Tom Edwards

Having the ability to forgive is necessary for our own well-being and salvation. After giving His model prayer, in response to His apostle’s request to teach them how to pray, which included the need to ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12), the Lord then went on to point out the need for that, by saying, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (vv. 14-15).

The need for this is also shown elsewhere in the Bible. For instance: “so as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, AND FORGIVING EACH OTHER, whoever has a complaint against anyone; JUST AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU, SO ALSO SHOULD YOU” (Col. 3:12-13, emphasis mine). And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote a similar instruction: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, FORGIVING EACH OTHER, JUST AS GOD IN CHRIST ALSO HAS FORGIVEN YOU” (Eph. 4:31-32, emphasis mine).

From what we see of God in the Bible, He wants to forgive everyone. For He “is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). And this is because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). This is also seen in Ezekiel 33:11, in which God declares, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).

And how can we ever forget the longing Jesus had toward saving the lost, as expressed in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”

No wonder we also see of the Lord being so moved that he wept over the lost souls in that city. For He knew of the destruction that was coming their way and of the many who would lose their lives when Rome would have the city under siege for a couple years and bring about the death of more than a million of its inhabitants in A.D. 70. Therefore, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ’If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus did not come to this world to condemn the transgressors, but to make salvation possible for all. When the “Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ’Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’ …Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:30-32).

God truly does want all to be saved.

The apostle Paul, for example, had not only been a persecutor of the Lord’s church, prior to his conversion, but had also consented to the death of innocent Christians. Concerning the stoning of Stephen, for instance, Saul (Paul) had not only been there to witness that (Acts 7:58), but had also been “in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1). And following that, Saul then “began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women…and put them in prison” (v. 3). He was given to “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and sought to “bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1). In one of his testimonials, following his conversion, he had said, in speaking of his previous life, “I persecuted this Way to the death” (Acts 22:4). And he did all that at that time because, as he says, “I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-11).

And why did I bring all that out about Saul of Tarsus who became the apostle Paul? Because of the great example we see of the Lord’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness demonstrated in the life of that one who was persecuting Jesus (Acts 9:4-5) and His people — even consenting to the death of those Christians. Yet, what did Paul declare, following his conversion, in 1 Timothy 1:15-16? “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” In the King James Version, Paul refers to himself as the “chief” of sinners for whom Jesus also came to save (1 Tim. 1:15).

So even for the many in the world today who continue to reject “the kindness of God” that “leads…to repentance” (Rom. 11:22) and, as a result, remain lost in their sins, yet it is still God’s desire to forgive and save these people. But that will not happen, until they, of their own free will, submit to His plan of salvation.

Therefore, should we not also always have that desire to forgive those who have sinned against us — and even if they do not repent, nor want our forgiveness? For we should continue, similarly to God, to have that desire to forgive them of whatever the wrong — rather than harboring any grudge against them and being embittered.

In this, we also see the benefit for us in having a forgiving heart! And if they repent and seek our forgiveness, it will be a benefit for them, too.

And how often should we be willing to forgive the same person? It appears that Peter initially thought that seven times would be enough. But the Lord told him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). This, of course, is not to be taken literally, as if 490 times to forgive someone is the limit. Rather, it figuratively expresses the need to always be able to forgive a person regardless of how many times that individual has sinned. And if we have trouble in that, we, who are Christians, should try thinking of how many times God has forgiven us. For forgiveness is something we are to ask of Him every day (Matt. 6:12).

Though we are to be a forgiving people, we actually do not have the power to blot sins out of the lives of others. So though we could forgive someone who had stolen from us, that person will still need God’s forgiveness so He will no longer hold that sin against that person.

The scribes and Pharisees were right in their reasoning that only God alone can forgive of sins (Mark 2:7); but they were wrong in not recognizing that Jesus was also Deity and, therefore, had the right and the ability to blot out iniquity in one’s life.

In the very passage where these took issue with Jesus over this matter, the Lord proved the power He had to forgive by healing a paralytic.

This took place in Capernaum, where four men had carried the invalid to the home in which Jesus was. But because of the crowd, the carriers had to make an opening in the roof to lower the paralytic on a pallet to the Lord. Jesus “seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ’Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5), which led to the scribes and Pharisees finding fault in that statement. Jesus then told them, “…’Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ — He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mark 2:8-12, emphasis mine).

Of all the blessings of life, whether they be physical or spiritual, having the forgiveness of sins is one I find at the top of the list! What could be more needful in our lives than that? Having God’s forgiveness is more important than even the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe!


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