Forgiveness is not faith alone

For my last trick before I go slinking off into hibernation again, I offer another post examining the Protestant doctrine of sola fide in the light of other things taught in the Bible. Previous posts in this miniseries may be found here, here, and here.

Today’s first passage of interest is from the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer and following:

And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15; emphasis added)

The Lord Jesus offers commentary upon a single petition of the prayer that He taught us. Presumably then it is safe to say that He wants to draw our attention to that particular petition. It is the petition we offer for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus warns us that if we do not forgive others, then our Heavenly Father will not forgive our sins either. In other words forgiveness is not something we can choose to do or not do if we would like to be forgiven. In still other words, it is not enough to hold to sola fide. For if we have faith alone and unaccompanied by forgiveness for the sins committed against us then Jesus says that we will not be forgiven ourselves! Please note, too, that this not a “one-time” prayer, as though we only need to forgive others once. No. The Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is both a pattern for all our prayers and a prayer to be prayed often itself. This petition serves as a constant reminder to us that we must forgive.

This is not the only place that Our Lord makes this point. He says the same in the parable of the unforgiving servant:

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.

At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’

Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35; emphasis added)

The frightful thing here is that the wicked servant had already been forgiven when he was brought back before his master and condemned for being unforgiving. So I do not think that there is much question, is there, about the importance of a forgiving heart? Likewise I do not think there is any question at all as to whether sola fide is compatible with what Jesus has taught in these two passages. Clearly it isn’t. If my salvation is contingent upon whether I forgive others (as Jesus clearly says) then mere faith alone is not sufficient to warrant salvation.

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Posted in Faith, Forgiveness, gospel, Sola Fide

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