Is God’s Forgiveness Conditional or Unconditional?

Matthew 6:1

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus continues his comparison of outward righteousness and inward righteousness, and verse 1 is very clear. “Beware…” Don’t practice the outward righteousness so that others can see it. Again, this is good advice. It’s not a command for to follow.

But, what about rewards in heaven? Will we lose those them if we do our righteous acts for others to see?

I’ll dig into this later, but for now, I believe that “in Christ”, we have every reward available to us today and in heaven. These instructions from Christ to those under the Law were because under the Old Covenant, there was no other way for God to reward and bless people. It required people’s obedience. But, everything changes under the New Covenant. God doesn’t require our obedience–he requires Christ’s obedience.

The rest of Matthew 6, Jesus continues with the “good advice”:

  • Giving. v2
  • Praying. v5-8
  • Fasting. v16-18
  • Finances. v19-24.
  • Provision. v25-34.

Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Is God’s forgiveness conditional or unconditional? If you fail to forgive anyone, will God reject you and cast you into hell?

I’ve really been pondering this question in depth the past few weeks. There are lots of stories and parables and commands in the Gospels about this issue of forgiveness. I have a lot to say on it, but I’ll make two points here.

First, this command is to those who are living under the Law that time. Jesus was again setting this unreachable standard (that would later be fulfilled in him). He was showing them that forgiveness is impossible without him. Again, he’s giving us good advice. And later, in the parable of the unforgiving servant, he shows us how unforgiveness will torment us in this life.

Secondly, this feels like it would be a double standard. Why would God hold us to a higher standard than himself? Why would God require unconditional forgiveness from us, and yet he himself have conditional forgiveness? It’s a double standard. So, something else is going on here.

I have concluded after studying scripture and seeing forgiveness in the light of grace, that God’s forgiveness is unconditional, just like his love. It’s still very good advice for us to forgive others. It will torment us until we do. But, will God keep us from heaven should we fail to forgive someone? I don’t think so.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When Jesus was explaining to them about how to avoid the anxiousness of life, he encouraged them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.

Here’s how I’ve interpreted this scripture for years. If you need things in life–food, drink, clothing, provision–then spend time with God in prayer, Bible reading and seeking him, then God will give you what you need. Do you see where the burden lies? It’s on me to perform. It’s on me to do something so that God will provide.

This is how I see this scripture now. Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. What is “his righteousness”? It’s the righteousness of Christ. He fulfilled the law. He is God’s righteousness. To alleviate any anxiousness of life and receive those things that we need in life, we are to live our life in Christ, in his righteousness, not our righteousness. We are to seek Christ and put our trust in him for everything we need in this life. When we do that, we’ll have everything we need.

It’s not about praying, fasting and reading the Bible more. It’s about completely and wholly trusting in Christ to be my righteousness. I am made right with God not by what I do, but by what Jesus has already done.

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