Monday, May 30, 2011

Forgiven Forever

Biblegems #40
Is it true that, as followers of Jesus, when we forgive someone of an offense against us personally, God will not hold that offense against that person on Judgment Day?

Judgment Day is when unbelievers stand before the God of the universe and are judged according to their actions in this life (Rev. 20:11-14). These are people who have died without the saving grace of Jesus, and therefore their names are not written in the Book of Life, and they will spend eternity in hell (Rev. 20:15). But before they meet this terrible future, God reviews their lives in order to show that His Judgment is just and fair.

Jesus taught in Matt. 6:14-15 that if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. This means, at least in part, that forgiveness of a sin cancels out that sin.

Jesus taught this specifically in Matthew 18. In that chapter sin and forgiveness are both framed in the context of eternity. If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.

In verses 23-35, forgiveness is portrayed through a parable as the cancellation of a debt. When the king in the parable forgives the debt, the effect is a total cancellation. Nothing is held against the indebted servant whatsoever.

However, when the forgiven servant has the opportunity to cancel a much smaller debt owed him, the servant demands payment in full. As a result, the servant’s forgiven debt is re-instated by the king and the servant delivered to be tortured (Gk,: basanistais). Jesus then concludes the parable by emphasizing its point: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (35).

The point is clear—sin has eternal consequences, and so does forgiveness. When we truly forgive someone who has offended us or who has wronged us, their debt to us is completely cancelled. How terribly unfair it would be if the person owing the debt to the servant in the parable should have his debt cancelled, only to discover at a later date that the king expects the debt to be paid to him anyway!

But Jesus does not even suggest that. Instead, His parable focuses on the fact that a forgiven debt is completely cancelled.

Actually, the entire context of Matthew 18 demonstrates how sin has eternal consequences (6-9), and that when the Church disciplines someone for unrepentant sin that too has eternal consequences (15-18). As He says in verse 18, I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

He then applies the same principle to forgiveness (19-22), giving the parable of the cancelled debt as illustration (23-35). In fact, Jesus’ famous statement—…if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matt. 18:19-22)—is specifically related to the eternal effectiveness of Church discipline and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a powerful act of grace. When we forgive someone for a personal offense, that offense is cancelled—now and forever.

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