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From Godís point of view, there is no human being who is righteous. We are all sinners who have come short of His standards. Not only that, we are also incapable by ourselves of ever reaching up to His requirements.
But from His side He has prepared a remedy for this unfortunate situation; He has given His Son who has died for the sins of the whole world. He now offers salvation freely to all who are willing to receive it--salvation which takes us away from being condemned to death and hell as we really deserve, to total forgiveness and eternal life. We donít deserve this, and it is truly a gift of grace--unmerited favour--from God. What do we need to do in order to receive this gift?
There is nothing we need to do in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. In fact we cannot ever make ourselves acceptable to Him in any way. But having said that it is also true that not everyone will finally receive and experience this gift of salvation. We need to have a certain attitude of heart and acknowledgment that brings us into the place where Godís salvation can reach us. We must respond to God accepting and acknowledging the fact that we do not deserve it, and also believing that Jesus has already taken the condemnation and punishment in our place. This is what it essentially means to Ďaccept Jesus as our Saviourí by faith. Those who refuse to take this position before God refuse this salvation that is offered to them freely.
Grace, Incredible And Beyond Reason
Such an undeserved offer of grace to everyone who would respond to it appears to be foolish to many people who consider that it is unreasonable, ridiculous or cheap. However for those who have laboured under the misguided goal of somehow reaching up to Godís standards there is no way of salvation that is more profound, sublime or fitting. It is also far from being cheap because God had to pay an outrageous price to make this available to us freely. There is absolutely nothing like this way of salvation in any of the manmade religions of the world. But the very grand scale of Godís grace towards us sinners prompts some people to take it beyond its true domain.
The Danger Of Imagined Salvation
What about someone who says, "Lord Jesus, come into my heart," without acknowledging in his heart that he is asking for a gift that he does not deserve? Is this just a lack of theological understanding on his part that can be overlooked at this stage? No.
From Godís side salvation hinges on being gracious towards sinners who do not deserve forgiveness. On our side our heart must respond in faith in order to receive and experience this grace. That is why salvation is both by grace and through faith (Eph.2:8). There are two parts to this faith. The first part is to acknowledge that we are sinners who deserve to be condemned to hell. This causes us to turn away (repent) from our sins. The second is to place our trust in the atonement Jesus has made on our behalf. This faith is what Ďqualifiesí us to receive salvation.
This salvation by grace stands in complete contradiction to those who imagine that they are acceptable to God because they are good, or better than Ďthose sinnersí out there. Will those who merely ask for the benefit of being saved from the punishment of sin and of being taken to heaven but do not come to God with true faith receive this grace of salvation? Such people are outside of the domain of grace.
When Jesus was teaching the disciples to pray He added a caveat at the end, "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" (Mt.6:14,15). What would this mean for us?
Does this mean that we must first forgive others in order to receive our own forgiveness? In other words, do we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others? Certainly not, because we understand that forgiveness cannot be earned but only received as a free gift of grace through faith.
Think of it this way. Who will find it difficult to forgive others but those who consider that forgiveness has to be merited? We think we cannot forgive someone because we believe that what he has done to us is too much to deserve forgiveness. But when we come to see that our own sins are too wicked in Godís eyes but that He has graciously forgiven us even though we do not deserve it, then we realise that it would be unfair on our part to withhold forgiveness from others. In other words, we need to forgive others in the same way that we have received forgiveness--through grace. When we are exhorted to forgive one another we are also reminded (in order to help us) about how Christ Jesus has forgiven us (Ep.4:32;Col.3:13).
So what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6 can be understood like this: those who are unwilling to forgive others have not understood or experienced the nature of this forgiveness, that it is a gracious gift to undeserving sinners; this shows that they themselves cannot expect to receive forgiveness from God.
There is another passage that illustrates this further. Jesus mentioned a parable in Matthew 18 of a servant who was forgiven graciously by his master the king, who subsequently refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him comparatively little. When the king came to know about this, he took back his forgiveness and put the servant in jail till he paid back his debt. Jesus then warned the people that the Heavenly Father would do exactly the same thing to them if they refused to forgive others from their heart (v.35). This seems to imply that one who has been forgiven once can lose it later if he does not forgive others. Many people think that this is a harsh interpretation of this passage and would like to explain it away some other way. But what could this really mean?
Since forgiveness can be experienced only when we stand in the domain of grace, this would mean that those who afterwards refuse to forgive others are moving away from the position where they themselves can receive grace.
Is there really such a place where someone cannot receive grace? It is obvious that those who refuse to humbly acknowledge their sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness place themselves by choice outside the domain of grace. What about those who have tasted the grace of God in their life, received forgiveness and then refuse to extend that same grace towards others? Apparently they have forgotten that they themselves were once washed with the blood of Jesus as an unmerited favour from God (2Pet.1:9). The enormity of the sin someone has done against them has wounded and blinded them to the memory of how they themselves were and are even now the recipients of Godís undeserved mercy.
Struggling To Forgive
Fortunately for us, our Heavenly Father is one who knows our frame, that we are frail and made of dust (Ps.103:13,14). Jesus the Son is the High Priest at the Fatherís side interceding for us as one who knows the feeling of our infirmities (Heb.4:14,15). We are not going to be thrown out just because we find it hard to overcome our emotions towards those who have harmed us terribly. God can understand how we are struggling within ourselves. But it is one thing to struggle against our feelings and thoughts that provoke us against the others, and quite another thing to flatly refuse to forgive the others, i.e., to determine not to forgive them and not even to make any effort in that direction. It is to such people that the parable of the unforgiving servant comes as a warning.
God warns us through Jude to keep ourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of God that leads to eternal life (v.21). The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, "Stay always within the boundaries where Godís love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you." Isnít it dangerous to venture outside the boundary of Godís forgiveness by refusing to forgive others?
Published in the May 2011 issue of the Light of Life magazine.