After I asked my friend to read Matthew 6:14-15 and Ephesians 4:32, I said, “do you see any difference in these verses about forgiveness?”
“No”, they said, “in both we are forgiven, and are told to forgive.”
“Yes, but how is forgiveness granted?”
Forgiveness of sins is a central teaching of the Bible and Christianity. In the beginning of the Bible the first man sinned against God. The end of the Bible describes the final judgment towards sinners. In the middle, men seek forgiveness.
But how do we receive forgiveness? What are the conditions to receive forgiveness? This is where it becomes extremely important to rightly divide the Bible.
Forgiveness Under Law with Conditions
Forgiveness is something only God can give. It is not something we can claim for ourselves by ourselves. Under the law God gave forgiveness under condition.
God could not forgive unrighteous, faithless, evil sinners. This would be unjust and unholy.
To receive forgiveness Israel was required to confess their sins and perform how God instructed. Forgiveness required priests, sacrifices, and confession in Leviticus (Lev 5:5-6; Lev 6:7).
What if they did not offer the sacrifice, or sacrificed without the priest, or would not confess their sins? Answer: they did not receive forgiveness.
God required humble hearts, obedience, and prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to forgive Israel (2 Chron 7:14). If a man said he had faith in God to forgive him, but did not humble himself, pray, or turn from his wicked ways, then his faith is in vain.
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray according to the law (Matt 5:17). In this popular pray pattern Jesus says forgiveness comes by forgiving other people: forgiveness was conditional.
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. “ – Matthew 6:14-15
If they did not forgive others, then they would not be forgiven. Their faith in Jesus for forgiveness would be vain if they did not forgive other people their trespasses. Faith without works is dead under the law, as another apostle to Israel said (Jam 1:1; Jam 2:17).
Forgiveness Under Grace Without Conditions
With the dispensation of the grace of God to the apostle Paul (Eph 3:1-2) old things changed (2 Cor 5:17).
Since the meaning and scope of Christ’s cross was kept secret hid in a mystery, the revelation of that mystery changed how forgiveness was granted by God.
Forgiveness before the dispensation of God’s grace was conditioned upon performance. It required man to respond according to God’s instructions under the law. Today, we are not under law, but under grace. God’s forgiveness today is granted according to God’s unconditional grace (Rom 6:14).
According to the mystery of Christ, salvation is offered freely through the finished work of Jesus Christ to all that believe (Rom 3:22-25).
Free salvation includes free forgiveness by God’s grace through faith without any condition for us to perform (Eph 1:7; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 4:5). This is the mystery of the gospel of the grace of God to all men.
God’s justice requires performance to forgive. God’s grace requires the performance of Jesus Christ to forgive (Rom 5:8).
God did not require our performance to give us forgiveness, nor do we require the performance of others to grant forgiveness.
“…forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32
The motivation to forgive under grace is for Christ’s sake who died and forgave us freely. This motivation is one of love completely without condition since our forgiving others was not a condition for our own forgiveness.
Both the law and grace offer forgiveness and instruct to forgive, but according to the law forgiveness is granted upon performance. According to grace forgiveness is freely received through faith in Christ before we do anything.
Many people wrongly depend on their own humility, their own forgiveness or kindness toward others to receive forgiveness for their own sins. Today, this is a misplaced hope and a vain faith that should be in Christ’s work and not our own.
The law is just to require an eye for an eye, and for someone to always pay for forgiveness. Praise God, according to His grace, Jesus Christ died for our sins, and forgiveness is now given freely by grace without condition.