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What Happens When Christians Fail to Forgive Others?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15

Like most Christians who read these verses, I had some real questions. I thought once a person was truly born-again, all their past, present and future sins were forgiven. But these verses are pretty straightforward.

Some sins, like our failure to forgive others, have consequences both in this life and the next and therefore are not fully forgiven or forgotten by God.

Given the seriousness of this topic, I’m going to summarize a blog posted by Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptism Church, on how he approaches this apparent dilemma.

There are no unforgiving people in the kingdom of God. But then who can be saved? With men it is impossible, but not with God (Mark 10:27). But then does God make us perfect in this life so that we never fail to forgive? Does he bring us to the point immediately where our response to every personal insult or injury is never, not for a moment, resentment, anger, vengeance or self-pity?

Getting to the Heart of Unforgiveness To answer this let us ask: Is forgiveness a unique virtue among all the qualities Jesus demanded in his disciples? That is, is it alone the quality on which the father’s forgiveness depends? No! All of Jesus’ commands must be met lest we perish. It is not just an unforgiving spirit, which cuts a person off from God; it is sin.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, or your father will not forgive you your trespasses.” Matthew 5:29“If you call your brother a fool, your father will not forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 5:22

“If you do not love your enemy, your father in heaven will not forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 5:44

“Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble will not be forgiven by my father.” Matthew 18:6

Over every command of Jesus stands the saying, “If you do not do this, you will not enter the kingdom, which is the same as saying the father will not forgive you.” Matthew 7:21-23

So the command, “Forgive that you might be forgiven,” is just one instance of the whole ethical demand of Jesus. It is not the exception; it is the rule.”

Regarding the “cannot enter the kingdom of God” warning; Most theologians agree that this does not mean born-again people will not enter the kingdom of heaven, or be saved. “By grace we are saved.” But it probably means they (we) never truly “enter” or enjoy the kingdom here on earth.

There are consequences for unconfessed, unrepented sins in this life.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

When Christians sin, it makes the Holy Spirit sad. Here’s a personal story. When I was in third grade, I did something terrible at school – I lied to my teacher. She found me out and told me she was going to tell my mother.

Sure enough, when I got home, there sat my mother at the kitchen table and it was clear that she had been crying. I was so ashamed that I walked slowly past her to my bedroom. But in time, I realized I couldn’t live in my bedroom until college, so I walked what felt like six miles to the kitchen and sincerely apologized to my mother for both lying and embarrassing her. Almost immediately, my mother forgave me and hugged me. I had grieved her. That hindered my relationship with her until I confessed my sin.

A very similar thing happens whenever believers sin and fail to address it. My mother wouldn’t have stopped being my mother if I hadn’t sinned and neither will God disown us. However, our relationship would not be the same had I not asked for forgiveness. The same is true with God.

Sin can hinder your prayers.

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1 Peter 3:7

Something happens when husbands go before the Lord to pray with unresolved “issues” between themselves and their wives. I know. Susan and I have been married 51 years. I’ve tried to pray when I was harboring angry thoughts. It was like bowling in sand! I knew exactly what the problem was. It was my unforgiving spirit. And my time with God didn’t improve until we resolved our disagreement.

Are there consequences for sin after death for believers? Of course there are!

Next week, I’ll post a great blog by Chip Ingram, who does a wonderful job answering that question.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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