Why should I forgive?

Forgiveness is an important and continual part of the Christian's life. The reason that we forgive our brother and our enemy is because we have been forgiven ourselves. God is a loving God who is eager and even delighted to forgive us of our sins: "For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you" (Psalm 86:5). He does not withhold forgiveness from those who earnestly seek it (1 John 1:9), no matter their race or nationality or background: "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).

Each person has sinned against God, and that debt is no small thing (Romans 3:10–20). The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Because our sin is against a completely holy and eternal God, we will never be able to pay for it on our own. However, God is loving and merciful and sacrificed His own Son to pay the debt of our sin so that we do not have to. All we have to do is turn to Jesus in faith (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:8–10). This is the reason that we forgive: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus illustrates this point in a parable when one of His disciples asked how many times he should be expected to forgive his brother. Jesus told a story of a servant who had an enormous, insurmountable amount of debt to his king and owed him his own life and the lives of his family in service to pay off the debt. When the man pleaded with his king, the king had compassion on him and forgave the debt. Afterwards, that same man tracked down one of his fellow servants who owed him a significantly smaller amount of money than he owed the king. When he found him, he seized his fellow servant and demanded payment. The other servant pleaded for patience, saying he would pay. But the first servant had the man thrown into jail. Other servants saw what happened and told the king about it. When the king heard of it, he rebuked the servant whose debt he had forgiven saying, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (Matthew 18:32–33). The king had the servant thrown into jail. Jesus concluded, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).

This parable illustrates that God's forgiveness of our sins should have transformative power in our lives. We cannot live with an unforgiving attitude because we have been shown great mercy and grace. We are transformed from people who hold on to bitterness and grudges into people who willingly forgive those who have wronged us.

There is another principle illustrated in this parable that Jesus also brings up in the Lord's prayer: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). Just as forgiveness towards others is a mark of being forgiven by God, so is a complete lack of forgiveness a mark of an unforgiven debt to God. This is not to say that a Christian will never struggle with unforgiveness; many Christians still struggle with unforgiveness and even feel justified in it, but Christ calls His followers to forgive without limit (Luke 17:3–4). Here it is important to distinguish that forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. Forgiving someone does not mean an immediate restoration of trust. It does not mean continuing to place oneself in an abusive relationship or in dangerous situations. Forgiveness also does not mean a complete withholding of any consequences for the one who has sinned against you. Rather, forgiveness means a willingness to extend mercy to people who have wronged us. We are willing to release them of the debt, not holding their wrong against them. Some people find it difficult to forgive when the other person has not apologized, or doesn't even recognize that they did something wrong, but by God's grace the Christian can still be ready to extend that forgiveness with a loving heart.

Whether a person has unwittingly sinned against you or has done so purposefully out of spite, Jesus tells us to love them still (Luke 6:27–28). Only God is in the position to withhold forgiveness because only God is wholly righteous. He has never wronged anyone, nor does He owe anything to anyone and therefore He is the only one who has a right to withhold forgiveness. But still He chooses to extend forgiveness to every person willing to receive it. Christians, on the other hand, have been forgiven a great debt, and because of the mercy and grace we have received it is wrong for us to withhold even a small amount of that same mercy and grace from another.

Related Truth:

Why should we forgive?

Why is withholding forgiveness wrong? Since God does not forgive a person until they confess/repent, can we withhold forgiveness until a person confesses/repents?

Unforgiveness — What does the Bible say?

How can I extend forgiveness to those who sin against me?

Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?

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