Yesterday, I got to teach the kids class at church, and the section we were in was Mark 11:25–26 where Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiving others. Below are some of the main points and ideas from this passage.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.Mark 11:25–26
It’s no surprise that this passage on forgiveness ends the story of Jesus calling people in the temple out on having the appearance of godliness, but having no fruit or substance of a relationship with God.
Jesus finishes this section with a reminder of what the fruit of godliness looks like. It’s not just outward actions, but inward heart change.
Specifically, Jesus tells us that a true disciple of His will forgive others.
Simply put, people who are forgiven by God will, in turn, forgive others.
The Importance (And Necessity Of) Forgiving Others
Jesus pulls no punches in this verse. He starts out by saying that forgiving others is so important that you should even pause your prayer to do so.
And then He goes as far to say that “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.“
But what does He mean by that?
We see throughout scripture that God was the first to act on our need for forgiveness and salvation, and that He did so in spite of all we did and who we once were…
God saved us when we were still enemies of God (Romans 5:10)
We only love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)
None of us were even seeking God to begin with (Romans 3:11)
So, what does it mean that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others?
To answer that, it’s best to look at another parable from Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35.
Here’s the general story…
A man owed a VERY great debt and his lender forgave him of that debt.Read the full story in Matthew 18:21-35
Shortly after, this man refuses to forgive someone else’s much smaller debt and threatens him with his life.
The previous lender finds out how cruelly this man treated the other and renounces his forgiven debt as a consequence for treating the other man so poorly.
What we learn from this parable is that God takes our life change very seriously. We are not saved by our works, but God’s grace and forgiveness is purposed to bring about a heart change.
God’s plan is to save us from the punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23), to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), to fill us with new motives (1 Corinthians 10:31), and new empowerment (2 Timothy 1:7) to live a new life that He has called us to (Titus 2:11–14).
And, this new life is not an option. It flows supernaturally from our forgiveness.
Which leads us back to the question:
Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Does God forgive us because we forgive others? Or do we forgive others because God forgives us?
What we can learn from Jesus’ parable and the rest of scripture, is that God forgives us and empowers us to forgive others.
But, if we are not actively trying and asking God to help us to forgive others… then, how can we possibly say we’ve been forgiven by God and love Him? (1 John 4:20)
Or, to put it another way:
Forgiving others is a sign that we’ve been forgiven by God.
And a lack of forgiveness towards others is a sign that we have not experienced God’s forgiveness.
(Also, check out Luke 7:36–50 for a real life version of the parable described above).
Forgiveness vs Reconciliation
Forgiveness is always possible,
But reconciliation is not.
It’s important to note that Jesus calls us to forgive others, but that doesn’t mean things will always work out.
Simply looking at Jesus’ life will tell us that we won’t be on good terms with everyone, but we can still forgive everyone.
Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18 that we are to “live peaceably with all” but only “so far as it depends on you” recognizing that sometimes the issues we have with others are simply on their end and there is nothing we can do about it.
This doesn’t give us freedom to ever write someone off as a lost cause, as we are called to love generously and especially those who hate us, but we also shouldn’t bear the weight of a two-way relationship all on ourselves.
We can forgive others and still not receive reconciliation between ourselves and the other person, if they refuse.
Empowered To Forgive
Although we talk about our empowerment coming from God, we often constrain ourselves to only self-help methods and motivational talks which is the exact opposite of “empowered by God”.
And, as a side note, not only does self-help and self motivation only last temporarily, but God also tells us that nothing we do can be pleasing to Him without our actions coming out of our of faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6). If our motivation is one of self attainment and simply doing better, we’ve completely missed the point.
In regards to forgiveness, I’ve heard people encouraged to think about how much God loves the person you ought to forgive and that if God can forgive them, then so should you.
But this is nothing more than hype and motivational talk (and also not found in scripture).
Of course God loves them, He’s perfect!
But how does that help me to love them?
Here’s what the Bible tells us to do:
Instead of focusing on the people you ought to forgive,
You need to focus on the God who has forgiven you.
Scripture tells us that our forgiveness doesn’t come from seeing God forgive others, but as an overflow of God forgiving us, as we talked about above.
But there’s one more piece.
And that’s God’s Spirit.
When God forgives us, He doesn’t simply wipe our slate clean and then tell us to try harder.
God gives us His Spirit to teach us (John 14:26), help us (John 14:26), encourage us (Acts9.31) and empower us to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7).
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all believers, when we are saved. And it is through Him that we become more like Jesus – including our growth in forgiving others (Acts 2:38).
There’s no better application than this:
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Do it now.
Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from?
Because Jesus said pretty much the same thing about that (Matthew 5:23–24)
Go ask for forgiveness.
Do your best to bring reconciliation, as much as it depends on you.
Love others like Jesus.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, below are links to my series on the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
We Need God’s Spirit to Bear the Fruit of the Spirit
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Love
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Joy
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Peace
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Patience
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Kindness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Goodness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Faithfulness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Gentleness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Self-Control