Forgive Us as We Forgive - Part 3
Reformed Free Publishing Association
By Rev. Martyn McGeown, pastor of Providence PRC. Previous article in the series: Forgive Us as We Forgive - Part 2
The Relationship Between God’s Forgiveness and Ours
What, then, is the relationship between these two acts of forgiveness: God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others?
We begin with the negative.
Our act of forgiving the neighbor is not the ground/basis, or the reason, for God’s forgiving us. The ground is Christ’s blood, not our activity of putting away revenge, putting away bitterness, putting away resentment, and the like. In other words, our act of forgiving the neighbor does not make us worthy of God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness of the neighbor is imperfect; it cannot make us worthy of anything. Our worthiness of being forgiven is the perfect worthiness of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood on the cross to obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins.
Our act of forgiving the neighbor is not the condition that we must fulfil in order to obtain from God the forgiveness of sins. It is true that Jesus expresses the relationship with the word “if.” “If ye forgive… your heavenly Father will also forgive” (v. 14). “If ye forgive not… neither will your Father forgive” (v. 15). The word “if” in Scripture does not necessarily indicate a condition. A condition is an activity of man on which the reception of a blessing of God depends. A condition is not necessarily an activity of man which precedes the reception of a blessing of God. God does not wait, withholding forgiveness from us, until we do something: rather, God works in us by his grace so that we forgive our neighbor from our heart. Our forgiving the neighbor is the fruit of the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in us.
Positively, the fifth petition and the Heidelberg Catechism point to the word “as.” “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). “Even as we feel this evidence of thy grace in us, that it is our firm resolution from the heart to forgive our neighbor” (A 126). God’s grace is first: he forgives us, freely, graciously, without our works. We receive that forgiveness by faith alone, by embracing Jesus Christ with a believing heart. As a fruit of God’s grace we are thankful, and, being thankful, we forgive our neighbor. When we compare our enormous debt of guilt with our neighbor’s trifling transgression against us, we freely forgive him. It is, as the Catechism expresses it, “our firm resolution from the heart to forgive our neighbor.” The one who does not forgive his neighbor, but who lives in bitterness, anger, and resentment; the one who plots his revenge: he does not know the forgiveness of sins. He shows that he has not tasted that the Lord is gracious. This is the evidence that we have been forgiven: the testimony in our hearts that our sins have been put away: we forgive. Let us, then, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, not in order to be forgiven, but “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us.”