“If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matt. 6:25, HCSB). This is another passage that people wrestle with. However this is a good example of how individual passages need to be understood and interpreted in light of the whole bible. Is Jesus saying that our sins won’t be forgiven and we won’t go to heaven if we happen to die in the time between being offended and forgiving that person? Does our salvation hinge on this? Does the state of our salvation and eternal destination oscillate back and forth depending on the condition of our heart at any given moment toward those who have offended us? I believe that answering yes to any of these questions would be inconsistent with what we learn in the rest of scripture.
So what is Jesus actually saying? Well let me be the first to say I don’t know for certain. However I think we can make some educated guesses from the context. In several cases between verses 1 to 18 in this chapter, Jesus contrasts those who make an outward show of religion with true children on God. He might be talking about how religious people are often quick to point out others wrongdoings and condemn them as unacceptable to God. In other words, people who are only religious outwardly are the type of people who often seem to hold certain offenses as unforgivable. (This could be a perceived offense to God, as when someone sins, as well as a personal offense.) These aren’t the type of people who are in God’s kingdom. In contrast, the type of person who truly loves God and behaves as a child of God (and kingdom citizen) is humble and strives to forgive.
I don’t go fully all the way to the “once saved, always saved” camp, but I don’t believe our salvation fluctuates moment by moment either. I don’t believe our standing before God is based on whether or not we’ve prayed for forgiveness for a sin we’ve committed. God has already forgiven all of our sins. We only have to accept this forgiveness and then continue to walk with God in a general, overall way through our lives. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect (in our understanding of perfection as flawlessness). Our standing with God isn’t based on how well we match up to a certain set of rules. But he does want us to grow into spiritual maturity. And forgiving others is one aspect of this.