Does My Forgiveness Depend on My Forgiving Others?

Does My Forgiveness Depend on My Forgiving Others? “For if you forgive others when they wrong you, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. Your Father will not forgive your faults if you do not forgive others’ transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15). The teaching of Jesus in this chapter is difficult to grasp. Is he implying that God will only forgive our faults if we forgive others first?


Doesn’t this make God’s grace conditional? God’s grace “is free to redeem sinners who provide nothing…”, according to our church confessions (Our World Belongs to God, 26). However, it appears that Jesus is teaching the exact opposite: we must give something—namely, forgiveness—to others in order to receive God’s generous forgiveness for ourselves.


As a Reformed Christian, 

I adhere to God’s grace’s unconditionality in forgiving my sins. We love because we’ve already been loved (1 John 4:19), and we forgive because we’ve already been forgiven. In our Reformed faith, the “ought”—what I should do—comes after the “is”—who I am—as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Grace from God is unconditional.


Rather, it establishes the circumstances for us to forgive our friends and foes. Grace, while not conditional, is costly and demanding, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of forgiveness.


As a result, we must be wary of allowing our theology to make a verse like Matthew 6:14-15 simple for us! Without a question, this is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings.


He argues that redeemed lives are inherently grace-filled. As we have been forgiven, we must forgive others. What happens if we don’t? Jesus’ admonition is sincere. If we don’t exhibit grace by forgiving others, it’s possible that we don’t even know about God’s redeeming grace.


Or maybe, much as the law and prophets in the Old Testament cautioned Israel that covenant grace still required expensive obedience (Deut. 15:12-15, for example), Jesus’ comments are intended to frighten those of us who have experienced God’s grace but find it difficult to extend it to others.


Does My Forgiveness Depend on My Forgiving Others?

In a recent chat on campus with an intelligent Muslim student, I was reminded of the costly and difficult nature of forgiveness. During our conversation, she brought up the subject of forgiveness, which Muslims regard as an attribute of Allah and a mandate for his followers.


She had a problem with the Christian doctrine that God forgives sinners because of Jesus Christ’s death—after all, God is free and shouldn’t require a sacrifice to forgive. She was especially uncomfortable with the New Testament’s message that forgiveness should be extended beyond our own community, even to our adversaries.


I explained to her that Christians understand forgiveness via the crucifixion, where God forgave his enemies at great sacrifice to God’s own self (Rom. 5:10). Christians acknowledge that forgiving others, especially our adversaries, comes at a high price in terms of honour and comfort, and that it necessitates the surrender of personal revenge claims.


In some ways, I said, forgiving others “echoes” God’s expensive grace in forgiving us in Christ.


She wasn’t persuaded, but she saw what I was saying. When Jesus says, “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins,” he is implying that God’s children must forgive all wrongs and injustice done to them, including by our adversaries.


This is a challenging act of obedience. It mirrors God’s astoundingly costly grace and sacrificial love in forgiving us via Christ.


In his masterpiece The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing comes cheap or easily to us that was costly to God.” Indeed, if it weren’t for the Spirit of the forgiving God residing inside us, we may not be able to forgive others as Christ demands.


Read also: Forgiveness in the Workplace

Read also: Self-Forgiveness: Steps to Take to Forgive Yourself