We are commanded to forgive others – it isn’t optional

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 12 – What it really meant by forgiving others, and what does it involve?

We are commanded not to judge others. On top of that, we also have a positive duty to forgive them. Moreover, we are not merely advised to do so. We are commanded to forgive. It is stated very clearly and on many occasions, for example:

37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

Luke 6:37 (NASB)

31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NASB)

21“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

Matthew 5:21-22 (NASB)

14“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB)

Moreover, it is assumed by God that we will obey these commands to forgive others. In what has come to be known as “the Lord’s prayer”, which really ought to be called ‘the disciples’ prayer’, Jesus shows us the manner, style and attitude that we need to have when praying to God. We are not meant to say this prayer by rote, as most people seem to do, but to see it as a model or precedent.

At any rate, the point is that in praying for God to forgive us, Jesus assumes that we have already forgiven others, i.e. at least stepped aside and left their cases to be judged by Him. It is taken as a given. Or you could say that it is treated as a combined package of events. That is He links together our forgiveness of others with God’s forgiveness of us.

In this instance, what Jesus is referring to goes beyond basic, narrowly defined forgiveness. It also includes a duty to release others from their debts to us, i.e. the guilt of their sins, in the same way that we want God to release us from our debts to Him, i.e. the guilt of our sins:

11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Matthew 6:11-12 (NASB)

But Jesus goes further than just telling us to forgive others, or to release them from their guilt or debt to us. He also states that unless we forgive others, God will not forgive us. That is a very worrying statement, but it is clearly what He said:

25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”

Mark 11:25-26 (NASB)

So, that is clearly the command. We have to forgive others. That therefore makes it all the more essential that we know what exactly we must do and how exactly we are meant to do it, in practical terms. We have to ask, what is real forgiveness and how can we be sure that we have achieved it in our own particular circumstances? We shall therefore examine forgiveness more closely in the pages below and try to answer these questions fully.

In particular, we shall need to look further at the definition (or definitions) of forgiveness and get very clear on what it does, and doesn’t, include. How else can we know whether we have obeyed the command to forgive others unless we know exactly what forgiveness involves, and how far we have to go?

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