One of the phrases I will always remember from my first class with Dr Harris way back in 1997 is “Sin separates… sin always separates.” This was an Old Testament Introduction class, and Professor Harris (he wasn’t a “Dr.” yet) was describing Genesis 3 and the Fall of Man. Separation from an intimate relationship with God and separation from each other were the consequences for Adam and Eve by their sinful rebellion against God. God would bridge this divide by providing Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, to be slain for the sins of men (Revelation 13:18; John 1:29). It is by this sacrifice of the Son that men can come into an intimate relationship with God the Father (1 Peter 3:18). It is by Christ’s righteousness that men are forgiven of their sins and restored to fellowship with God. Man is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Believers in Christ have legal, or Judicial, forgiveness the moment they trust in Christ as savior. Believers no longer have to worry about their eternal destiny (Romans 8:1). The Judge has ruled us pardoned and justified. No one will bring a charge against God’s people (Romans 8:33-34).
This being the case (that Christians are forgiven), why does Jesus say in Matthew 6:14-15, “ 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”?
This passage is right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching on what a citizen of His kingdom should be and act like in this world. In its context, this is Jesus elaborating on the previous section, the Disciples’ Prayer (a.k.a. the Lord’s Prayer), in which He is teaching His followers how to pray. Forgiveness is the central theme of Matthew 6:9-15. It is mentioned six times in eight verses. True citizens of His kingdom will ask God for daily forgiveness and forgive others who sin against them (Matthew 6:12).
So the question is still there…Why do saved individuals continue to ask God for forgiveness? Because we still sin! We are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), yet we will still struggle with the flesh and the temptations of this world until Christ returns. The reason we go to God and ask forgiveness is not to procure legal redemption and forgiveness of our trespasses by the Judge of all men, but to be cleansed daily by our Heavenly Father (1 John 1:9). We do not need for Christ to repeat His redemptive act; rather, we need a daily cleansing because we continually fall short of God’s perfect standard. Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in John 13:5-11 is a good picture of this. Peter did not need a complete bathing anew, just a cleansing of his feet.
So the issue of forgiveness for all men is one of fellowship. Unbelievers are called to repent and believe in Christ Jesus (Acts 20:21; Romans 10:9-10), restoring the fellowship which was broken by Adam’s sin. Believers are called to confess their sins daily, asking God for forgiveness; this, in turn, maintains their intimacy with their Heavenly Father (1 John 1:9). This daily confession of sin is important for God’s forgiveness and cleansing from all the unrighteousness we have stained ourselves with. The real issue then, is one of fellowship with the Father and fellowship with other members of the body of Christ. Let’s look at Matthew 6:14-15 again.
“ 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.”
Let’s look at four observations from Matthew 6:14-15 which will help us to have a good understanding of forgiveness.
- The Call to Forgive Assumes You have Been Forgiven
Jesus’ words here start out with the assumption that, as a citizen of His kingdom hearing His words, you will in fact forgive those that sin against you. This verse amplifies the statement made by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). The main goal of the Sermon on the Mount is for the redeemed to live out Christ’s righteous standard in their daily lives. The prayer Jesus gives in this sermon is for His followers to use as a method, or pattern of prayer. The main emphasis of that prayer is forgiveness. So when Jesus says that if you forgive, the assumption is that you will forgive and, in turn, be forgiven by the Father. Only a redeemed person who has tasted the mercy and grace of God will be quick to forgive those who sin against him. When others sin against us and we become victims of their sin, we dwell not on how much we were wronged, but in the fact that we have sinned against others–victimizing just the same as sinners ourselves. We were haters of God, insolent, prideful, sinning against God on a daily basis. Yet, God in His rich mercy and grace called us to Himself and saved us, forgiving us (Ephesians 2:1-10). If we are deserving of wrath and instead receive forgiveness, how much more should we forgive those who sin against us?
- The Call to Forgive is About Fellowship with the Father
A good passage to tie into this one is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The key word here in Matthew is “Father.” No longer is God merely our Judge and King, but by the blood of Jesus Christ, He is our Father. Forgiveness of our sins has brought believers into intimate fellowship with God the Father. When Jesus calls believers to forgive others, it is to maintain that rich fellowship with God. A hard heart and bitter spirit toward another person hinders one’s relationship with the Father. What Jesus is saying here is that they are intricately tied. You cannot have a close relationship with God the Father if you are harboring hate in your heart towards another.
[intlink id=”1384″ type=”post”]We will address the next two points in my next post as we continue to look at forgiveness from Matthew 6:14-15[/intlink]. The important thing to remember is, if you are a follower of Christ, you are forgiven by God and your eternal destiny is secured. However, your interpersonal relationships affect your fellowship with the Father here and now. The question for you today is, “How is your fellowship with the Father?”