We must understand that we cannot earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. God’s forgiveness is based on His mercy and grace. Yet Scripture teaches that God expects forgiven people to forgive others (cf. Matthew 18:23-35; Ephesians 4:32). Those who have received mercy must show mercy to others (Luke 6:36). In this sense, God’s forgiveness of our sins is the basis for our forgiveness of others.
To those who have been forgiven, Jesus gives an urgent warning about the consequences of withholding forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25). We will never forgive others to the extent that God has forgiven us.
This is the point Jesus makes forcefully in Matthew 18:23-35
The parable of the unmerciful servant
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents (“Some recent estimates suggest a dollar value of twelve million; but with inflation and fluctuating precious metal prices, this could be over a billion dollars in today’s currency.” D.A. Carson) was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (a hundred denarii represented a hundred days’ wages for a foot soldier or common laborer. Yet the amount is utterly trivial compared with what has already been forgiven him, Ibid.). He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Think about it
“Those in the kingdom serve a great king who has invariably forgiven far more than they can ever forgive one another. Therefore failure to forgive excludes one from the kingdom, whose pattern is to forgive.”
“Jesus sees no incongruity in the actions of a heavenly Father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly, and neither should we. Indeed, it is precisely because he is a God of such compassion and mercy that he cannot possibly accept as his those devoid of compassion and mercy. This is not to say that the king’s compassion can be earned: far from it, the servant is granted freedom only by virtue of the king’s forgiveness. As in 6:12, 14-15, those who are forgiven must forgive, lest they show themselves incapable of receiving forgiveness” (D. A. Carson, Expositors Bible Commentary, v. 8, Matthew).