If we are all honest, sometimes the Bible can be confusing. One verse says we are saved by putting faith in God’s grace and not of works, and then in another verse Jesus would tell people if you don’t forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive you. To the person who actually thinks when they read, that sounds like a contradiction. Forgiving people is a good work. Is Jesus saying we have to do some good works to be right with God. Which is it? Are we saved by grace or do we have to do good works? And if we have to do good works, which works do we have to do?
The whole thing can be confusing which causes some to say the Bible doesn’t make sense and they reject Jesus, while others live in a state of confusion and eternal insecurity because they really don’t know if they are forgiven or not. My goal in this article is to clear up the confusion around the concept of forgiveness and whether we have to forgive others to be forgiven.
Two of the basic principles of understanding scripture are to understand the covenant a particular passage was written under as well as the identity of the audience the writer was speaking to. I’ll give an example, Ephesians 2:8, which says we are saved by grace through faith and not of works was written after the crucifixion. It was written to Christians. On the other hand, in Matthew 6:15, where Jesus said you must forgive if you want your Father in heaven to forgive you, he wasn’t talking to Christians. The people who were listening to his message were Jewish people who lived under the law. Under the law of Moses, people had to obey to be forgiven and those who didn’t obey were punished.
It’s very important when reading the words of Jesus to understand that for most of his ministry he never actually spoke to Christians. He spoke to a Jewish audience that was under the law. Christianity didn’t officially begin until the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’s crucifixion officially inaugurated the new covenant.
A major part of Jesus’s ministry was saying challenging things that would encourage those under the law to give up on saving themselves so they would look for a savior. This is why he said a man who looks at woman with lust in his heart was guilty of adultery. Jesus wasn’t trying to necessarily get people to not lust, He was actually revealing the righteous standard of the law so he could shut the mouths of those who didn’t do the act of adultery but wanted to. He was showing them they were just as guilty as the person who committed the act so they would give up on trusting in themselves and look for His mercy and grace.
Understanding the different covenants, dispensations, and the audiences they applied to is the only way to really understand the Bible. We can’t just pull verses from anywhere and think they all apply to us the same. Much of the Bible doesn’t apply to you and me because it was written to Jewish people who lived under the law. It’s still great to read to see what we’ve been saved from and to have a better understanding and appreciation of the New Covenant under which we currently live; we just have to realize the law was never written for Christians. An important verse on the subject of forgiveness that does apply to you and me is Ephesians 4:32:
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The Apostle Paul, who was writing to Christians said we need to forgive; but not so we can be forgiven. We now forgive because we have been forgiven. If we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven even if we never forgive others. We should forgive others because it represents Jesus well and we’ll have a better life if we do, but even if we don’t we are secure in what He accomplished for us at Calvary.
This is a huge paradigm shift for most people and I want to encourage to study the scriptures out to see if these things are true. I believe when you do, the way you view God will change, the way you view yourself will change, and this will empower you to change your world for the the better! Enjoy walking in your freedom as a completely forgiven child of God today!