Everything good and meaningful in this Universe depends on forgiveness. Jesus said it very clearly:

"If you don't forgive others, neither will the Father forgive you." (Matt. 6)

It really couldn't be more explicit than that. The one condition placed on our salvation is that we forgive all the people who have trespassed against us.  This is what Jesus Himself taught us to pray.  Yet, all around us, modern philosophy and new age thinking is muddling the concept of forgiveness. We hear about setting of healthy 'boundaries', about ways to protect ourselves from interference by others.  We learn about our rights from a very early age.  Legislation is introduced daily, based on the tenet that Man is free to do anything he wants, provided it doesn't prevent another from fully enjoying their right to do the same.  Not all of this is bad, of course, and it is probably the best we can come up with in a democracy. But a problem arises when the whole value system comprises constantly changing variables based on flawed human thinking.  Not so long ago, all our value systems were at least based on the God-given absolutes of the Bible. Now we have the ridiculous situation where a murderer can sue a mental hospital for compensation because they should not have let him out to commit the murder.  Or the drug addict diving into the surf suing Council because he hurt his head.  The drunk suing the bar for serving him drinks. The concept of what is right and what is wrong is becoming so obscure, we are not sure anymore who needs to be forgiven and which party actually did something offensive or wrong.

But all of this does not in any way change the immutability of what Jesus said.  Our salvation IS conditional.  It is therefore critical that we understand the meaning of forgiveness in the mind of God. I will share here my own thoughts on the matter.

Forgiveness, I believe, is a much broader concept than the straightforward interpretation,  which involves someone having done you wrong, and now you no longer hold that against them. I believe forgiveness extends way beyond that, embracing elements of tolerance, absence of judgment, discernment, humility and even the ability to forget.  So to start, let's look at what Jesus Himself had to say on the matter.


Matthew 18 conveys the parable of forgiveness. Seventy times seven obviously is not intended as a legalistic number for how many times we should forgive a wrong.  The intent is to establish an unlimited number of times. The slave who was forgiven much, but who was not willing to forgive his fellow slave a small debt, clearly had some blatant anomalies in his value system.  He was handed over to the torturers. "So shall My Father in heaven also do, if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart." 

All of us as Christians have been forgiven so much.  We don't merit inclusion in God's plan.  We don't deserve to be part of Jesus' bride.  If we, by our attitude, leave out someone whom Christ wants 'in', we have thrown a spanner in the works. 


Both in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, the Lord's prayer clearly illustrates the divine principle of conditional forgiveness.  'Forgive us Lord, as we forgive others'. In Luke 6, Jesus says it rather beautifully:  "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Judge not and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven." And in Mark 11 He says,"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." The extreme importance of this principle of spiritual harmony is further emphasised in Matthew 5, when a man comes to the altar and remembers his brother has not forgiven him.  He is told to leave his gift and first fix things with his brother.


Jesus doesn't tell us not to judge (Luke 6). He tells us that if we do judge, we must be prepared to be judged ourselves by the standards we have applied to others.  Many times in my Christian walk have I seen Christians pass judgment on the behaviour of others. Very often within a short time, I have seen those who judged tested on the same grounds. A particular example comes to mind where a minister was caught in adultery with his secretary, an obvious no-no.  They were ex-communicated by the elders. Within a year, three of the elders were also caught in adultery.  I'm not suggesting that the obvious impropriety should have been ignored.  Neither am I advocating that we should all feel free to go out and sin to our heart's content, (as the antinomian doctrine of moral unaccountability once tried to do). Matthew 18 tells us how we should deal with the pastor as if he were just an equal brother in the Lord. It is his leadership position that places a disproportionate accountability on his shoulders and imposes a greater expectation of right example. (Personally, I believe that the hierarchical structure of church organisation is not scriptural, and causes many of us to relinquish our individual accountability. See my essay on ‘Church Leadership’)

What I am saying is that we should recognise, in great humility, how much we ourselves have been forgiven, and how fragile our own moral stance is. I think pedophilia is possibly the worst sin.  But I know God sees the circumstances that made the pedophile.  I think drug trafficking runs a close second.  But God sees the needle marks on the trafficker's arm.  I abhor the idea of homosexuality.  But God knows the causes.  I hate dishonesty, but even I have told a lie at times. The Truth is that under the New Covenant, we have no business holding anything against anyone.

How we deal with the pastor and his secretary is absolutely crucial to the practical operation of Biblical Christianity.  There actually are no hard and fast rules, other than our individual responsibility to submit to the Holy Spirit, thereby somehow creating the pathway in the spiritual realm for Him to convict the offender. Read Matthew16 about the keys to the kingdom, and binding and loosening.  In the true function of the body, we need the Holy Spirit more than ever.  I think it can be summed up in an Hosea scripture quoted twice by Jesus in Matthew:


"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6)

Mercy is a heart attitude, implementing the true meaning of the Law. Sacrifice is a ritual.

We can judge others, thereby tacitly inferring that we would never commit such unrighteousness ourselves. (Let he who is without sin cast the first stone). Or we can have an attitude of forgiveness, recognising our own sinfulness and fallibility.


1 Corinthians 11 has much to say about partaking of the Holy Communion symbols.  It actually states that by partaking 'unworthily' we eat and drinkdamnation unto ourselves! When was the last time you heard that message from the pulpit before the invitation to partake? Strangers, in total ignorance, sometimes partake so as not to look conspicuous. We ourselves partake, often without ever giving a thought to what 'unworthily' really means. In fact, it means something probably quite different from what you imagine.

Again, we have this absurd situation where a vital element of the Gospel has been ignored. Ignored, because we are averse to making others feel uncomfortable.  There is a new-age trend to leave out the negatives, and so focus only on the positives. 'The power of positive thinking'.  And so we miss out on the full Gospel message and the full meaning of this incredible eternal divine undertaking, of which we are a part.

We naturally tend to think of 'unworthily' as 'undeserving'. In other words, we have not lived up to God's expectations, we have sinned, and therefore we are not worthy.  To counter this, we spend time before partaking, confessing our sin.  Subsequently, we believe that, accordingly, we have now been forgiven and are now suitably 'worthy'! However, if you read 1 Corinthians 11 correctly, you will find that being 'worthy' has nothing to do with being either sinless or forgiven.  And just as well.  How confident are you that you have remembered and confessedevery sin you committed in the last week or even day?

Being 'unworthy' has to do with 'not discerning the body' correctly. By partaking, we acknowledge that we are a part of the 'body of Christ'. That body includes every Christian on this earth, alive today or long buried. It means every person whom Jesus has accepted into His kingdom, every person who has the Holy Spirit living inside him or herself. If we, through our attitude, exclude even one person incorrectly, we have not discerned the body. Verses 20-21 and 33-34 admonish some for using the Lord’s supper to stuff their faces without consideration for anyone else, leading some scholars to conclude that ‘unworthily’ refers to disrespect.  However, the verses in between make it clear that the symbolic meaning refers to something much deeper than that.

Being 'worthy' to partake means having no divisional attitudes. It means you accept without prejudice, as an equal member of Christ's body, anyone that Jesus sees fit to include. That means anyone who has the Holy Spirit, no matter what label they may have put on themselves or had forced on them.  And this is where it gets hard.

It takes a real gift of discernment to tell whether the hobo, reeking of alcohol and BO,  ever made a decision for Christ as a kid and is on a whopper of a backslide.  Or whether the Roman Catholic, offering prayers to a Saint or the Holy Mother, has a personal relationship with Jesus.  We tend to mix with like-minded Christians and our thoughts rarely extend to those outside of that circle.  Our ability to discern is hampered not only by our preconceptions and value systems, but, under the inexorable pressure of daily life in the Western world, our personal two-way communication with Jesus gets clouded. As a result, the discernment we exercise tends to be guided more by earthly wisdom than spiritual insight.  So what do we do?

There is an alternative. The purpose of discerning the body is to not exclude anyone who was accepted by Jesus.  We could therefore willy nilly include anyone and everyone, no matter what background, culture or religion, ending up with a new-age type 'family of Man'.  And I don't think that is where we should be headed.  It would demean the Gospel and stop us from sharing it with those who need salvation.  However, we can adopt a non-judgmental attitude.  'Judge not, lest you be judged'. We need a revelation that it is not our job to judge whether someone else has already 'undergone re-birth' or received salvation. We need a revelation that we ourselves are only here by the grace of God.  We don't deserve to be included in the eternal purpose anymore than that hobo.  Only through Jesus' sacrifice do we qualify! This is an exercise in applied humility that can only be effective through conviction by the Holy Spirit. 


It is the Father’s role to judge, the Holy Spirit’s role to convict, Jesus’ role to save, and our role accept.


In Matthew 12 we read about a sin which is not forgivable. It is described as'blasphemy against the Spirit' and has been the subject of much debate as to its meaning. Our immediate interpretation tells us we mustn't curse the Name of the Holy Spirit, but leaves us perplexed as to why it should then be forgivable to curse the other members of the Trinity.  Jesus tells us 'all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not'.  That seems to positively preclude the existence of a second unforgivable sin.

It leads me to the conclusion that 'blasphemy against the Holy Spirit' in all likelihood is one and the same sin as 'not discerning the Lord's body'. In fact, add to this our conditional forgiveness, and we have three definitions of something that places us outside of God's eternal purpose. Very likely all three definitions refer to the same thing.

How can we make sense of all of this?  It is the assigned task of the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, as well as to unite us and prepare us as a perfect bride, without spot or wrinkle, for Jesus.  Not discerning the body would leave the bride in disarray, or crippled, or ill.  A bride with some of her toes missing could hardly be described as perfect.  Therefore, not discerning the body correctly would be undermining the assigned work of the Holy Spirit.  You could say that by excluding from the body, through our judgmental and unforgiving attitude, some of the less attractive or desirable people, ones that Jesus has accepted, we are bringing discord into the heavenly realm. 

Every new Christian is transplanted into the body of Christ. Read 1 Corinthians 12. By judging some unacceptable, we would be like the immune system rejecting an organ transplant. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand' (Matthew 12:25).  We would be working against the Holy Spirit.  And maybe that is equivalent to blaspheming Him.


One final aspect of true forgiving is forgetting it ever happened. In Jeremiah 31 God gives notice of the creation of a new covenant with the house of Israel, a covenant which now includes us, the ‘spiritual’ Israel:


"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."

Whether we actually have it in us to forgive and forget is debatable.  We have a fallen human nature. We have a propensity for remembering the bad things and forgetting the good. Whilst I am confident in saying that I bear no grudges, I do remember things I have forgiven. God, on the other hand, has complete control, and if He says He will forget, I believe Him!


If I am right in believing there is only one unforgivable sin, then it makes sense that


a) not forgiving others,
b) not discerning the body and
c) blaspheming the Holy Spirit,


are all one and the same sin.  All three are closely interlinked, needing elements of humility, tolerance, forgiveness, love and acceptance, all essential requirements of the Bride being prepared for Jesus' return, in order to set things right.

What is most important, is that forgiveness is closely tied to Christian agape love (refer to my essays on "The New Commandment" and "Christian Love and Unity").  Unless the source of both forgiveness and love is the Holy Spirit Himself, we as humans are not capable of an attitude of true forgiveness embracing all the facets we have been discussing. These facets include:


  • Acceptance of human weaknesses and fallibility,
  • Forgiveness of offences and wrongs committed against us,
  • Tolerance of idiosyncrasies and annoying character traits,
  • Humble acknowledgment of your own fallibility and shortcomings,
  • Above all, discernment without judgment.


Our own forgiveness hinges on us finding the wherewithal to forgive all those who have wronged us. There can be no salvation without forgiveness. Forgiveness is also an essential requirement to the united and perfect operation of the multi-membered Bride for Jesus.  Conflict between the component members equates to illness in her Spiritual Body. There is only one unforgivable sin.  It is rejection of anyone whom Jesus has accepted.

Implementation of the New Commandment closely knits together this broad-spectrum forgiveness and Holy Spirit inspired agape love.  

Without it, the entire Church will continue as a series of divided, pseudo-Christian, secular 'clubs', where personal preferences take the place of what Jesus wants.