The Bible says if we don’t forgive others we will not be forgiven. Does this affect our salvation, if so how? Do we still go to heaven if we do not forgive others and God does not forgive us?
There’s no doubt forgiveness means a lot to God. He sent Jesus to save us as an act of His ultimate forgiveness! Let’s look first at the principle you’re referring to in your question, Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” One of the definitions of the word forgive here means, “giving up resentment.” Humanity will sin against us, time and time again, but we so often hate to let it go. Many people, like I once did, consider holding a grudge as a badge of honor! But see, God saw us at our worst and still forgave us!
Perhaps the most important understanding of what the unwillingness to forgive gets us is, Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” After these scriptures we can go on to read (and I encourage you to do so) the rest of this passage of scripture. Jesus describes a king who went out to settle his accounts and a servant who was unable to pay the large debt he owed. That king refused to forgive the debt but surely sooner or later he had accrued his own debt that he was unable to pay. When it came time to receive mercy, he wasn’t in a place to because he was unwilling to be the giver of mercy. This sounds a lot like, Matthew 7:1-2, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
In the gospels, Jesus gave us the model prayer, meaning the prayer to model our prayers after, and forgiveness was a part of that. Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” Psalms 86:5 reminds us, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” The Word calls being ready to forgive, good! The Psalm here shows the essence of God’s character, His abundance of mercy! Look at the principles found in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Now again we see this principle in, Colossians 3:12-13, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
Now, let’s balance this, there’s also a false sense of forgiveness going around that often leads to abuse. We don’t allow anyone to abuse us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you allow the same people to do the same things over and over again. We’ve also been given a brain and told to use it! God is a God of mercy, but also of consequence. The balance is in this, if we have been abused and still carry the hate towards our abuser, it’s important to let it go. There are many people I have forgiven truly, but they have lost their place in my life. There’s a difference. Even Jesus knew who He could keep close and who He couldn’t. We have to be willing to forgive and live in a lifestyle where we don’t dwell on what people have done to wrong us. Ultimately, our hearts need to be right about it.
Now, do I believe that God is counting all of our moments where we refuse to forgive and tallying them to see if we can come to Heaven (ultimate forgiveness) someday? No. But the understanding is this, if we aren’t merciful we don’t deserve mercy. If we aren’t loving, we don’t deserve love. If we aren’t forgiving, we don’t deserve to be forgiven. With a lifestyle that is constantly refusing to give mercy, to be loving, to be forgiving, there are things in life we will have to go through because of our unwillingness to do right. If we refuse to be forgiving and merciful people we will by default refuse to partake of the mercy and blessings of God.
Jesus said, in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Our goal should be to be doers of the Word as much as we know how, and to rely on His faithfulness and mercy as we go.