This is the second part (and conclusion) to Chad Coley’s initial post on forgiveness and our relationship with the Father.
It is easy to sin against someone else. That statement alone should be a sobering thought. If we are believers in Christ Jesus, we know we still sin (1 John 1:8). I have seen firsthand in the lives of friends and family what sin can do and how it can mar and destroy relationships. After a while of giving in to sin, men can do things they never would have believed possible years before. I have seen godly men forfeit their marriages, their ministries, and their reputations because of the allure of alcohol. I have seen women refuse to forgive others and hold on to bitterness and anger until they become isolated from all their friends and family. You see, just like Adam and Eve, our ancestors, sin separates…sin always separates. You can see the separation in the first moments after the Fall. God confronts Adam about eating the forbidden fruit, and Adam, in turn, blames his wife (Genesis 3:12). Just one chapter before, when Eve was created from Adam’s rib, Adam describes her this way…
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because [she was taken out of Man.”
This is a big change from Genesis 3:12. As a believer in Christ, you must understand that the Father cares about the relationships of His children. One member of the body of Christ cannot live without another member. They are all necessary and all are of equal value and importance to God. He places such a high value on unity in the body that your relationship with the Father is affected by your refusal to forgive others. Let’s look at Matthew 6:14-15 once 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.”
Here are four ways this passage helps you to have a better understanding of forgiveness. In my previous post, we looked at:
- The Call to Forgive Assumes You Have Been Forgiven
- The Call to Forgive is About Fellowship With the Father
Today, we are going to look at the next two points:
- The Call to Forgive is About Fellowship with God’s People
When we look at Jesus’ statement here in Mathew, we must understand God places such an emphasis on a believer’s relationships with others that it affects a person’s relationship with Him. Separation from others is not acceptable when it comes to our relationship with God. Peter gives an example of this in 1 Peter 3:7 when he tells husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way so that their prayers would not be hindered. A believer’s interpersonal relationships affect his fellowship with the Almighty. A believer is to love those in the Body of Christ. He is to believe all things, seek the other person’s highest good, even at the expense of one’s self. This is love for the saints, as John says in 1 John 3:14. We follow Jesus’ example, being kind and forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32). This is how we know that we are in fact believers (1 John 2:6). We love those in the church more than ourselves. Jesus says here at the end of the Lord’s Prayer that a failure to forgive others, to maintain a proper relationship with another believer, will result in break in fellowship with the Father.
Practically speaking, forgiveness frees the conscious from guilt about a particular sin that you have committed and the separation which it has caused. A lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness, anger, gossip, aggravation, annoyance, and hate in one’s heart toward another person. It is hard to love another member of the body of Christ when you have hate in your heart (1 John 3:14). What if the other person will not forgive you when you have sinned against him? It is your duty to seek him out and try to reconcile (Matthew 5:24). If he will not reconcile with you, then it becomes an issue between him and God, and your conscience can be clear in the matter. Just remember, if forgiveness is granted, things will not go back to the way they were immediately. Reconciliation is a process that takes time. Trust is slowly won back as the offender proves he is living a repentant life.
- The Call to Forgive Is Not Negotiable
Our goal as believers should be to grow in our fellowship with God on a daily basis. A daily cleansing from sin is necessary for believers to maintain this communion. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness is about fellowship–fellowship with God and fellowship with His people. In Matthew 5:24; 6:14-15, Jesus makes it plain that forgiveness is not an option. If the person who has sinned against you asks for forgiveness, then you must grant it.
Now, it is important to note that there are always consequences for our sin. These consequences are not negated by the forgiveness offered by the victim of our sin. The sinner must understand that legal ramifications may still happen. A loss of job or disqualification from ministry may be the permanent consequences for some sins.
Also, with that forgiveness, you must work at reconciliation. Depending on the sin and the level of trust that has been broken, reconciliation may take months or even years. Reconciliation is the hard part. Some relationships may never be fully restored to what they were before. To be reconciled means to have no ill will toward the person who sinned against you–to think good of them and to pray for them. Reconciliation means that we do not avoid the person or harbor bitterness toward him. To say that you forgive someone and yet not be reconciled to him is not a true picture of forgiveness. For a person who has been forgiven much by God, to deny another person forgiveness is unthinkable. Worse yet, it is disobedience to God’s Word. Some will say, “you don’t know what He did to me!” Or, “She hurt me so much…” and maybe “I have never been so surprised and disappointed.” Once again, it is important to remember that every person who has ever lived on this earth has sinned against someone else and made him a victim; and he, in turn, has been victimized himself.
Reconciliation is not easy, especially when you are the one who has been sinned against. To rebuild trust that has been broken takes time. We must remember that reconciliation is a command by God. In Mathew 5:24 Jesus says that if a person is presenting his offering to God and remembers that his brother has something against him, he is to leave his offering and go and try to be reconciled. God cares more about your fellowship with another believer than your religious activity. Bringing a sacrifice to the altar in the days when Jesus lived was not an easy task. It would take many hours, as the person would have to have his offering examined, and then he would have to wait in line for hours. As you can imagine, getting to the front and then remembering that your brother has something against you…what an inconvenience! Yet, this is exactly what Jesus told His followers to do.
For many believers, the “easier” path is the one which leads away from forgiveness and reconciliation. When we are hurt by others, the easy thing to do is to turn our backs and refuse to associate with them. By ignoring them and distancing ourselves from them, we seem to bring resolution to the situation. In reality, we are refusing to ask for forgiveness and humble ourselves, or refusing to forgive the one seeking our forgiveness. Our separation from each other leads to a separation from God. The Father will not tolerate a disobedient child for long (Hebrews 12:4-11). Read how the Father rebukes the man who had been forgiven much in Matthew 18:21-35. Also, you must remember that there is the future judgment of the redeemed, in which all believers will stand before Christ and have their lives examined. This is not a judgment to determine entrance into heaven, but rather a judgment to see the quality and faithfulness of one’s life. An unforgiving life is an unrepentant life, and forfeits blessings and invites discipline (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Your personal relationships matter to God. You must forgive! To withhold forgiveness is to continue to separate yourself from a brother or sister in Christ. It is to separate yourself ultimately from the Father. You see, it is about fellowship–fellowship with the Father and His children. When all has been said and done, and you come to the end of your life, how sad it would be to look back and see missed opportunities for friendships due to the lack of forgiveness. Even more so, how truly sad it would be to stand before Christ and see the blessings you missed and fellowship with the Father which could have been much sweeter and deeper were it not for the lack of forgiveness in your heart. Remember, sin separates…sin always separates.