Four Ways To Guard Against the Threat of Unforgiveness
It’s no contest. Of the six petitions in Jesus’ model prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), the most frightening is the fifth: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Why? The appendix in v. 14-15: “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.”
Martyn-Lloyd Jones explains:
The proof that you and I are forgiven is that we forgive others. If we think that our sins are forgiven by God and we refuse to forgive somebody else, we are making a mistake; we have never been forgiven. The man who knows he has been forgiven, only in and through the blood of Christ, is a man who must forgive others. He cannot help himself. If we really know Christ as our Saviour our hearts are broken and cannot be hard, and we cannot refuse forgiveness. If you are refusing forgiveness to anybody I suggest that you have never been forgiven.
John Piper adds:
God’s forgiveness is underneath ours and creates it and supports it. So that if we don’t give it to others—if we go on in an unforgiving spirit—what we show is that God is not there in our lives. We are not trusting him. And not trusting him will keep us out of heaven. And cause us to be handed over to the tormentors.
According to Jesus, the right way to pray takes into account the eternity-hangs-in-the-balance importance of a forgiving nature toward others.
Helps for Guarding Against Unforgiveness
One, remember God’s forgiveness. Focus often on just how much God has forgiven you. Beware of taking for granted God’s mercy to you while withholding it from others. Others’ sins against us are not more serious than our sins against God (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13).
Two, practice the virtue of overlooking. Prov. 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” The more we practice #1 above the more likely we are to forgive unilaterally. Of course, that is not always possible. In that case . . .
Three, distinguish between the two stages of forgiveness. Ideally forgiveness is granted to a confession and repentance for an offense (Luke 17:3-4). But that doesn’t always happen right away and sometimes never happens in this lifetime. While you wait, rely on God’s strength to practice a disposition of forgiveness. This is an attitude that stands ready to transact forgiveness upon repentance with a Jesus’ like on the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” kind of grace and mercy (Luke 23:34).
Four, claim Romans 8:28—God working for your good. Even the wrongs others do to us have a plan in God’s sovereignty. Ken Sande, from whom I’ve largely drawn these helps in his book The Peacemaker, writes:
When you perceive that the person who has wronged you is being used as an instrument in God’s hand to help you mature, serve others, and glorify him, it may be easier for you to move ahead with forgiveness.
We followers of Jesus are the most forgiven people in the world. We should therefore be the most forgiving people in the world through Christ and the hope of His glorious gospel.
There is no right praying without that.
Question: What has helped you cultivate a forgiving spirit?