Arminian Today

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Prayer and Forgiveness

Mark 11:25-26 reads in the NKJV:

25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

There is much to be said about these two verses.  Many Greek texts do not contain verse 26 but I prefer, like the NASB does, to still place them in the text and not like the ESV or the NIV does and make them appear at the bottom of the page.  These verses work together to show us the power of forgiveness both from God and toward others.  When God forgives us, He expects us to forgive others as He forgave us.  We see this for example in Matthew 18:21-35 where Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him.  Peter actually went beyond what the Rabbis had taught (they said four times was enough) but Jesus showed Peter that forgiveness must be given no matter what.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t even say that the brother who sinned against Peter had to repent.  He simply told Peter to forgive.  While we cannot make another person repent, we can forgive and Jesus shows Peter this truth with His parable beginning in verse 23.  Notice in verse 35 that God demands complete forgiveness of others without reservation.  If we fail to forgive then according to verse 35, we will be cut off.

I use to listen to a cheap grace preacher who had a call-in show on the radio.  The guy despised the words of Jesus in the Gospels about forgiveness.  He believed in forgiveness of our sins but this radio preacher denied that we had to forgive others.  If so, he reasoned, then we would be teaching works-salvation since this would mean that God asks us to do something to secure salvation.  The problem with this man’s view was that he, as always, never saw sanctification as part of the work of salvation.  I agree that we cannot earn God’s forgiveness.  Jesus alone is the only one who can forgive us of our sins and He alone died for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6).  I agree with Ephesians 2:8-9, that salvation is the free gift of God given through faith and not by works.  Yet I also believe that when God saves a sinner from sin, He delivers that sinner from sin.  We must not separate salvation away from sanctification.  The Spirit of God regenerates a sinner (Titus 3:5-7) and then He proceeds to help the sinner overcome sin (Galatians 5:16-17).  The Holy Spirit leads us to be more like Jesus and less like the old man (Ephesians 4:30).  Part of that work is forgiving others (Ephesians 4:31-32).  You can rest assured that where there is no desire for true forgiveness of others, there is no true salvation.  The redeemed person of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a new creation (Ephesians 4:17-24) and forgiveness flows from our broken heart through the gospel (Colossians 3:12-17).

Here in our text, Jesus makes forgiveness of sins and prayer linked together.  True praying brings us into the presence of God.  Our prayers, unlike the Pharisees in Matthew 6:5, are focused only on God and not others.  As we focus on God, He shows us our sinfulness simply because of His holiness.  We think we are pure but when we encounter the purity of God, we realize that we are so tainted by sin.  That is why I love 1 John 1:9.  I don’t use 1 John 1:9 as a crutch to stand upon before God but I do realize that I am a man saved by His grace and He is in the process of making me holy.  I am holy in Christ but I am being made holy (Hebrews 10:14 NKJV).  The Spirit of God shows me my sins and He shows me where I need His grace to help me overcome my sins (John 16:8-11).  As He does this, I realize, at times, that I need to forgive others just as He forgave me.

John Wesley said that “the love of God is the measure for Christian perfection.”  The love of God must flow out of us toward others.  We must forgive our enemies and those who wrong us (Matthew 6:12).  In light of the gospel, I am able to forgive others.  Apart from the gospel, I hate others just as the world hates others.  The forgiveness of my sins through Christ allows me to forgive others.  It is not always easy but through the cross, I can forgive others.

The great Bible commentator Thomas Coke wrote about Matthew 6:14-15 (which is parallel to Mark 11:25-26):

From what our Lord here says, we are not to imagine that the forgiving of injuries will entitle us to pardon: it only places us in a condition to receive it through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, all negative declarations being in their own nature absolute, he who does not forgive never shall be forgiven, as it is in the 15th verse. Behold then the necessity of forgiving all kinds of injuries established by the Lord Jesus Christ himself! in opposition to the foolish opinions of the men of this world, who, associating the idea of cowardice with the greatest and most generous act of the human mind, the forgiveness of injuries, have laboured to render it shameful and vile, to the utter disgrace of human reason and common sense. It is a strong remark of Archbishop Wake, upon that petition of the Lord’s prayer whereof these verses are explicatory, that “if we do not forgive as we hope to be forgiven, we imprecate the wrath of God upon our own heads, when we use the Lord’s prayer, and do in reality pray after this desperate manner: ‘Thou, O God, hast commanded me to forgive my brother his trespasses; thou hast declared that unless I do so, thou wilt not forgive me my sins. Well, let what will come, I am resolved to stand to the hazard of it. I will not forgive, nor be reconciled to my brother: do then with me as thou shalt see fit.'” Can the man of unforgiving temper see his sin and his danger in a stronger point of view?

For the Christian, in light of the cross and all that God has forgiven me of, I must forgive others.  The cross teaches me the great depth of my sins and also the great forgiveness of my God.  In light of that truth, I can and I must forgive those who wrong me.

In prayer, the Lord often reveals those areas where we have stored up bitterness toward others.  Bitterness is a snare.  Bitterness leads to the poison of unforgiveness, despair, and depression.  It has been said that the jails of America could be cleaned up tomorrow if bitter people would simply learn to forgive.  Unforgiveness leads to wrath.  Unforgiveness leads to anxiety.  Unforgiveness puts up a block not only between our human relationships but with God as well (1 Peter 3:7).

The gospel sets the sinner free.  And it is the gospel that empowers me to forgive others (1 Peter 3:8-12).  Philip Yancey wrote, “When we forgive others, we set a prisoner free and we discover that the prisoner we set free was ourselves.”  We have heard it said, “I will forgive but I will not forget.”  This is not true forgiveness.  Does God forgive us that way?  Isaiah 38:17 says that God casts all our sins behind His back.  He forgives and forgets (Micah 7:19; cf. Psalm 103:11-12)!  Further, He calls us to forgive others the same way that He forgave us (Colossians 3:13).

Following the Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.” It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, let bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life.

God can forgive us and He does forgive us if we repent.  He expects nothing but the same from us toward others.  Our hope is that as we look to the cross of Christ and His great sacrifice for our sins, we can forgive others by His grace.  This is the only way to true forgiveness of others.  Forgiveness cuts down the trees of bitterness that only spread their poison.  May we forgive others as God in Christ forgave us.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/17/2013 at 10:59 AM

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