Dear Pastor Charles: There are a couple of apparently conflicting Scriptures regarding God’s forgiveness. I know the Bible never contradicts itself, so help me resolve my confusion. In Mathew 6:15 and again in Mathew 18:35, Jesus says that our forgiveness from God is based on how well we forgive others. Then in 1 John 1:9, John says that all we have to do is confess our sins, and God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. If the first method is true, I am in serious trouble. Please help me to reconcile this. Disturbed…
If the first method is true, we are all in serious trouble. In interpreting Scripture, we must always be careful to put them into their proper historical perspective and be aware of to whom the Scripture is being addressed. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” While Jesus walked upon the Earth He completely fulfilled the Law by living a sinless life. Look at Hebrews 4:14-15, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”
That was the first part of His mission given to Him by God the Father. In the second part, He fulfilled the Prophets by paying the penalty for sin demanded by the Law, which was the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. Jesus was that perfect Lamb who satisfied the demand of the Law.
Hebrews 9:22-28, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
So you see, it was by the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross whereby we are able to receive the forgiveness of God. When Jesus spoke these words quoted in Matthew He had not yet gone to the cross, so the only way to receive forgiveness was by perfectly keeping the Law or, to offer the proper animal sacrifice in the proper manner through the high priest. We must not forget that Jesus was addressing the Jews when He made these statements concerning the forgiveness of God being conditional upon the forgiveness of others. This was literally the Law which Jesus summarized in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I wish I could say that I keep these two commandments but I don’t. Please don’t tell anyone this, but I get angry with people sometimes. I know that I don’t really love my neighbor as myself because that guy really gets under my skin and I surely wouldn’t die for him (present neighbors excluded of course). I know that I should love my neighbor more and I know I should love God more, but I just can’t seem to get the job done right. It is so frustrating at times. So where can I go to get forgiveness for my sins?
Thank God that Jesus went to the cross and paid the penalty for us. Thank God that Jesus rose from the dead as a promise to us that because of our faith in Him, we will one day be raised from the dead as well. Yes, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law and then gave us a new command found in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So as you can see my friend, the basis for Christian forgiveness is found in those words of Jesus and also in the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:32, ”Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This means that the motivation for forgiveness of others should always be love and not the fear of punishment.
I sincerely hope that I have answered your question to your satisfaction. My prayer for you is that God will open your eyes to His wonderful grace as you continue to search the Scriptures which are “able to make you wise.”
May God bless you always,