If a believer adamantly chooses not to forgive someone, will he still go to heaven?
Is a believer’s salvation dependent on whether he forgives others or not?
Minutes seemed like hours. It was as if time stood still. That was the moment when she met her captor in church. On that unforgettable day in post-war Germany, Corrie Ten Boom chanced upon the cruel prison guard who had mistreated her in a Nazi concentration camp.
A changed man, her captor had become a Christian. Extending his hand towards her, he asked, “Will you forgive me?” She struggled hard to reciprocate. At last, with God’s strength, she did. “I forgive you,” she replied. Overcoming bitterness was difficult but she chose to obey God’s commands to forgive others.
Indeed, it is difficult to forgive someone who has hurt us for the very thought of the offence keeps on playing in our minds like a broken record. Concerning forgiving others, we often excuse ourselves by saying, “How can we forgive someone when the hurt is still etched in our memory?”
However, in God’s eyes, forgiving others is not something optional or trivial. Believers are expected to forgive others as we seek God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, forgiving others would not be an integral part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged You (God), just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12).
Furthermore, if we forgive others their sins, our heavenly Father will also forgive us. But if we don’t forgive others, neither will our Father forgive our sins (Matthew 6:14-15). So we get to enjoy God forgiveness on condition we are willing to forgive others.
The other issue is this: How many times should we forgive someone, especially if he or she repeatedly offends us? Again, Jesus is explicit in His teaching on this matter. The occasion arose when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus replied, “I tell you, not as many as seven but 70 times seven” (Matthew 18: 22). By this the Master meant ‘unlimited forgiveness’—that we should not put a limit to the number of times we should forgive others.
Jesus then took Peter’s query as an opportunity to teach on the absolute necessity of forgiving others in the ensuing Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18: 23-35). The king had forgiven a servant of a massive debt, releasing him from the obligation to repay. But this debt-free servant then dealt harshly with a fellow servant who only owed him only a small sum of money. Seizing him by the throat, he pressured him to pay up.
News of his harsh treatment of his fellow servant reached the king, who became very angry. His master told the unforgiving servant, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you” (Matthew 18:32-33)?
And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:34-35).
Though we have a massive debt on account of our sins, God cancelled our debt (Colossians 2:13-14) when we believed in Jesus. Shouldn’t we be gracious towards those hurt us, those who owe us a paltry sum compared to what we owe God?
The crucial message of this parable is that our heavenly Father will deal with us in a similar manner if we do not forgive our brother—we will be tortured because we are unwilling to forgive others (Matthew 18:35).
Now, from a modern-day perspective, what does it mean to be tortured or tormented?
This means we will pay the price for our own unforgiveness, anger and bitterness. When we do not forgive those who have wronged us, we are actually hurting ourselves.
When we have unresolved anger towards someone, we unknowingly open the door to the devil to wreak havoc in our lives. “And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
When we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, a bitter root springs forth which not only troubles us but defile others. “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12: 14-15).
Now we are in a better position to answer the questions posed at the outset of this article: If a believer chooses not to forgive someone, will he or she still go to heaven? Is a believer’s salvation dependent on whether he forgives others or not? ?
The conclusion that God will not forgive believers if we refuse to forgive others is based on the following:
- And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses (Mark 11:25-26).
- “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
- The unforgiving servant, who was harsh towards a fellow servant, was not forgiven by the king (Matthew 18: 21-35).
- He who is angry with his brother will be judged and he who calls him a fool is in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).
- The man without proper wedding attire (robes of righteousness) was kicked out from the wedding feast (Matthew 22: 11-13).
- Indeed, how on earth can a man with sins God has not forgiven (because he refuses to forgive others) make his way to heaven and come into the presence of a holy God? For without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14b).
- “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). If our sins are not forgiven on account of our refusal to forgive others, it means we are still tainted by sin and therefore barred from heaven.
I know my stance is both tough and unpopular, unlike that of many who assert that refusal to forgive others merely disrupts our fellowship with God but our salvation remains intact. ## But no matter how hard I try, I find it difficult to bend scriptures to fit the liberal, ear-tickling viewpoint of the latter.
One day, God is going to judge us based not on what illustrious teachers with a string of theological degrees teach us but what His word explicitly declares. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
Thus, the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:34-35 reminds us of the stark reality that those who refuse to forgive others might not only be tormented in this world but in the hereafter as well.
In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured ** , until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart (Matthew 18:34-35).
Will unforgiveness on the part of believers impact their salvation? Yes, based on scriptures.
By the way, if you can show me verses that explicitly tell us that refusal to forgive others is a trivial matter and does not undermine salvation, I would be most glad to hear from you in the comments section.
To conclude, it is almost impossible to build a theology that reassures believers they will be safely ushered to heaven if they refuse to forgive others.
FORGIVING OTHERS—KEY TO INNER HEALING
When we forgive others, we reap immeasurable benefits—spiritual, psychological and physical. We are the ones who stand to benefit when we forgive others.
TAMING THE BEAST
‘Taming the beast’ involves learning how to control our emotions—such as anger. By doing so, we resist Satan; we do not give the evil one any opportunity to destroy us.
HEALING THE INNER MAN
You can be set free from bondages, emotional wounds and baggages to live a victorious Christian life—one filled with meaning, purpose and power.
WHY THE ROAD TO HEAVEN IS NARROW AND DIFFICULT
The way to heaven is difficult. First, you have to enter through a narrow gate (Jesus is the only way). Then you will have to walk along the narrow road: Deny yourself, obey God and bear fruits.
COMFORTING LIE, BITTER TRUTH
Truth is not always sugar, candy and all things nice. It is better to share the harsh truth, rather than be instrumental in letting others fall for comforting lies. For scripture is not only for instruction and encouragement but also for reproof and correction. By exposing falsehood, we might save some from destructive heresy, thereby snatching them out of the fire.
** ETERNAL TORMENT AND TORTURE
Matthew 24: 51
FORGIVE AND BE RESTORED
Forgiveness is one of the important keys in overcoming our inner pain—forgiving the one who has wronged us. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of obedience on our part in response to God’s word.
The world says, “You must get even. An eye for an eye.” But we have to demolish such thoughts, taking them captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). By doing so, we do not allow anger to fester (Ephesians 4:26) or bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). We are told to put off the old nature, put on the new nature and be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-24).
It does not mean we condone the act of injustice inflicted upon us. But we do it (forgive) anyway. It restores our fellowship with God and may reconcile us with those who have offended us. But most of all, we stand to benefit in many ways—spiritually, psychologically and physically.
When we align ourselves with God’s word, that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven by Christ, we experience release from our hurts and inner healing will ensue.
## LIBERAL, OPPOSING VIEWS
Refusal to forgive others merely disrupts a believer’s fellowship with God but his salvation remains intact.