You have probably heard that unforgiveness is extremely unhealthy. In addition to destroying relationships in your life, internalizing anger and bitterness can lead to many physical diseases and psychological problems. That is why being unforgiving has been likened to drinking poison in the hope that it will hurt the person you are angry with.
As bad as it can be for you physically and mentally, unforgiveness is even worse for you spiritually. There is an element of revenge inherent in refusing to forgive someone for some wrong (real or imagined) that they committed against you. There is a desire to punish them in some way, even if it is just by withholding forgiveness. But God has reserved vengeance to Himself.
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19).
The Bible records several occasions when Jesus taught His disciples that God would not forgive their sins if they did not forgive other people for their offenses.
While teaching “the Lord’s prayer”, Jesus taught that we should pray for forgiveness based on our forgiving others.
In the passage in Matthew, Jesus said the Father would not forgive us unless we forgive others.
Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, and Jesus said he should just keep on forgiving:
“Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21-22)
Jesus then told the story of 2 servants that owed money. One owed his master a fortune he could never repay, but he was forgiven of his debt when for mercy he prayed. But that servant then refused to forgive a fellow servant of a much smaller debt. When the master heard how the servant he had forgiven had treated his fellow servant, he called him and said:
“O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” (Matt. 18:32-34)
Jesus concluded the story with this warning:
“So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses” (Mat 18:35).
Other passages where Jesus taught His disciples about the importance of forgiveness include:
The Bible commands us to forgive other people who have sinned against us or offended us. It also clearly teaches that the forgiveness of our sin is dependent on our forgiving others. If we hold grudges, stay mad, or in any other way fail to forgive other people, God will not forgive us of our sin.
Most sins occur as an event in time. We might lie, steal, cheat, say something mean, have an impure thought, fail to witness when we have opportunity, have sex outside of marriage, murder someone, etc. The effects of the sin may continue, and we may need to make some form of restitution or go to court. But once that act, moment, or event is over, we are no longer committing that sin. We sinned in the past, but we are not continuing to sin in the present.
Unforgiveness is different in that being unforgiving is an ongoing state. When you refuse to forgive, you continue sinning until you do forgive. You can confess that you should have forgiven someone or that you are being unforgiving, but as long as you stay mad, hold that grudge, or refuse to forgive, your sin is still in progress. You are still actively sinning.
Being unforgiving disqualifies us from claiming the promise of John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. Confession means we agree with God that what we did was wrong, and we repent of doing it. However, if we are still in the middle of actively committing a sin (e.g.: by being unforgiving), then we have not repented of that sin. Therefore, God will not forgive it.
It continues downhill from there. In the context of talking about prayer, David said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Staying mad, refusing to forgive, holding a grudge (the on-going state of unforgiveness) breaks your fellowship with God, and results in God no longer listening to your prayers.
A Christian who holds a grudge does not lose their salvation. But God stops listening to their prayers and forgiving their sins. Their fellowship with God is broken, and they are likely to receive chastisement intended to bring them to repentance until they forgive. In this case, the only way to have their fellowship with God restored is to repent, forgive, and confess their sin of unforgiveness.
For God shall judge all you think, say, and do. (Eccl 12:13-14)
So FORGIVE. If someone offends you, talk with them and work it out (Matt. 18:15-17).
If you don’t get satisfaction that way, let it go anyway. Be Christlike and obey.
Forgive others for your own sake, and trust God to work things out for good.