Human beings were never created to be independent creatures although some of us sometimes might like to think that we are. In this sinful world wherever there is more than one person, it is inevitable that differences will arise. If you have ever needed to apologize to somebody, you would have had to recognize that you are not independent and that it takes effort and compromise to sustain a proper relationship with others.
The fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a request for forgiveness. It reads: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [those who are indebted to us].” Matthew 6:12. We need to ask for forgiveness because we are sinners, because we are dependent, and because our conduct has been unworthy toward the One on whom we are dependent.
It would be unthinkable to ask help from somebody that you have wronged without at least some form of an apology in which you demonstrate your humility for what you have done. For that reason, the question of sin and our relation to God needs to be adjusted before we can have the proper use of any strength derived from the daily bread that He has lovingly provided for us. Maintaining a spiritual life without pardon is impossible. Forgiveness is one of the greatest needs that we have and it is one of the greatest gifts of God to the human race. This gift is the least deserved on our part and it is the hardest for us to give to others.
It is a wonderful experience to be forgiven for a wrong that we have committed against another person, but we should never forget what it cost the Godhead in order to be able to forgive our sins. The Bible says in I John 3:4 that “sin is the transgression of the law” KJV, or “sin is lawlessness.” This is repeated many times in the book of Leviticus. You sin by doing something contrary to one of God’s commandments. Romans 6:23 says that the wages or consequence of sin is death. The penalty for breaking God’s law is eternal death. His law is unchangeable and Jesus said that not even a part of a letter of it could be changed (Luke 16:17).
Not only is it impossible for God’s law to be changed, but the penalty for breaking it cannot be swept aside or done away with. There is no escaping the death penalty; someone must pay for the sins. Unless accepting the only acceptable substitute, the sinner will pay the price of his own sins and die, never to wake up again. Jeremiah describes the end of the wicked saying, “They will sleep a perpetual sleep and they will not wake up.” Jeremiah 51:39, literal translation.
However, because of God’s great love for His created beings and His unwillingness that any should perish but have eternal life (John 3:16), He provided a way out. A Substitute was provided to take the penalty in the sinner’s place. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” I Corinthians 15:3. Jesus willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. To those who accept Him as their Saviour from sin and commit their lives to Him, He gives His life, the One He laid down and took up again. The result for those who accept this “payment” by believing in Him, repenting of their sins, and asking for forgiveness is the free gift of eternal life.
Peter said there is not salvation in anybody else; no one else can give you eternal life (Acts 4:12). To accept the sacrifice Jesus offers is the only way that you can have eternal life. Jesus has paid the price for the sins of the world and offers the free gift of eternal life to all. But just like every other gift that God offers, forgiveness is not unconditional. It is only granted, “as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12. It is impossible to keep an unforgiving spirit toward those who have sinned against you and expect forgiveness from God. It just doesn’t work that way.
To receive forgiveness and be forgiving are among the hardest things for human beings to do. We are debtors to God and our sins incur indebtedness, which must be paid. Jesus, in His mercy, has paid the price of our sins, if we accept Him. We are sinners, and as such, have accrued debt that must be paid. If we do not recognize the payment that Jesus has made, it would indicate ingratitude of the worst possible type.
In His prayer Jesus promised that we will be forgiven as we forgive others or, as some translations say, “As we have forgiven those who are indebted to us.” So God does not promise to forgive us until we have forgiven others. Sometimes because of the restricted nature of our human vision, we do not see the comparison between what we owe God and what other people owe us. Thus it is often very difficult for people to forgive others for what has been done to them, asserting their right to remain angry because of their ill treatment. After all, they maintain, no one knows how bad they were treated.
Among the Jews there was a difference of opinion as to how many times you should forgive an offender. Some thought three times was enough and after that you don’t need to forgive them anymore. So Jesus told a story to illustrate this point. “Then Peter came to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21, 22 KJV.
On another occasion, “He [Jesus] said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him’ (Luke 17:1–4).”
When the disciples heard that they said, “Lord, increase our faith” (verse 5). They had never heard any teaching like that before. They had heard that you should forgive somebody three times. But seven times in one day? Peter thought he was being very liberal in suggesting he would forgive somebody seven times, but he was amazed at Jesus’ response, “seventy times seven.”
Then Jesus told a story that illustrates the measure of forgiveness. You and I owe an infinite debt to God and it is impossible to pay that debt. How can you compute the price of God’s having sent the majesty of heaven to this earth to save a world in rebellion. It is a debt that we can never repay, but if we expect God to forgive us, we have to forgive our fellow men.
“Jesus said … ‘Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.’ ” Matthew 18:22–25. In ancient times, this was the rule of law in many countries. If you owed money and could not repay it, the creditor could have your wife and your children, sold as slaves and all your property sold to pay the debt.
In the story that Jesus told, the king commanded that the man and his family with his property be sold to pay his debt. He was to lose everything because he had incurred a debt that he could never repay, ten thousand talents. So, the story reads, “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, he released him, and forgave him the debt.” Verses 26, 27.
His master was moved with compassion because this man had gotten himself in such a mess, and he was forgiven the whole debt. Notice what happened when he was free:
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ ” Verses 28, 29. Now this was a small debt of around three month’s wages. It was a debt that could actually be repaid. “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.” Verse 29, 30.
This was the law of the land in so many ancient countries in the Middle East, Europe and England where people were thrown into a debtor’s prison when they could not pay their debts. It makes you wonder how they could make their payments while in prison, but that was the custom. “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother their trespasses.” Verses 31–35.
Jesus does not take kindly to the one who receives grace yet does not pass it on to his brother or neighbor. In the little book of James there is a sentence that should strike terror into the heart of many people in this world. It says, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” James 2:13. In the Old Testament, Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” It is clear throughout Scripture that forgiveness is given on the condition that you forgive others just as you wish for God to forgive you.
On the final Day of Judgment there will be many people who will say they have not done anything wrong. They do not realize that Jesus not only talked about sins of commission, but also about the sins of omission. In fact, Jesus made it very plain that many people on that day of final judgment will be condemned, not because they did something wrong, but because they did not do what was right.
There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. Notice how clearly Jesus explained this in the parable of the sheep and the goats referring to the time when He would come in the clouds of heaven:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the king will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31–46.
Notice what the problem was here. It was not because of some heinous crimes that they had committed that they were refused the gift of eternal life. Rather it was because of the right things they had neglected to do. O, friend, this should cause you to examine your life carefully. Some people think that they are Christians and living a wonderful life because they are not doing anything wrong. But have you asked yourself the question, “What am I doing that is right?” There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. We must learn to do what is right for it is not enough to simply refrain from wrong.
One of the things that causes grief to parents is the lack of gratitude for what the child has been given as a result of great sacrifice on the part of the parents. The lack of gratitude does not necessarily manifest itself in wrongdoing; but it is just a neglect to express gratitude. This sin of ingratitude, not doing what is right, is often committed by children against their parents when their parents are elderly and most in need of the help of their children.
Do we grieve our heavenly Father by neglected duty, by base ingratitude for what He has done for us? Love is the supreme motive of service and no one can truly or properly love God, if they fail to serve Him and to serve His fellow men. We are hopelessly in debt. None of us can pay the debt, either for the sins we have committed or for the sins of omission—the right-doing that we have failed to do.
If we want to be forgiven for our enormous impossible debt, we must ask the Lord to give us a forgiving spirit toward those who have wronged us. Even our worst enemies must be forgiven from the heart. Your spirit will only be set free when you forgive your enemies. The person who hates his enemy and retains a grudge in his heart only destroys himself, for that enemy is often oblivious to what is going on in the mind or heart of the grudge-bearer. Unforgiveness destroys you spiritually and can even destroy you physically by ruining your health.
Jesus said, as much as you want God to forgive you, then you must forgive those who are indebted to you to the same extent. Friend, to find forgiveness is most liberating. Lay your burden at the cross of the One Who understands how you feel and Who knows the wrongs committed to you. Let Him deal with it in His way and in His perfect timing.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.