Someone recently said to me: “The older we get the harder it is to ask someone’s forgiveness.” I am not sure if that’s necessarily true, but the older and, perhaps, more stubborn we become it certainly seems more difficult to admit one’s fault and ask another’s forgiveness. However, as Christians it should be just the opposite. As we mature in Christ, we should become less and less stubborn in our selfish, impenitent obstinacy and more and more stubborn in our refusal not to let the sun go down on our own, or our brother’s, anger. As we age in life and become physically slower in all that we do, we should become spiritually quicker in all that we do. As the Holy Spirit continually makes us more sensitive to His pricking of our consciences, we ought to be all the more ready to act upon His prompting. Although we may feel bound by the Spirit’s unrelenting work in our lives, it is precisely by such means that the Father has ensured our freedom in the Son. It is exactly at those times in our lives when we experience the greatest spiritual pressure to repent and seek forgiveness when God Almighty is leading us to complete freedom in Christ.
By instilling humility within our minds, the Lord brings us to the end of loving ourselves so that we might love Him supremely. He forgives us in His mercy so that by His grace we might know Him, love Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever. And He does this through the life and work of the incarnate Word, who came to save His people from their sins. It is somewhat ironic that we have forgiveness through one who never needed to ask for it. The Lord’s forgiveness of us through Christ sets us free to love Him, and our forgiveness of others sets us free to love our enemies. Therein lies the beauty of Gospel reconciliation.
It is no small reason the Lord taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). And it is no small reason that is the one petition on which the Lord expounds providing us with the unmistakable obligation to forgive just as we have been forgiven (6:14–15). Commenting on this passage, John Owen (1616–1683) wrote: “Our forgiving others will not procure forgiveness for ourselves; but our not forgiving others proves that we ourselves are not forgiven.” If we know God’s forgiveness, we will be known by our forgiveness of others, and we will be known by the watching world as those who live coram Deo, before the face of God.