It is said that the man who never makes a mistake never accomplishes anything. Nevertheless, if it is easy to make mistakes, it is terribly hard — and most inconvenient — to admit them. More often than not, we tend to reason according to our prejudices. We know, of course, when we are offended, but hardly when we offend someone else. We each have our particular ways of evaluating the circumstances or justifying ourselves. What we think not only seems right to us, but also perfectly reasonable. In the back of our minds, even though we may deny this, we consider ourselves to be just a little better than the others — if not in knowledge, at least in character and attitude! The word forgiveness is frequently on our lips, rarely in our hearts. We use glib cliches, such as "excuse me" or "pardon me," only as a matter of etiquette and politeness; they are rather meaningless, since they don't spring from our earnest desire to ask for forgiveness or to grant it. Do you know how to forgive? Have you ever learned to forgive? Do you treat others the way you want them to treat you, even when forgiveness is concerned? Christ said: "... when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses, But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).
An absolute condition
This teaching of Christ underlines a condition that is indispensable to our salvation. Unfortunately, it seems to often escape our attention. Christ taught us that we cannot be saved if we have not learned to forgive those who offend us. In other words, to obtain mercy we have to show mercy. If we don't forgive one another, God will not forgive us. And if He doesn't forgive us, we can never enter His Kingdom. From childhood, most "Christians" have learned to recite (rather passively) what is known to be the "Lord's prayer" — a model prayer that sums up all of our needs as well as the basic principles of Christianity. In all probability, you too have recited this prayer many a time, and some of you may still do so. But just what does it mean to you? Do you really know what you are telling God, the solemn commitment you are making, the definite condition you are setting when you say to Him: "Our Father which art in heaven ... forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:9-12)? By your own words, you are engaging yourself into a covenant with Him, agreeing that He should only forgive you as you yourself forgive others — show mercy to you as you yourself show mercy to others! Think of it! Do you realize that to forgive someone is to forget his mistake whatever his motives or the consequences? Your salvation depends upon your totally forgetting the offenses, committed against you. Let's suppose you are with someone who has "done you dirty" or hurt you badly — maybe to the extent of having ruined your life. Can you look at him with kindness and gentleness, without feeling any resentment toward him? Can you treat him as your brother, someone you love, someone you would be willing to die for if necessary? Humanly speaking, you cannot. It is not possible to express such love without the help of God's Holy Spirit. Consider the way the apostle Paul strived to overcome his nature in order to attain the goal, "Brethren ... this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark..." (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul also wrote: "... be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God' for Christ's sake has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). The spirit of revenge or vindictiveness has no place in forgiveness. God alone has the right to seek vengeance, and He does so always with compassion and love.
God is merciful
One of the most comforting truths, for us all, is the fact that God is very, very merciful. He does not treat us the way we treat one another. To be a Christian is to be Christ-like, to learn more and more to think and act like Him — to prove ourselves compassionate, merciful, loving, just as He is toward us. If you are truly Christian, you must be willing to take the first step to make peace between your neighbor and you, even if he is the one at fault. Christ said: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone..." (Matthew 18:15). Notice again! Christ clearly indicates that the one who must take the first step is not necessarily the one who has sinned! A true Christian neither harbors bitterness, nor does he act from a spirit of pride or superiority. He doesn't wait for others to first do their part. He seeks reconciliation in order to live at peace with everyone. When Peter asked Christ how often we should forgive one another, he was told "until seventy times seven" — that is, always. After saying this, Christ gave a parable showing how we human beings are sometimes cruel, merciless, wanting to exact what is due us. He compared the Kingdom of heaven to a king who called his servants to account. One of them owed him a large sum of money, but was unable to repay it. How did the master react when his servant bowed down before him, begging for more time? "Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt" (Matthew 18:23-27). Is this the way you would have acted? But the parable doesn't end at this point. The servant, in turn, was a creditor. Someone owed him some money, very little, hardly more than a few pennies. How did he treat his debtor? Did he also show mercy? Did he have as much compassion for his debtor as his master had for him? You know the answer. "...he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt" (verses 28-30). Naturally, when his master found out what had taken place, he punished the selfish and merciless servant and required full payment of his debts. And Christ added: "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses" (verse 35). Jesus Christ never sinned. He never hurt anyone. Quite the contrary. He always pardoned those who offended Him. As Peter writes, "... when he [Christ] suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (I Peter 2:23). When His persecutors mocked and ridiculed Him, when they tortured and crucified Him, He prayed for them, saying: "... Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do... ". (Luke 23:34). If He — your Lord and Master — could forgive others without ever having been guilty of anything, how much more you, a sinner, need to forgive your fellowmen! The Spirit in Christ — the Spirit of LOVE, compassion and mercy — was also in Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who cried out while his persecutors were stoning him to death: "... Lord, lay not this sin to their charge... " (Acts 7:60). Can you think and act like him? You should if God's Spirit is in you!
Your sins will be forgotten — one day
Solomon was inspired to write that "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11). What a beautiful teaching! — yet how different from our human way of reasoning! In order to gain "glory" we must forget — yes, forget and not remember one another's sins. Do you know what really prevents us from forgetting offenses? It is our self-righteousness, our pride, the vanity in us. We are prejudiced. We know we are not to judge, but keep on judging according to our measure of justice. An offense committed against us automatically becomes far worse than one committed against someone else or any offense we commit ourselves. We all have a tendency of pitying ourselves, believing that nobody — but nobody — really understands us, sometimes not even God! A disparaging remark, a half-truth, a harsh word of correction, and we are ready to fight back! Strange as it may seem, if Christianity is considered today to be an unpractical or an unlivable religion, it is simply because too few people are truly willing to live by it. Its principles clash with those of our carnal nature, which seeks its own satisfaction, justice and glory. The only way to fight this pull is by letting the Spirit of God, in us, guide us in everything we do and say. The Christian way, for sure, is not always easy, but it is the only one that procures peace of mind and leads to salvation. The more we forgive our debtors the closer we get to the supreme purpose for which we have been created: to inherit eternal life, to live and serve forever in the Kingdom of God. As human beings, we are much too carnal, vain and selfish. Made out of the dust of the earth, we are mortal beings. But if we die in Christ, we will be born of the Spirit at the time of the resurrection of the, dead. We will be spirit — immortal members of God's family! At that time we will no longer walk ashamed of past mistakes or live in anxiety, because God has promised that He will forget all of our sins. He will wipe them out. Just imagine! God will no more remember your sins! "... After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Be sure to have this magnificent promise in mind the next time you pray to God, and say: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."