The Bible has quite a bit to say about forgiveness and un-forgiveness.

Perhaps the most well-known teaching on un-forgiveness is Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant, recorded in Matthew 18:21-35.

In the parable, a king forgives an enormously large debt (basically one that could never be repaid) of one of his servants. Later, however, that same servant refuses to forgive the small debt of another man.

The king hears about this and rescinds his prior forgiveness.

Jesus concludes by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart”

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.

Matthew 18:35

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

Matthew 6:14

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Matthew 7:2

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Luke 6:37

Do not be confused here; God’s forgiveness is not based on our works.

Forgiveness and salvation are founded completely in the person of God and by Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross.

However, our actions demonstrate our faith and the extent to which we understand God’s grace

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food 

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:14-26

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

Luke 7:47

We are completely unworthy, yet Jesus chose to pay the price for our sins and to give us forgiveness (Romans 5:8). When we truly grasp the greatness of God’s gift to us, we will pass the gift along. We have been given grace and should give grace to others in return. In the parable, we are appalled at the servant who would not forgive a minor debt after having been forgiven his unpayable debt. Yet, when we are unforgiving, we act just as the servant in the parable.

Un-forgiveness also robs us of the full life God intends for us. Rather than promote justice, our un-forgiveness festers into bitterness. Hebrews 12:14-15 warns, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root rises up to cause trouble and defile many.” Similarly, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 warns that un-forgiveness can be an opening for Satan to derail us.

We also know that those who have sinned against us – whom we may not want to forgive – are held accountable by God.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.

Hebrews 10:30

It is important to recognize that to forgive is not to downplay a wrongdoing or necessarily to reconcile. When we choose to forgive, we release a person from his indebtedness to us. We relinquish the right to seek personal revenge. We choose to say we will not hold his wrongdoing against him. However, we do not necessarily allow that person back into our trust or even fully release that person from the consequences of his sin. We are told that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). While God’s forgiveness relieves us from eternal death, it does not always release us from the death-like consequences of sin (such as a broken relationship or the penalty provided by the justice system). Forgiveness does not mean we act as if no wrong has been done; it does mean we recognize that grace abundant has been given to us and that we have no right to hold someone else’s wrongdoing over his head.

Time and again, Scripture calls us to forgive one another.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Luke 12:48

Though forgiveness is often difficult, to be unforgiving is to disobey God and to depreciate the greatness of His gift.

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