by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter 8-4 (contd.)


Vertical forgiveness is seen in Mark 11:25 and horizontal forgiveness is seen in Luke 17:3. Our concern here, however, is not the study of these two types of forgiveness, but rather how God’s forgiveness is predicated upon our willingness to forgive others. In this regard, let us look at the parable on forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35:

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Here Jesus was plainly teaching Peter that forgiven sinners should forgive their offending brothers. In verses 32 and 33, the lord (Christ) of the slave (the believer) called the slave to account as respects his unforgiveness. This may picture Christ calling us to account at the Bema. The temporal judgment that follows may be represent Christ’s judgment at the Judgment Seat. On the other hand, if certain details of the parable are not pressed, the judgment may apply during this life. Since the slave had no mercy on the fellow slave, "his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him" (v. 34). The unforgiving slave had already been released from his debt (v. 27), yet now the lord handed him over to the torturers until repayment was made.

This parable is an illustration of the truth concerning forgiveness of the believer. On the one hand, our judicial forgiveness has been accomplished for us eternally by Christ’s redemption (Matt. 18:27; Eph. 1:7), and it is kept effective by Christ’s advocacy. On the other hand, our fellowship with God is disrupted by sin (the sin of unforgiveness of others in the parable, verse 30), and we may also fall under God’s discipline, which we will have to endure until God grants governmental forgiveness. Such forgiveness during the next age may be a possibility (Matt. 12:32).

Notice that the judgment of the torturers is implied as being temporary ("until he should repay", v. 34). The temporal penalty here is graphically portrayed as torture. Although this is a parable and the term "torturer" is not strictly literal, this picture was chosen by the Lord to convey a grave reality. This parable should make us very sober and concerned about the matter of forgiving others. We are warned that this consequence may befall us (verse 35). Therefore, we should have mercy towards others (v. 33) since an action of mercy now will affect Christ’s judgment upon us at His Judgment Seat. "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas. 2:13).

We have seen that the forgiveness of sins is a somewhat complex matter, but a serious one. Even though Christ has paid the eternal penalty for our sins, the Christian must be very concerned about sin in his life. Sin may bring in grave consequences. However, through our forgiveness of others and the confession of our sins, fellowship with God can be restored and we can be cleansed. May the Lord give us all a heart to practice these things in sincerity.

Finally, please note that none of the severe judgments we have discussed in this chapter should be confused with the erroneous Roman Catholic doctrine of "Purgatory." The reward passages clearly teach that the believer’s bad works can be subject to recompense by the righteous Judge. However, through confession to God, the disciple can be cleansed by Jesus’ blood and any specific negative recompense avoided. The Catholic doctrine severely perverts this truth by claiming that the Christian himself must "atone" for his sins in order to effect his cleansing. Further, the doctrine of Purgatory claims that good deeds can be done, or money given, to the Roman Catholic church by the still living "faithful" in order to lessen the intensity or duration of punishment upon souls suffering in Purgatory. This proposition is patently unscriptural. For further commentary on this matter, the reader may consult the "Note on Purgatory" in D. M. Panton’s book, The Judgment Seat of Christ, beginning on page 67.


There are other verses showing both positive and negative recompense in the future for believers (see the table containing the two principles in Chapter Five). However, we will not explore all of these verses; the reader has been presented a good overview of some of the major possibilities already. With this background we can now understand one of the most fundamental, yet often overlooked or misunderstood passages concerning the principle of reward according to works. This passage of Scripture in Romans Chapter Two was written to the Christians in Rome.

Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:1-16)

This passage shows us the future day of judgment according to works. The opening verses begin by addressing the self-righteous person, whoever he may be. The application of the passage is clearly intended, however, for every person since we read that "the righteous judgment of God" will be rendered "to EVERY MAN according to his deeds."

These Scriptures tell us that there is no partiality with God in judgment, and that all mankind will fall into two categories: the ones who persevere in doing good and the ones who obey unrighteousness. The judgment is based upon deeds and takes place in the future day of judgment when "God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus."

Those "who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality" will receive "eternal life" as a reward from this future judgment. Since this "eternal life" is based upon works, not grace, and since it is received in the future through Christ’s judgment, not now through faith, it must be the reward of eternal life granted to the overcoming Christians in the coming Kingdom age (Mk. 10:30). No unbeliever could ever receive this reward because no unregenerate person can persevere in doing good (Rom. 3:12).

The balance of mankind will fall into the other category: "those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness." This category obviously includes unbelievers, but it also includes Christians who have lived failed and unrepentant lives, since every man must fall into one of the two categories. Not all Christians persevere in doing good. A number of passages have already been mentioned that show that genuine Christians can live failed lives. We must be honest with the Scriptures and with experience. Many believers practice unrighteous things (1 Cor. 6:8-10; 2 Cor. 12:21; 13:2). Those who persist in these things and are unrepentant (Rom. 2:4-5), will fall into this category of judgment.

The fate of those who "obey unrighteousness" should make us properly fearful of God. These persons will be subjected to God’s "wrath and indignation." What is God’s wrath? The New Bible Dictionary defines it as follows:

The permanent attitude of the holy and just God when confronted by sin and evil is designated His "wrath". It is inadequate to regard this term merely as a description of "the inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe" or as another way of speaking of the results of sin. It is rather a personal quality, without which God would cease to be fully righteous and His love would degenerate into sentimentality. His wrath, however, even though like His love it has to be described in human language, is not wayward, fitful, or spasmodic, as human anger always is. It is as permanent and as consistent an element in His nature as is His love. This is well brought out in the treatise of Lactantius, De ira Dei.[1]

God’s Word clearly tells us that unbelievers will experience God’s wrath. His wrath "abides" upon the unredeemed (Jn. 3:36). The unregenerate are viewed as being "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3) and "vessels of wrath" (Rom. 9:22). As persons who are not children of God, the unredeemed will face the awesomeness of God’s unmitigated wrath in the future day of judgment.

Now let us turn to the believer who "obeys unrighteousness" and is not repentant. I believe that he, too, will experience some measure of God’s wrath and will suffer "tribulation and distress" upon his soul. He will not receive the same measure of judgment as the unbeliever, however, who will undergo the everlasting judgment of God.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary . (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p.1341.