Misunderstood Verses #2Matthew 6:14-15: For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~ Jesus
Ephesians 4:32: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. ~ Paul
Recently I've become aware of a teaching that proposes that Jesus and Paul are at odds in these two statements. They say that Jesus says our forgiveness (which has to mean our salvation, since no one I'm aware of teaches one can be partially forgiven and go to heaven) is based on our forgiveness of others - that is our performance. Paul tells us that we forgive others because of how completely God has forgiven us.
The resolution they provide seems simple enough: Jesus was talking about a different era in God's redemptive history. Before the cross, before the resurrection, before Pentecost, whenever, God dealt with people on the basis of their performance. But now God deals with us based on Christ's all-sufficient work on the cross. It sounds plausible, because Hebrews tells us about the new and living way we have in Christ. But some (not all) who teach this are overzealous for the new and living way. In their exuberance they overlook a God who has always shown mankind mercy and grace.
If Jesus was saying that there was a time (obviously it had to include the time that Jesus was speaking) that God's forgiveness was conditional on our action, then that must mean no one from that era will be in heaven. I don't think I need to post any references to the fact that man can in no way earn God's favor, since if you've read this far you are interested enough in Scripture to understand that. God's grace has never been in this time or any other time based on man's performance.
To de-emphasize God's grace in previous times is to do injustice to our unchanging God and the great heroes of the Old Testament. Genesis 15:6 tells us, "He (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." Three times in the New Testament (here, here and here) this verse is quoted as an illustration of the way we all must come to God. I'm thankful for the more complete revelation we have in Christ, but all God ever required, requires now and will ever require is belief in him.
So if Jesus was not saying that forgiveness is based on our performance, what did he mean? And how are Jesus' and Paul's statements rectified? To me it seems simple, because the key is in another verse in Ephesians: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (2:10) If we as believers are ordained by God to walk in good works, is it not reasonable to assume that forgiveness will be one of those good works? And if so, then truly one who can never find it in their heart to forgive their fellow human knows nothing of the love, mercy and forgiveness of God.
We as believers will fail to forgive one another completely. If we wouldn't, why would Paul need to encourage us to forgive in the second verse above? We certainly deal with the works of the flesh in our hearts and lives. But we are just as certainly on the road to being the people God wants us to be. God promises to work in our lives to bring us farther on that road, but the journey won't be complete till we get to heaven.