Since most Christians never take time to study the Bible, they end up believing really dumb things.
Like the thing I heard a pastor once say in a sermon on forgiveness. His passage that day:
For 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. – Matthew 6:14-15
The pastor talked at length about the fact that God loves us so much he is willing to use the threat of hell to force us to wake up and forgive those who hurt us. With passion in his voice, he talked about how awful it would be not to go to heaven for all eternity because of some temporary, though painful event that happened to us on earth.
Pacing back and forth across the stage, he told story after emotional story to try to convince us to let go of the past and move on. Then, with tears in his eyes, he concluded his message with a heartfelt plea to forgive those who hurt us while we still had time.
After the service, I walked to my car and thought to myself, That guy’s an idiot.
I was shocked, for two reasons:
- I couldn’t believe such a negative thing would come to mind so shortly after a church service; I expected more restraint.
- More important, I was the guy who preached that sermon.
Mouthing What Everyone Else Has Said
The whole time I was speaking, I was thinking to myself, Wait a minute, this doesn’t sound right, even if it is exactly what these verses seem to be saying. There’s got to be more to the story. I was confused. But, to be honest, I was simply repeating exactly what I heard my pastor teach while I grew up in church.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had never heard any other interpretation of Matthew 6:14-15 anywhere not in the churches I’d attended, not on the radio or on television, not from Christian friends not anywhere.
My questioning seemed heresy filled so I began studying what great Christian leaders throughout church history thought about this passage. I was shocked to discover that they taught the same things I had preached!
Famous Theologians Who Blew It
Look at what some of the most influential pastors and theologians in two thousand years of church history said about the need to forgive in order to be forgiven:
The man who does not from his heart forgive him who repents of his sin, and asks forgiveness, need not suppose that his own sins are forgiven of God. – St. Augustine
The only Law of admission to His forgiveness is that we pardon our brothers for any sin against us. – John Calvin
A forgiving spirit . . . is a sign that we are in a state of forgiveness and favour ourselves: and that, if we are not of such a spirit, we are not forgiven of God. – Jonathan Edwards
I realize that it’s pretty audacious of me to disagree with some of the greatest theologians of all time, but I have to humbly and graciously break rank with them:
Our forgiveness is not in any way at all dependent upon our forgiving others.
That’s a lie.
And the quicker you jettison it the better off you’ll be.
Simply put: You can spend the rest of your life utterly consumed with hatred and unforgiveness toward those who have hurt you and God will still welcome you into heaven with a smile.
I’ll explain why I believe this is the case tomorrow.
Until then your thoughts?
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