Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25, esv).
Never allow yourself to rationalize that forgiveness is anything other than a choice. If you don’t do it, it’s not because you can’t do it. It’s because you won’t do it.
Forgiveness is always an available choice.
But at the same time, forgiveness is not optional for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The nature of His teaching on the subject—the phrasing of it, the intensity of it, the frequency of it, all of it—makes it more than simply a command but rather a mandate—meaning, an action demanded of another, often with a specific consequence for noncompliance.
We forgive, or we are not forgiven.
That’s just the way it is. We have no other choice.
Take Mark 11:25—“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses”—followed by the same thing expressed in the negative: “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26, nkjv). Throughout the Gospels, again and again, we see the same stark clarity and contrast. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37, esv). “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4).
No wiggle room. No denying what’s being said.
Therefore, on the authority and abundance of God’s Word, we can say without risk of overstatement that our very eternity hangs in the balance on this issue. Every habitually unforgiving person remains unforgiven by God and is not, in this moment, a citizen of heaven.
Sound harsh? Sound threatening? Yes—like a person yelling for someone to run from a burning building—because the building of unforgiveness will swallow up the unforgiving and will fall into the lake of fire. And Jesus loves us enough to use the most urgent terms possible to get our full attention.
Please listen carefully: I’m not talking about people who struggle with forgiveness, who may fail in the process but keep returning to the crisis to try to forgive again. But if you’re harboring an unchecked, unrestrained, settled pattern of unforgiveness—you’re not saved. Or at least the Bible gives no assurance of it.
It’s not that people are saved by forgiving. But saved people forgive.
Here, then, is your choice: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive.” The classic posture of prayer, with hands clasped together, provides a good illustration of how forgiveness works. If one hand represents God’s way of forgiving sinners, your way of forgiving should fit together to match His. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). That’s what saved people do. Never is the genuineness of your Christianity so clearly on display as in the crucible of choosing to forgive.
I want you to be able to sit on the porch someday in your old age, saying in the words of Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). But if you want to get there, you must do it by forgiving others in increasing measure—by forgiving others as your Father has forgiven you.
Lord, I’ve not yet begun to plumb the depths of Your mercy toward me in Christ. Your grace is beyond what I can imagine. But help me live with an increasingly proper calculation of it. As I daily draw closer to understanding Your grace and mercy, may I also daily extend grace and mercy in greater degrees toward others. I know that if I am Your child, I must forgive. Empower me to be a forgiver like You are, for Your glory. I ask this through the precious name of Jesus, amen.