The three marks of the forgiving heart

“Those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven by God.”

Hard words from Pastor Nate Harlan this past Sunday as he preached on Matthew 18:21-35. But behind these hard words is a demonstration of God’s great love for his people and God’s great promises of reconciliation.

The passage is Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant. The servant owed the king 10,000 talents and was readily forgiven the debt. Then minutes later, the servant angrily tossed a fellow servant in prison because he was owed 100 denarii.

Immense debt, immense ingratitude

Let’s put the debts in modern terms: A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. To make the math easy on me, let’s make that $50. So, the unforgiving servant was owed about $5,000 by his fellow servant.

But look at what the servant owed the king. A talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii. So the servant had just been forgiven the incredible sum of $3 billion. At the servant’s wage level, it’d take more than 150,000 years to pay off such a debt. The impossibility of the debt is mind-boggling. (And underscores the ridiculous futility of paying off your sins in purgatory.)

So, the lesson from Jesus is, considering what the king has forgiven you, are you a forgiving person? Do you have a forgiving heart?

Pastor Nate outlined three marks of the forgiving heart:

The forgiving heart is broken over its own sin

The Christian should be humbled by the massive debt that he owes to God. As Jesus spoke of the woman of ill repute, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The forgiving heart is ready to forgive

We are to let go of our running record of sins against us, because this is how God has forgiven us. He cast the remembrance of our sins into the depths of the sea.

The forgiving heart is eager for reconciliation

As Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This really is a command that should compel us to set aside whatever pettiness we harbor for the sake of living in peace with your brothers in Christ. And not with reluctance, but with the exuberance of a father welcoming the prodigal son.

But it is true that if you don’t forgive others, God will in turn not forgive you? When Pastor Nate said this, I soon turned my thoughts to the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask God to forgive us as we also have forgiven others. Consider how our lack of forgiveness would hinder this prayer!

Not forgiving is worse than a bad idea. Not forgiving is hatred. Not forgiving is murder. In fact, if you have an unforgiving heart that holds grudges, you have not been born again. As 1 John 3:14-15 says:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

A lack of forgiveness is worse, much worse, than serious. It is deadly. So let us demonstrate how God has loved us by in turn loving our brothers and sisters. If we are reconciled to God our Father, it should be our glad duty to reconcile to all who are truly his children.

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