God Forgives Us Conditionally

Description: We’re to forgive others so our Father in heaven may forgive us. (Reading time: 2.2 minutes)

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The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most widely known prayer in the world. Yet it contains a statement most of us repeat without really considering what it means: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt 6:12). This means we’re asking God to forgive us like, how, in the same manner or to the same extent we have forgiven others. Jesus clearly was saying this is the manner in which God forgives us, because he emphasized the point after he completed the prayer: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt 6:14-15).

This was not an isolated thought, because Jesus made similar statements at other times. Most of us are familiar with the withered fig tree incident, when Jesus told his disciples they could do the same thing, even command a mountain to move. Then he made the statement we all love: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mk 11:24-25). Actually, we love the first part and usually ignore the second. The “whatever you ask for in prayer” has very broad application, but it clearly includes asking God to forgive us once we have forgiven someone else. We’re to forgive others so our Father in heaven may forgive us.

It’s natural — that is, sinful or worldly — to hold grudges and even retaliate. But Jesus taught that we’re to be like God, not like the world. He talked about turning the other cheek, doing more than someone requires of us, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us and becoming like our heavenly Father (see Matt 5:38-48). Quite frankly, we’re to do the opposite of what the world would do; maybe what comes naturally to us. Forgiving those who hurt, impose on or offend us will not be easy, but that isn’t the point.

If we’re unwilling to forgive, we’re embracing worldly or ungodly character, which prevents God from developing his character in us. That’s a serious problem even in the short term, because we’re preventing God from doing what’s best for us. In the long term, refusing to do what God says and rejecting his desire to make us like him jeopardizes our future. Choosing to forgive allows God to make us more like Jesus.

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