Forgiving others is often linked to receiving God’s forgiveness. A friend of mine once asked if her inability to forgive a particular person meant that she would be left out of God’s forgiveness. I think this is a common concern, but it is also a complete misunderstanding of the teaching.
Jesus tells us to take the log out of our own eye before we worry about the splinter in someone else’s eye. (Matthew 7) Have you ever tried that? Sometimes it’s pretty easy: as soon as we take a break from criticizing the mom whose kid threw a tantrum, we notice that our own child is eating a stolen candy bar. But at other times it’s a real challenge. After all, I say to myself, I’m not pimping out my daughter for drugs, or beating her with a belt, or cheating on my husband. And then, convinced that my eye is log-free, I gossip and judge the woman with the speck in her eye.
So here’s the thing: I believe this teaching is a lot less about how we treat others and a lot more about our own relationship with God. If we do confess our sins, we are likely to hurry through the process, naming our obvious mistakes, or droning a liturgical prayer, rather than sitting in silence and allowing the Holy Spirit to gently convict us. I’ve done this both ways, and there’s a big difference. The last time I sat in judgement on someone, I prayed to God and honestly said, “Hey, if I am as bad of a sinner as she is, then tell me.” As the time ticked by, the Holy Spirit gently held me in Her arms and whispered my sins into my ear. And I wept. I was completely broken, and I received God’s forgiveness, and in that moment, I was not capable of withholding forgiveness from the other person.
It’s not about confessing our sins so we can correct others; it’s not about forgiving others in order to receive God’s forgiveness. It’s about humbling ourselves before God and receiving in fullness His grace, and once we do that, the natural result is that grace flows out of us to others.