Everyone has been wronged, offended, and sinned against at some point. How are Christians to respond when such offenses occur? According to the Bible, we are to forgive. Ephesians 4:23 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Similarly, Colossians 3:13 proclaims, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The key in both Scriptures is that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Why do we forgive? Because we have been forgiven! Those who are not Christians, however, have not been forgiven by God and have neither the power nor the desire to forgive others.
Forgiveness would be simple if we only had to grant it to those who come asking for it in sorrow and repentance. The Bible tells us that we are to forgive, without condition, those who sin against us. Refusing to truly forgive a person demonstrates resentment, bitterness, and anger, none of which are the traits of a true Christian. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12). Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In light of other Scriptures that speak of God’s forgiveness, Matthew 6:14-15 is best understood to be saying that people who refuse to forgive others have not truly experienced God’s forgiveness themselves.
Whenever we disobey one of God’s commands, we sin against Him. Whenever we wrong another person, we not only sin against that person, but also against God. When we consider the extent to which God forgives all our transgressions, we realize that we do not have the right to withhold this grace from others. We have sinned against God infinitely more than any person can sin against us. If God forgives us of so much, how can we refuse to forgive others of so little? Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35 is a powerful illustration of this truth. God promises that when we come to Him asking for forgiveness, He freely grants it (1 John 1:9). The forgiveness we extend should know no limits, in the same way that God’s forgiveness is limitless (Luke 17:3-4).