God's Character

Jesus taught we are forgiven according to how we forgive others, are we living our gratitude?

Forgiveness is something we receive in abundance when we truly repent, but not something we always give out with the same amount of freedom, often because we are hurt or concerned we will be wounded again, which is ironic as we rarely ask God to forgive us for something just once before we finally stop, but did you know God’s standard of forgiveness towards us is affected by how much we forgive others?


Without a doubt, this concept can seem incredibly challenging at first, as most people are taught that once becoming Christians, they receive “grace”, which is said to be God’s perpetual forgiveness, regardless of how we live–this is scripturally untrue, and contradicts God’s merciful, just character

In reality, the word “grace” in the Greek actually means “Through favor, receiving God’s influence on the heart”, it does not mean “perpetual, unconditional forgiveness of sins regardless of what we do in life”

(For more about grace, check out this article: http://www.godandstuff.com/?p=6434)

The meaning of grace is important to note, as, when responding to the scriptures discussed below about God’s standard of forgiveness being impacted by ours, it is very common for people to say:

“But that was under the old covenant, we have grace now”

Even though this response may seem natural, it only reveals how little someone knows of the Bible and/or how incorrectly they were taught

By reviewing both the old and new covenants, I want to do away with this errant piece of theology, as Jesus was beyond clear on how the level of God’s forgiveness for us relates to the forgiveness we show others

Again, I understand this concept will be challenging for some, just keep an open mind as we walk through these scriptures together

With that said, let us look at what Jesus taught about God’s standard of forgiveness as it relates to ours

God’s Standard Of Forgiveness Is Affected By How We Forgive Others

Let us begin with what Jesus instructed about forgiveness, as, despite the clarity of his message, people often contest these verses because they misunderstand the concept of grace, and the new covenant itself

First, let us look at how Jesus instructed us to pray

Matthew 6:9-13
This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be doneon earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from the evil one’

To make sure I understood this correctly, I looked up “debts” in the Greek, and it means “a metaphor for an offense/sin”

Based on this, the meaning of Jesus’ instruction to us is quite clear, as he told us to pray very specifically regarding forgiveness, ie:

“Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”

To expand on this point, after giving these instructions regarding prayer, Jesus continues on in the next few verses by saying:

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins

Well okay!

Apart from the Greek definition of the word “debt”, Jesus removes any sense of doubt as to what he was talking about, by telling us directly that if we do not forgive people, God will not forgive us–not exactly a vague statement

Apart from his instructions about prayer, Jesus made this point again through the parable of the unmerciful servant, as the servant had their tremendous debt forgiven, but did not forgive an incredibly small debt someone owed him–which displayed both a lack of gratitude, and an unforgiving heart

This is a long quotation, but make sure to read it all!

Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talentswas brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt

“The servant fell on his knees before him.‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart”

In this parable, Jesus told us, again, in no uncertain terms, we are to forgive others, just as God forgave us, as the forgiveness we are shown in the beginning will not carry forward if we live in a way that shows contempt for it by treating others harshly

Now, apart from the obvious, in order to fully understand the magnitude of what Jesus was saying in this parable, we have to understand why he was teaching about forgiveness in the first place, as Jesus taught this parable in response to Peter’s question about how many times someone should forgive their brothers

Definitely more than seven!

In The Old Testament, People Were Not Required To Forgive One Another, But Under The New Covenant We Are

Okay, here is where the “That was the old covenant, we have grace now!” argument falls apart

Within the Old Testament Law, there were a tremendous amount of rules regarding what types of punishment, and payment, were appropriate if people did things that wronged one another

These ranged from replacing damaged or hurt livestock, offering financial payment for damaged property, and a wide variety of other cases, along with the necessary sacrifices that needed to be paid to God for atonement, but none of these regulations stipulated forgiving the person, or people, who committed the offenses themselves

However, under the new covenant, these regulations were done away with in exchange for having God’s righteousness being impressed on our hearts, which is the real meaning, and power, of grace (“God’s influence on the heart”)

Exodus 21:23-25
But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise

Matthew 5:38-48
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’But I tell you: Love your enemiesand pray for those who persecute you,that you may be sonsof your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect

As part of the new covenant, Jesus instructed us to not only love our enemies, but to forgive those who wrong us when they show sincere remorse, and repent of their wrongdoing

Luke 17:3-5
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him”

The apostlessaid to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

Again, under the Law, people were not required to forgive or love one another, they just went after their entitled restitution, so when Jesus instructed for us to forgive one another endlessly if someone shows a true change of heart, it was mind blowing for the people who heard this for the first time

We can see this by the response of the Apostles when they said “Increase our faith!”, as they were openly stating this teaching was beyond their human ability to grasp!

Based on this, we see that forgiveness for one another, and Jesus’ instruction that the standard God uses will be based on how much we forgive others, is firmly rooted as a core part of the new covenant we are under, as both love, and forgiveness are two incredibly important parts of God’s character, which he is working to impress on us through his “divine influence on the heart”

Understanding this concept is life changing, as it shows why it is important to forgive–Jesus told us there are clear positive or negative results depending on the level of forgiveness we show others!

Mark 11:25
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins

Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you

A Warning Against Condemning Others: The Same Way We Are Warned About Unforgiveness

Forgiveness was not the only area Jesus said we could impact how we are judged for our lives, as his guidance in the area of condemning one another was equally as specific

Matthew 7:1-5
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye

James and Paul also echoed this here:

James 2:12-13
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Romans 2:1-4
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, toleranceand patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Again, we see the authors of the NT teaching about conditions wrapped around God’s mercy on us, which relies on how much we appreciate, and reflect his love for us out of gratitude, and sincere love

Luke 7:47
But he who has been forgiven little loves little

1 John 3:14
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death

The idea that we will be judged by God based on how we treat others is really mind blowing, as we are taught nothing like this at all!

What Is The Difference Between Forgiveness And Reinstatement

To apply this to our lives, since forgiving others is often a difficult thing, it is important to understand some very subtle points that separate forgiving someone, and reinstating them to where they were before they hurt us–there is a huge difference between the two things

As we grow, and learn to readily forgive, not reinstate, others out of love, it is important to remember not everyone is going to apologize and/or repent, but we must not hold onto any anger, bitterness, resentment or other feelings that typically burrow into us when we are hurt or offended by someone

Waiting for someone to apologize to us before we forgive them is the enemy’s most deceptive, and powerful game that keeps us dwelling in negative emotions

This is why learning to let go of these things is incredibly important, otherwise the enemy will use them as a way of feeding or introducing all sorts of negative things inside of us that will manifest in the form of gossip, slander, retaliation, physical confrontations, jealousy, fear, etc…

None of these types of responses are from God, they are all motivated by unforgiveness, and are straight from the one who wants us to go down to the grave with him

Within my life, I learned to forgive, even those who did not apologize or have a change of heart, by overlooking incidents for the sake of compassionately reflecting on the dynamics of someone’s life, but I did not reinstate them into the place where they were previously, until they had shown they were worthy of trust again–this allowed me to let go of negative emotions, but still keep my guard up if necessary

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