Q. In the gospels Jesus is often quoted as saying that if you do not do something, you will not reach the kingdom of God, or see it or attain it. Recently our pastor pointed this out and said he didn’t want to “upset our evangelical upbringing” but that it’s true. I think he was talking about forgiveness specifically, though there are other instances where Jesus says similar things (such as Matthew 7:21, Mark 10:15, etc).
I am a fairly new believer so I began asking around some people who belong to my congregation and they all believe you must forgive everyone of everything all the time, and do all of what Jesus commands or you’re doomed. So I have been racking my brain afraid that there will be someone somewhere I haven’t forgiven, because if I don’t forgive, God won’t forgive me. I am sure I haven’t forgiven everyone everything, am I not saved since he won’t forgive me? What of the other passages where Jesus says those phrases? Was he just kidding when he said you MUST forgive everyone?
A. I hate to say this, but you’ve been victimized by some very bad theology. The Lord doesn’t contradict Himself by saying one thing in one place and then something else in another. Take Matt. 7:21 for instance. Earlier in the same passage Jesus said that everyone who seeks finds, everyone who asks receives, and to all who knock the door will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8) How could He then contradict Himself a few sentences later by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom.” Well, it turns out that in Matt. 7:15-23 His topic is false prophets who were masquerading as believers. They’re the ones who will be excluded.
And in Mark 10:15 He said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom. What are little children like? They’re trusting, accept what they’re told at face value and believe it with all their heart. That’s the way we’re supposed to believe. No where in the New Testament is salvation described as being contingent on behavior. It is only contingent on belief. (John 3:16 and many others)
That said, in order to receive God’s blessings here on Earth and earn crowns for yourself in Heaven, there are things you can do to express your gratitude to the Lord for saving you. One of those things is to forgive those who have wronged you, because that’s what God has done for you. Failure to do so is like refusing to say thanks for an incredible gift. It doesn’t cause the gift to be taken away, but it does deprive you of certain blessings. Your salvation was guaranteed the moment you first believed and can never be taken away. (Ephes. 1:13-14)