Can I refuse to forgive someone and still be saved? In a simple answer, NO.
Embedded inside Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is this:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
This is an uncomfortable passage for many of us. It raises a crucial question: Does Jesus’ statement call into question “eternal security”? Will I forfeit my eternal relationship with Jesus Christ if I obstinately refuse to forgive someone else who has harmed me? By refusing to forgive another, have a lost my grip on salvation? Was I a child of God and then lost my special status?
Shortly after communicating these words, Jesus concludes His sermon with this:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
It is significant that Jesus did not say, “I no longer know you” or “you lost your salvation.” Instead, He says, “I never knew you.”
The Dutch Calvinist Herman Ridderbos’ comments are helpful at this point:
“Whoever tries to separate man’s forgiveness from God’s will no longer be able to count on God’s mercy. In so doing he not merely forfeits this…. Rather he shows that he never had a part in it. God’s mercy is not something cut and dried that is only received once. It is a persistent power that pervades all of life. If it does not become manifest as such a power, then it was never received at all.”
Ridderbos’ comments are confirmed by the Apostle John’s words:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Jesus was deadly serious in how we treat others. As a follower of Christ, do you need to forgive someone else?
— Please Note: I am indebted to New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg for a significant part of this.