I am returning to this subject (not for the first time) because it is important, and because there are at least some occasions when it seems very difficult. But given the severity of what Jesus has to say, I need to be reminded on a fairly regular basis. Maybe others do too. I have previously written on this topic here and here if you would like to take a look at my earlier scratchings about it.
Our union with Christ and eventual salvation depends upon certain things that we simply cannot neglect because Jesus makes it clear that failure to comply will be disastrous for us. The sole commentary that He gives us about the content of the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is limited to this:
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15, RSV2CE; emphasis added)
There is simply no getting around this. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven either. I do not have the luxury (strange word for it) of carrying around grudges against others because of things they have done (nor for things I merely think they have done). If I do not forgive others—if I do not forgive you (assuming, dear reader, that I have some inconceivable reason to suppose you have wronged me)—then God will not forgive me either. It is as simple as that.
Nor is this the only condition that the Lord lays upon us. I must also love my neighbor, whoever it is.
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46, RSV2CE; emphasis added)
“By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10, RSV2CE).
Loving my neighbor is not a nice add-on for my Christian life; it is the second greatest commandment. And Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 (quoted above) what it looks like to love (or not love) my neighbor (and by extension, to love or not love Jesus): it is characterized by the extent to which we help him when he is suffering.
I think that there is a Scripture verse which says this, but it does not matter a whole lot for this truth (which I have seen in multiple books): if I do not love my neighbor whom I can see, how can I love God whom I can’t see? My love of God is shown by how I love my neighbor. I cannot expect to enter into the joy of the Kingdom of heaven if I harbor resentments or if I ignore my neighbor’s suffering. God expects certain things from His children, and I must attend to those things if I really am His son by adoption.