In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a frightening assertion: “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.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NLT)
Does this mean God’s forgiveness is conditional? Certainly not, because the New Testament makes it clear God in Christ has already forgiven us. But what it does mean is that if we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, we will never fully experience God’s forgiveness. I like to compare it to a drain pipe that is clogged with impediments. Only when they are removed can water flow freely. In the same way, our lives are stopped up with all kinds of “stuff” that is a result of other persons’ poor choices. We can never fully receive God’s blessings, including His forgiveness, until we make room. The way in which this happens is by forgiving others.
Further motivation for forgiving others is found in Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant recorded in Matthew 18. Even though the king forgave this man’s enormous debt, he steadfastly refused to forgive the paltry debt owed him by a fellow servant. When the king found out what happened, he had the unforgiving servant thrown in prison and tortured. The message is clear: any sins committed against us pale in comparison to the sins we’ve committed against God. Since He has freely forgiven us, we are compelled to go and do likewise.
So the question is not, “If I don’t forgive others, will God forgive me?” Instead, we must consider, “If I’ve received God’s forgiveness, why in the world wouldn’t I want to forgive others?” The answer is obvious and forces us to take the Apostle Paul’s words to heart: “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13b NLT)