Summary: In order to receive God’s forgiveness, we must forgive those who harm us. This is how to do it.
Forgiveness September 26, 1999
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
I recently saw a news item that was a follow up on a shooting that had happened a year before. An innocent woman was shot in the cross fire between two men. She become paralyzed by the injury. The item was about the huge change in her life since the shooting. The thing that struck me most was her statement: "I haven’t forgiven them yet, but I know I have to, because if I don’t God won’t forgive me."
I could see the pain that she was in, I could see the life that she had lost, and I wanted to say, "No, God loves for who you are, you been greatly damaged, it’s all right!" But she knew the truth, beyond the emotion of seeing a terrible crime like this, the truth is, that unless we forgive those who haves harmed us, who have sinned against us, God will not forgive us.
She had two things true.
1) We must forgive to be forgiven.
Jesus says it in a number of places:
in Matthew 7:2
For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
in Matthew 18:35
``This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’’(to be handed over to the torturers)
in 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.’’
Paul says it in Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
James says it in James 2:13
because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
It covers the New Testament. If we do not forgive those who harm us, God will not forgive us!
What is forgiveness?
Some people who have troubles with forgiveness think that forgiveness does not take the harm of sin seriously. But forgiveness does take it very seriously. Forgiveness does not excuse sin, it does not say "O that’s alright, your sin really wasn’t a bother, my stay in the hospital wasn’t that long, and I was able to catch up on my reading!" No forgiveness calls sin, sin, and in many ways it holds the sinner accountable for their actions. Forgiveness says, "you hurt me, and what you did was wrong, but I will not hold it against you, I will not try to get back at you and I will not hate you for it."
Forgiveness also initiates the process. You have most likely heard someone say, Or maybe you have said yourself "Ill forgive them when they come and say they are sorry." This is not God’s way God says "I forgive you, now will you accept it by confessing and repenting?" If we wait for a confession to forgive, most often we will be waiting a long time.
In his book "What’s so Amazing About Grace," Philip Yancey tells a story about a man and wife who one night had an argument about how supper was cooked, it was so heated that night they slept in separate rooms. Neither has approached the other to say I’m sorry or to offer forgiveness, and they have remained in separate rooms years after the argument, each night they go yo bed hoping that the other will approach them with and apology or forgiveness, but neither goes to the other. God’s forgiveness does not wait for repentance, it initiates and calls out repentance by offering forgiveness.