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Forgiving like Jesus

For the Christ-follower, the “why” of forgiveness holds a simple answer: we forgive because God has forgiven us. One parable told by Jesus, found in Matthew 18:21–35, plainly explains this principle. In context, the disciple Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Prompted by this question, Jesus then goes on to tell a parable, illustrating His expectation.

In brief, the parable tells the story of a master settling accounts with his servants. One such servant, who owed a great debt, was brought before the master. But the servant could not pay, and the master ordered him and his family to be sold into slavery to satisfy the debt. The servant fell to his knees, begging for mercy, and the master took pity on him. In a surprising twist, the master did not simply delay the servant’s punishment, but he forgave the debt entirely, releasing the servant completely.

Jesus goes on to tell how the servant, released from such a burdensome and impossible debt, went out and found another who owed him a significantly smaller debt than he had owed his master. He physically grabbed his debtor and demanded immediate payment. When his debtor begged for mercy, the servant had no mercy but instead had him thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

The parable concludes with the master learning of the servant’s behavior. Summoning the unforgiving servant, the master exclaims, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

We have been forgiven of the greatest debt there ever was: our sin debt. God has granted us—who have committed the most heinous and unforgivable of acts against His Name—mercy. He has satisfied the debt with His own blood so that we might be freed. Through the unmerited, undeserved sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege, the gift, and the honor of being delivered from the curse and the consequence of our sin: death and eternal separation from God.

The expectation for God’s people is clear. We forgive—we extend mercy—because we have been forgiven. There is no exception to this rule, no situation in which a Christian is excused from the costly act of forgiveness. In all situations, in all betrayals, we are called to forgive.

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