Will My Sins Be Forgiven, If I Don't Forgive Others?

Dear Dr. Roger,
Christians said that if you believe Jesus died for your sins, is the son of God and if you believe in him, your sins are forgiven. However, Jesus said on the mount sermon that if you do not forgive men their sins, God will not forgive your sins. Based on this verse, is it a two-step system?

- Jim

REPLY: Dear Jim,
Of course, you are referring to 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.”

Simply stated your question is: "If I don't forgive others, does that mean my sins are not forgiven?

We need to do a little work here to decipher the meaning of these two verses.

On the one hand, this teaching from Jesus implies that our eternal destiny is tied to whether or not we forgive everyone who has wronged us. On the other hand, the Bible makes it quite clear that our salvation has nothing to do with our works; but instead, God’s forgiveness of our sins is based totally on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10).

Perhaps Ephesians 2:8-9 sums up the answer succinctly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Reading these verses limits us to the conclusion that Jesus will still forgive our sins even if we have yet to forgive another’s. So, we must look for an explanation somewhere else.

Perhaps Jesus is teaching us that someone who refuses to forgive is demonstrating that they have yet to receive the forgiveness of Christ in their own lives. Perhaps not.

I think that the key to unraveling this seeming dilemma is found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We’re talking here about our daily fellowship with Christ and not our eternal relationship with Christ. When we receive Christ into our lives God immediately becomes our father. For example, my physical relationship with my earthly father can never be broken. Genetically, no matter what I do we can never become unrelated.

However, my fellowship with God can be hampered just like my fellowship with my dad can be hampered when I do things that hurt him or estrange him.

In 1 John, the apostle is describing our fellowship with God and not our relationship. Daily lives involve daily sins and daily sins dirty up our fellowship with God. So how do we get clean? We ask God for forgiveness and he promises to clean away our sins and so our fellowship with him can once again be sweet and intimate.

Unfortunately, most of us sin every day and sin dirties up our fellowship with Jesus. 1 John 1:9 is the prescription for cleaning up a dirty spirit and restoring close fellowship with our Lord.

Our sin transaction with Jesus is a one-step affair. On the other hand, struggling to forgive one who has wrong us is usually a multistep affair and often takes a significant amount of time.

Jesus provides the model of forgiveness. As his final three days on earth unfolded he received comfort from the angels. Like Jesus, in the process of forgiving, it’s important that we receive comfort for our hurts

Next, Jesus understood that the soldiers, and even the Sanhedrin, did the not know what they were doing.

Finally, only after completing the first two steps, He forgave those who are hurting him.

Receiving comfort, understanding the truth and reaching the freedom of forgiveness are seldom simple, one-moment endeavors. A long time may be needed to completely follow and experience Jesus’ model of forgiveness.

[by Dr. Roger Barrier]