveness to others. This is because it allows us to recognize that we are no better than anyone else, and that most of the ways that people need our forgiveness are things we have in some way been guilty of ourselves toward Jesus or other people.
For some reading this, you may have experienced deep trauma in your life caused by someone who wronged you. Forgiveness never means calling something that was evil good—that is never what God does. Forgiveness in these severe instances needs to be pursued with the help of older, mature believers, safe people who can help guide you through difficult emotional waters.
For all of us though, forgiveness is going to be a difficult topic on some level. If you haven’t yet decided to turn to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing, pray and consider again what is stopping you. Let today perhaps be the day that you move into a new relationship with the one who made you, knows you, and loves you.
If you have a relationship with Jesus, but are holding unforgiveness towards someone in your heart, now is a wonderful time to pray through the things mentioned in this day’s devotional. Try to understand if any of the issues you have a hard time forgiving are things you have also been forgiven of by God. Pray that God would open your heart to have compassion and softness towards the person who has wronged you. He has power to do this, even when you think it impossible!