Salvation And The Need To Forgive


Forgiveness is two-pronged—something we need and something we need to give.

One of the parables that used to make me uncomfortable is the one Jesus told in answer to Peter’s question about how many times they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. After giving the now-familiar seventy-times-seven answer, Jesus proceeded to tell a story to illustrate his point.

As it goes, a slave owed his master an insurmountable debt. When his lord decide to sell him, his family, and his belongings to recoup some of what was owed, the slave begged for more time.

The master turned around and forgave him the debt entirely.

Such a great story. Expecting deserved punishment, the slave pleaded for mercy and found grace. Complete grace that washed away his debt in its entirety.

But the story didn’t end there. The slave, upon leaving his master, ran into a colleague who owed him a modest sum, within the man’s ability to pay. The first slave required what he deserved.

The second slave asked for mercy—just a little more time, and he would meet his obligation. But the first slave was unwilling and had the man thrown in prison. When the other slaves saw it, they told their lord.

The master brought the first slave before him again and chastised him:

“Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
– Matthew 18:33

I said this parable made me uncomfortable. I just didn’t understand what this meant for salvation. Was God going to take back salvation if we didn’t follow his example, at least in this area of forgiveness?

And if forgiveness is a necessary action I am required to take, how then is grace free of my works and based upon faith alone?

Recently I heard a great sermon that explained the troubling story. Yes, I’d heard sermons that explained our forgiveness of others is a sign of our right standing with God, not a condition for it. But for the life of me, though I believed that to be true, I couldn’t see that teaching in this passage.

Well, the sermon I heard, from Allister Begg, most likely or maybe my pastor, explained that the first slave, if he had understood the concept of receiving unmerited favor, if he’d understood that he truly owed more than he could ever pay, if in fact he had humbled himself and received the grace his master offered him, would have extended his own small measure of grace to the second slave. By not doing so, he demonstrated that he had never grasped the enormity of his own debt and the grace his master held out to him.

In essence, by not extending forgiveness, he proved he didn’t “get it.” Though it had been offered him, he didn’t believe himself truly in need of his master’s grace, didn’t humble himself, and didn’t appropriate what his master extended to him.

My forgiving my neighbor, then, is not the cause of my salvation, not the root from which my salvation grows. It is the fruit, the product of my rooted-ness in God’s forgiveness of me. If I in fact humble myself before God, will I not also humble myself before my neighbor? Humility, I don’t think, is a trait that should come and go. I’m humble before God but demanding of others?

By insisting others pay me my due, I show my own nature, not the one God clothes His children with. I wish I’d learned this years ago.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in March, 2009.

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Published in: on March 5, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (5)  
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