Is forgiving others a means to our salvation?
After teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Why in the world did He say that? Doesn’t it sounds to you like Jesus is saying “Believing in Me + forgiving others = salvation”? But that idea seems very contradictory to the “faith alone” mentality that saturates the Bible. So, the question is, what’s going on? When I read this passage, my mind ran to a few other passages that will hopefully clarify what Jesus is trying to say here.
Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. In short, the king’s servant did not realize or appreciate the large debt that he had been forgiven, and that’s why he wasn’t quick to forgive his fellow servant who owed him a very small sum of money. The point of the story is to show us that no one will ever offend us to the extent that we have offended God by our sin. We ought to forgive everyone who forgives us, in light of the fact that we have been forgiven so much by God.
Consider further the words of the apostle Peter: “For whoever lacks these qualities [godliness, etc.] is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (2 Peter 1:9).” Do you see that logic? We sin because we’ve forgotten that we’ve been forgiven, says Peter. That sounds a lot like the parable from Matthew 18, doesn’t it? The man who forgot how much he had been forgiven couldn’t bring himself to forgive his fellow servant.
That’s like each one of us who believe in Jesus Christ. Through the cross, we have been forgiven infinite offenses against an infinitely holy God that deserves infinite punishment. That’s why we ought to be so quick to forgive others, Jesus said. The gospel should cause us to be the most thankful people, because we are the only group of people on earth who have been forgiven infinitely.
So when Jesus says that if we forgive, we will be forgiven, He’s not saying that we must forgive others in order to be saved. He’s saying, “Check yourselves. Does My gospel affect the way you live and relate to others, or are you simply trying to use Me like a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’?” These verses are all about our response to the gospel. How should we live in response to what God has done for us through His Son?
In a sense, these words are very convicting to me. I want to pray with a renewed passion that God would help me to feel the gospel, and let it change my life more and more. He does not want to beat you or I over the head for our sin, but He does want us to see where we may be weak and call on His name for help! God wants us to live in that place of continual dependence on Him, so that He can continue to meet our needs.
When you read the gospels, I hope that legalism is the farthest idea from your mind. Salvation is not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8)! In the gospels, Jesus calls you and I to search our lives for the fruits of forgiveness and thankfulness and joy in response to the gospel, and give God all the honor for those evidences of grace that He reveals to us!