Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can the Forgiven Be Unforgiving?

I recently was told that I did something that was unforgivable. For the record, I think I did the right thing, and I would do it again, but it upset someone who claims to be a follower of Christ. This leads me to a quandary, can Christians be unforgiving?

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.
 (Matthew 6:14-15 [ESV])

That seems pretty cut and dry doesn't it? And then there is this parable from Jesus:
 Then Peter came up and said to him, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?  Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, Pay what you owe.  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you.  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?      And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. 
(Matthew 18:21-35 [ESV])

So what happens when a Christian says that something is unforgiving or unforgivable? The scripture makes it clear that if we do not forgive, we are not forgiven. Does this mean that a Christian can lose our salvation? I think we would be making a mistake if we go that far, because we know from Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. When we are saved, we are saved from the eternal consequences of sin. We are saved from hell. To what does it mean that you will not be forgiven if you don't forgive?

There are a couple of possible interpretations. It could mean that as a Christian, you will not be unforgiving. The work of the Holy Spirit in your life will always lead you to forgiveness. While this is a great idea, I find it hard to reconcile the number of verses that command us to forgive if forgiveness comes automatically. I know in my life, I sure wish forgiveness came automatically.

Of  course, those who believe our salvation is dependent upon our keeping of the commandments will stay that forgiveness will cause us to lose our salvation. I reject this idea, I believe we are kept by the power of Christ and not from our own actions. This verse becomes difficult in the context of scripture, that we are forgiven and there is no condemnation. It would be easy to just assume those who hold forgiveness are not saved, but I know that all of us struggle to forgive at some times. I find that I struggle often to forgive a few individuals who have caused me a great deal of pain. So what are we to do with this passage?

I think often we forget that there are consequences for sin beyond eternal. Yes, sin brings death and that death is eternal in hell.  When Christ died, he carried the consequences of death by taking the wrath of God upon Himself. The sins of the elect are atoned for, but there is more to sin than just the eternal consequences. There is also the consequence of the broken relationship with God on earth. When we hold forgiveness, we are separated from the Father, in a spiritual sort of prison, like the servant in the parable.

The earthly consequences of sin causes our relationships to be strained. God can become silent in our lives, and darkness, depression and pain are the natural result. This isn't hell, but it's as close as a believer will come. This isn't outer darkness with the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it's definitely a prison. When we hold onto unforgiveness, we break the bond with the Father as our sin breaks the relationship and kills us inside. A Christian can be unforgiving, but the abundant life of Christ is lost. We must ensure that each day we do what we need to do to be forgiving.

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