Forgiveness is a Christian duty. An obligation. It’s not optional.
Remember: all of us were once under God’s judgement. The lives of every one of us were once forfeit. We all robbed our Master in heaven of His glory, deprived him of the service he is owed, ungratefully rejected his authority over us and chose to go our own way. We are all sinners, and we all were once under God’s condemnation, bound for eternal punishment in hell for the crimes we committed. And so every one of us, without exception, stands in need of forgiveness from God.
But for those of us who believe in Christ, that forgiveness has been granted. When our hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit and we stopped trusting in ourselves, when we instead turned our backs on our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone to save us, then we were forgiven. God put our sins out of His sight, out of His mind, and welcomed us back, the same way Paul urged Philemon to take back his runaway slave. We were once runaways from God, but we have been received back into the household, welcomed back into the family. God forgave everything we have done to him.
How ungrateful of us, then, when we refuse to forgive others for what they do against us! When we hold bitterness in our hearts toward another, when we hold the thoughtless and vindictive acts of others against them and do not forgive, we forget how much we have been forgiven. Nothing another human being can do to us can compare to what God forgave us for. Jesus compared 100 denarii – 100 days’ wages for a laborer, say $10,000 today – to a debt of ten thousand talents. That was millions of dollars in the ancient world. The difference between what that person did to you and what you did to God is far more than even the several orders of magnitude Jesus described in the parable. No, your debt to God was infinite. You could never have paid it back.
But, if you believe in Christ, that means God forgave you. He paid the price Himself, took that loss in Himself, to bring you back.
That has staggering implications for forgiveness. See, to refuse forgiveness to your brother or sister is like saying that the hurt you suffered is greater and more important than your offence against God.
Let me put it another way. When we fail to forgive, we declare ourselves more important than God. That’s the utter height of arrogance, the very pinnacle of idolatry. It is a rejection of God’s divine and kingly authority and a diminishment of His grace and His glory.
That is why forgiveness is so vital in the Christian life. It is when we forgive that we are most like God in our actions. It is when we forgive that we most closely mirror and image the perfection and beauty of God’s character. To refuse forgiveness is a sign that we, in our heart of hearts, do not truly understand who we are before God, that we do not see the seriousness of our own sin. That has terrifying implications for one’s eternal fate. A true Christian can never be lost, but one who thinks himself a Christian who persists in refusing forgiveness to another has great reason to doubt whether they have been truly saved, really born again, in the first place.
Don’t fail to forgive, brothers and sisters.