One of the biggies that strikes fear and anxiety in many is this question, “If I don’t forgive, will God forgive me?” It’s a valid question because if the answer is “yes”, even if you believe in Jesus for your salvation, you could go to hell if you don’t forgive people.
Our daughter with Downs tried out for cheer leading when she was young. It was amazing to observe how high she could jump and then land with a split! She seemed to have the skills, so we thought she could make the team. She was so excited the day the list was to be posted as to who made the team. Yet, her name was not on it. She was obviously disappointed like many girls who’ve tried out for this and didn’t make it.
We were curious though as to why. When we asked, we were told that Bekah had hit other girls and cussed. Ellen and I were stunned because we had never observed this ever. To the contrary, she was very loving and kind. A few months later, several girls came for her birthday and one of them asked why Bekah didn’t make the cheer team. Hesitantly, Ellen simply said, “Well, you know. She kicked the girls and cussed.” The little girl was immediately indignant, exclaiming, “That’s not true! I tried out with her and she didn’t do any of that!”
It was in that moment we realized we had been lied to because of prejudice against Bekah. They apparently didn’t want a child on the team with Downs, even though she was qualified. Soon after, we also realized we had a choice. Forgive or live in the painful vice grip of unforgiveness.
Where does this idea originate that God will not forgive us and we will go to hell if we don’t forgive? It is a result of misunderstanding when the Old Covenant of living under law ended and when the New Covenant of living under grace began. Most people think, as I once did, that the New Covenant began when Jesus showed up on planet earth in the New Testament. Therefore, everything Jesus taught applies to Christians. However, that’s inaccurate. Most of what Jesus taught, not everything, was actually Old Covenant teaching 2.0. This was intended to prepare the Jewish people to believe in him as the promised Messiah and Savior of the world.
Do you know how the Old Covenant of law worked? Deuteronomy 28 is explicit that the condition for being blessed by God was based on obeying all of the laws God gave to Moses. Simply put, if they obeyed, God blessed. If not, he punished. Verses 1-2, say: If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. The blessings named are chronicled through verse 15. But verse 15 states, However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you. This is followed by a whopping 52 verses of punishments (curses)!
Jesus, himself, said that the New Covenant of grace would not be in place until he died. His death ended the Old Covenant and his resurrection from the grave began the New Covenant. (See Luke 22:20)
Let’s look at the Scriptures Jesus taught, while the Old Covenant was in place. They indicate you will be unforgiven by God, if you don’t forgive. At the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus said, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12) He then clarifies this by stating in verses 14-15, For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Afterwards Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive people. At the end of the parable about a man who didn’t forgive and was given over to the torturers, Jesus says, My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you do not forgive his brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:35) In other words, if you don’t forgive, God the Father will take away the forgiveness he gave you and you will be forever separated from him. (Hell) That’s what it’s like to live under the Old Covenant of law.
Wow! That’s very scary, isn’t it? Here’s the good news. Under the New Covenant our forgiveness is dependent on Jesus’ death on the cross, not our forgiveness of others. Feast on these delicious New Covenant Scriptures. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. (Colossians 2:13.) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7) Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Do you see it? Our union with Christ means we are completely forgiven by the Father before we ever sin. And because we are already forgiven of all of our sins, God says we are to forgive. If we do not forgive, we will not lose our forgiveness and go to hell. However, if we don’t forgive, our sin of unforgiveness is so contrary to who we are in Christ, our disobedience will make us feel like hell and possibly the people around us whom we really care about. Forgive today because you are forgiven in Christ, not because you are fearful of losing your forgiveness and going to hell. It will free you and heal your soul. That’s why we forgave those involved in the situation with Bekah. Today we are at peace. You can be, too!