Yesterday’s post examined the first characteristic of the heart that is always ready to forgive: A forgiving heart is energized by a healthy awareness of personal sin (v. 12a)
Characteristic #2 – A forgiving heart is expected of the one who is forgiven (v. 12b) – Jesus continues, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Oh, the power of that little word “as”! Jesus assumed that forgiving others would be the general practice of the child of God. The Bible expects Christians to be forgiving people. In fact, it entertains no other healthy option. We are called to the highest standard of practicing forgiveness. We are called to forgive as God forgives: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32, emphasis added; see also Col. 3:13).
Pride is the enemy of a forgiving heart. Unforgiving people (those with bitter hearts) have been deceived into thinking that somehow they deserve forgiveness, but their offenders do not. Why else would they be so reluctant to freely grant it? Unforgiving people have short memories concerning their own sin. Pride has erased their remembrance and they have forgotten the blackness of their own sin. Pride has blinded the eyes of their hearts so that they no longer see the ugliness of their own past. They fail to remember the depth of the grace and forgiveness that God has so freely bestowed upon them and therefore are slow to pass it on to others. In contrast, those with forgiving hearts have a long memory
concerning their own sin, but a short memory concerning the sins of others. The long-lasting memory of their own sin is grievous, but the remembrance produces joy as their hearts reflect on the new-found freedom of forgiveness in Jesus. Equal joy fills their hearts when humble people are able to extend that same forgiveness to others who have sinned against them.
Characteristic #3 – A forgiving heart secures its own forgiveness and God’s listening ear (vv. 14–15) – Jesus places a sobering, if not frightening, condition upon our own forgiveness. If we forgive, “[our] heavenly Father will also forgive [us].” If we refuse to forgive others, “[our] Father will not forgive [our] transgressions.” This means that bitterness (a refusal to forgive) breaks our fellowship with God. Since God refuses to forgive those who refuse to forgive others, we may conclude that God does not listen to the prayers of bitter Christians. As Lehman Straus has written, “The person who will not forgive had better hope that he will never sin.”
Pride is the enemy of a forgiving heart. Unforgiving people (those with bitter hearts) refuse to release their brothers and sisters from sin’s debt because they have exalted themselves to be their judges. As judges, they will execute whatever punishment they think is necessary until their offenders “prove” they are worthy of their forgiveness. In contrast, those with forgiving hearts leave vengeance in the hands of the Lord (Rom. 12:19). Forgiving people have no desire to get even because they know God has already got even with sin at the cross.
Whether or not we are forgiving people will greatly influence the effectiveness of our prayers. If we have a daily awareness of our own sinfulness we will more readily fulfill our Christian responsibility to practice forgiveness toward those who repent of their sins against us. As a result, we will please God, guard our own hearts from bitterness, and live in the true freedom of forgiveness.
(Adapted from my book Teach Them to Pray)