God, our Father, is merciful. Once we repent, he immediately forgives us; provided we also forgive others. Jesus says: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Jesus does not say we shall be forgiven because he will die for our sins and wash us in his blood. He says we shall be forgiven if we forgive others. It is all that simple.
Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19).
What are the keys of the kingdom and what doors are they for? Are they used to lock up Satan and his demons as most Christians presume? Are they used to engage in “spiritual warfare;” a Christian dictum for violent and aggressive prayers?
Don’t be deceived. Jesus’ keys of the kingdom are used to open the gates of heaven through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, WHATEVER YOU BIND ON EARTH WILL BE BOUND IN HEAVEN, AND WHATEVER YOU LOOSE ON EARTH WILL BE LOOSED IN HEAVEN.” (Matthew 18:15-18).
If we forgive someone who offends us his sins here on earth, those sins are automatically forgiven in heaven. This gives the person open access to God and his kingdom, for it is through forgiveness that men are reconciled back to God. But if the offender refuses to repent, his sins remain. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is shut against him.
Healing the paralytic
Jesus demonstrated dramatically that forgiveness is not a big deal to God by telling a paralytic his sins are forgiven. This outraged his Jewish opponents who reasoned: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”(Luke 5:21). That was precisely the misunderstanding Jesus was determined to correct. He wanted us to know that even men have the divine power to forgive men their sins.
Therefore, Jesus asked his opponents: Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?(Matthew 9:5). Then he decided to do the more difficult task of healing the man as proof that he has the power to do the easier one of forgiving him his sins. He said to the paralytic: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” (Matthew 9:6).
Immediately he said this, the man was healed instantly. He got up, carried his bed and went home; confirming thereby that Jesus has the power to forgive sins. (Please note that Jesus did not have to wait until Calvary to forgive sins).
Moreover, Jesus did not limit this divine power to himself. Instead, he generalised it by maintaining that: “the son of man has power on earth to forgive sins.” (Matthew 9:6). Those who heard him understood exactly what he meant. Matthew says: “they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” (Matthew 9:8).
Has the mighty power to forgive men their sins really been given to mere mortals? Yes, says our Lord Jesus: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”(John 20:23). This is not the word of someone who has to die in order to take away our sins. It is the word of Jesus who gives to men the power to forgive sins; power presumed to belong exclusively to God.
Which is easier, to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “rise up and walk?” Which is easier, to say we forgive someone, or to actualise our forgiveness? Jesus demonstrates that anyone can easily say: “you are forgiven;” but to say it and mean it is harder. To say it and put it into action by decreeing “stand up and walk!” is far more difficult. We must not just say we forgive; we must actually forgive.
With heartfelt forgiveness comes liberation. With it, prison doors are opened and men are set at liberty. When we truly forgive others; the powers of the kingdom of heaven come down. As a result, the paralytic walk; the dumb talk and the blind see. When we truly forgive, men are freed from the bondage of their sins. That is the effect of true forgiveness.
Every time we sincerely forgive someone, we are saying to him or her: “stand up and walk!” If the person is still paralyzed, we have not truly forgiven him. True forgiveness of sins results in spiritual freedom. It ushers in the abundant life of unhindered fellowship with God. That is why Jesus calls forgiveness the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Power to forgive
This demonstrates that the forgiveness of sins is not contingent upon the death of Jesus, or on our being washed in his blood. We receive forgiveness by repenting of sin. We can also proclaim forgiveness of sins on those who offend us; provided they agree to repent. When we do so, God backs us up by ratifying it in heaven.
Men have always found it difficult to forgive. Alexander Pope says: “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Jesus makes the divine human by giving believers the power to forgive sins. He gives us this enablement to forgive by the most amazingly simple process. He does it by revealing to us that God forgives us our debts only as we forgive our debtors.
Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). Thereby, the power to forgive lies in our love for God. The true believer becomes inclined to forgive others because he recognises that the man who forgives receives divine forgiveness and safeguards his forgiveness. If we don’t forgive, we jeopardise our fellowship with God.
Jesus gave further clarification on this: “Peter came to him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus could not be any clearer about this. Our imperative is not merely to forgive grudgingly, but readily and repeatedly. (Matthew 18:22).
Indeed, the extent of our love for God is determined by how appreciative we are of his forgiveness. Accordingly, Jesus forgave a woman her sins before Calvary; thereby negating once again the sacrificial blood-washing fallacy. He said: “Her many sins have been forgiven- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47).