“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 KJV)
Jesus said this right after teaching the Jewish people how they should be praying when they pray to God. It is part of what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. To ask forgiveness for sins we did to others as we forgive those who sinned against us. The concept of this is right obviously.
However, in the passage quoted above in verses 14 and 15, this is a strong statement. In fact, reading this is completely opposing to the Gospel of Grace Apostle Paul taught and so some are using these verses to show that in order to be saved we need to do more than just believe on Christ in faith and that we need to ACT and DO GOOD in order to be saved. After all, this verse is very clear is it not? If we do not forgive others than God will not forgive us. He will revoke our forgiveness and without our forgiveness, we cannot be saved.
The problem with that idea about these verses is that it is completely opposing to the New Testament Grace of God that saves us. Apostle Paul never did teach anything like this. Salvation is not about self righteous efforts nor good works. We are saved ONLY because Jesus died on that cross and paid for the sins of the whole world. It was NOT a partial payment! When Jesus paid for the sins of the world He cried out on the cross “It is FINISHED!”. And if you look at the Greek that was penned it literally means, PAID IN FULL!
Thinking about this and being Logical and Scriptural; if we failed to forgive something a person did, that sin would also have been paid for by Christ on that cross. In fact, when we look at the New Testament and New Covenant Grace of God regarding forgiveness we find that forgiving is something we should do because God has ALREADY forgiven us. It is written in the PAST tense because all our sins were 100% forgiven on the cross by Jesus. We WERE totally forgiven the very moment that we believed on Christ alone to save us. (John 3:18)
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake HATH forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 KJV)
“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ FORGAVE you, so also do ye.” (Colossians 3:13 KJV)
Is there a contradiction here then? Was Paul wrong?
Paul was not wrong at all. Again context is very important. We need to understand that for many of Jesus’ statements to the Jewish people during His ministry on Earth He was addressing those who are living under the Old Covenant and Law of Moses. And that, many believed that a person can only be justified by God in a works based method and Law keeping of the ‘letter of the Law’. They thought that they could be forgiven their sins by Law keeping but they failed to see the heart of the Law of Moses and Ten Commandments. Yes, the Ten Commandments are God’s absolute truth and they are Holy Laws to follow but these Laws will not MAKE a person Holy. What they do is show a person just how sinful they really are. It is impossible for people to obey the Law of Moses without failing. Thinking so is the sin of pride and we all know that is the sin Lucifer first had when he rebelled and became Satan, our adversary.
We see time and again, that Jesus is driving this home to the Jewish people living their lives under the Law of Moses to save them. He was burying them in their own wrong belief to bring them back to God. Many times Jesus goes to the utmost extreme and even expanding on just how impossible it is to be forgiven by obeying the Law perfectly. Here are just some examples that Jesus said just one chapter earlier:
“And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:30 KJV)
“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5: 21-22 KJV)
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27-28 KJV)
Cut off your hands?! If you hate someone it is the same as murdering them? Looking at someone with sexual lust is the same as the physical act of adultery? Remember the rich man who asked how can he go to Heaven? Jesus quoted to this guy the Ten commandment and the rich young man said that he had kept them all! REALLY?? Oh no he did not! This is very extreme PRIDE to claim such a thing. So what did Jesus say to him? He went to the extreme telling him to sell ALL THAT HE HAS (all the wealth) and to come and follow Christ. Even the disciples were shocked and asked Jesus ‘who then can be saved?’
You can see that even with all the extreme rules and regulations and laws in the Law of Moses, these seem to be more extreme yet! You see many times Jesus is basically trying to bury the Jewish people of the day in the Law. He is trying to break them and have them realize the Law cannot save them. They need to come to an end of themselves in thinking they need to work their way our of their sin debts. And instead come to the conclusion that they simply cannot save themselves! Instead they need to cry out to God in acknowledgement of this and ask for mercy.
Using proper context we are now getting to the truth of Matthew 6:14-15. Under the New Testament and New Covenant Grace we are told that we should forgive others as Christ forgave us. Absolutely. But to say here, in the age of the Grace of God AS BELIEVERS, that if we fail to forgive then God will revoke His forgiveness and we lose Salvation is just not Biblical at all.
If you believed on Christ alone to save you by the only atonement for sins He provided on the cross, as God in the flesh, then ALL your sins (past/present/future) were 100% paid and you were 100% forgiven and God MADE you into the very righteousness of God, in Christ. It is by FAITH ALONE in the work of Christ crucified that saves us because the wages of sin is not ‘doing good works’. No. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Just as Apostle Paul felt the struggle between our newly created spirit that never sins (it is the seed of God) and our still existing sin nature flesh seen in Romans 7,
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, IT IS NO MORE I THAT DO IT, BUT SIN THAT DWELLETH IN ME.
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the law of God after THE INWARD MAN:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into CAPTIVITY to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall DELIVER ME from the body of this death?
I thank God THROUGH Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:19-25 KJV)
Now understanding this proper context, when you see Jesus state some very extreme things to people regarding their trying to keep the Law of Moses for forgiveness of their sins to gain entry to Heaven you now know why. He was stating such things to people not yet under the New Covenant because Jesus had not yet died on that cross. Jesus was simply trying to show the Jewish people just how impossible it really is to be saved by good deeds, good works, and religious rituals. Doing so is simply futile. This completely agrees with Apostle Paul teachings.
Here in the Age of God’s Grace, and living under the New Covenant, we should be so thankful! Knowing we are saved by such an amazing act of grace through Christ who died in such a horrible way, shedding His blood so that we could be saved from the captivity of our sins which we could never pay back is such an amazing act of God! It is from this ‘saved by the Grace of God alone’ perspective that we move to forgive others, just as Christ has already forgiven us.