14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15, NKJV).
Jesus makes it very clear that our forgiveness is conditional. The little word “if” carries much weight. It directs attention to personal responsibility to do something to be forgiven by God. Namely, if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us. If not, then God will not forgive us. Jesus did not say to only forgive your brethren, but “men” (anthropos, person, human being). The gospel teaches Christians to put on hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). Christ’s sermon to this point has repeatedly called on kingdom citizens to have a heart that is ready to forgive (Matt. 5:7, 9, 23-24, 39-42, 44). To withhold forgiveness brings punishment from God, not blessing (remember the unforgiving servant, Matt. 18:27-35). If we do not forgive from the heart, we will be punished, too (Matt. 18:35). Now, since forgiveness is conditional, why is there such objection when the gospel tells us of other conditions we must meet to be forgiven by God? The gospel says faith and confession of faith in Jesus, repentance, and baptism are conditions sinners must meet to be forgiven by God (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Luke 13:3, 5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). So, it is false and futile to say salvation (forgiveness, remission of sins) is unconditional. Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves, do I have faith to submit to God’s conditions to be forgiven of my sins?
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10, NKJV)
To confess means to acknowledge, “to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent…to concede” (Thayer, 446). Confessing our sins requires that we agree with God that we have transgressed His truth; we have sinned. God’s assurance of forgiveness to Christians “if we confess our sins” is bookended with “if we say that we have no sin” (v. 8) and “If we say that we have not sinned” (v. 10). We must acknowledge our sins to ourselves before we can and ever will properly confess them to God (Psa. 32:3-4). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal (Lk. 15:17). God’s word describes this process as godly sorrow producing repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). With contrite hearts, we admit our sins to ourselves, and with repentance toward God, we confess our sins to Him (Lk. 15:18-19). With such a confession of sins, we fall before the throne of grace seeking mercy, and God keeps His word to cleanse our defilement (1 Jno. 1:9; Psa. 32:5; 51:3-4, 7-12, 17). John says four things happen when we deny our sin: 1) We deceive ourselves, 2) The truth is not in us, 3) We make God a liar, and 4) His word is not in us. God is faithful to forgive us when we trust Him and confess our sins to Him.
1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, 2 who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. (Hebrews 3:1–2, NKJV)
As benefactors of the redemptive work of Christ (outlined in Hebrews 2:10-18), it is only fitting that Christians pause to consider (fully observe) Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Our “confession” is the profession of faith the gospel calls us to live (Heb. 4:14; 10:23). As God’s Apostle (one sent forth), Jesus came to earth as a messenger with a mission. The message the Father sent Jesus to proclaim was the gospel, God’s heavenly invitation to sinners to be saved (Lk. 4:16-21). Jesus, who God sent, spoke the words of God (John 3:34). The mission Jesus was sent to accomplish was to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). In the shadow of the cross, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:3-4). We partake of the heavenly calling by a life that professes the gospel He preached (Matt. 28:19-20). One cannot partake of the heavenly calling by rejecting the word and work of the Apostle of our confession. Just as Jesus was faithful to the Father, Christians must be faithful to Jesus. This is how we “hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14).
30 “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:30–32, NKJV)
This confession by the apostles, that Jesus came from God, was the last confession of faith they made before His death. However, within hours, they would act counter to the faith they confessed. Fearful unbelief would grip them and cause them to scatter, leaving Jesus alone and arrested in Gethsemane. We do well to take a lesson from this, as we confess our faith in Jesus. Like them, our faith can falter. When it does, we must return to the Lord like they did. Otherwise, our soul will be lost in unbelief. When Peter’s faith faltered, and he denied knowing Jesus three times, he returned to Christ (which he did, see Luke 22:32; John 21:15-19). A failing faith is not a saving faith. Yes, the sheep scattered when the Shepherd was struck, but they returned to Him after His resurrection (Matthew 26:31-32; Mark 16:9-14). Their faith grew. “Once believe, always believe” is just as dangerous and false as “once saved, always saved.” Faith unto the saving of the soul does not abandon the Lord; It endures with Him to the end (Hebrews 10:36-39).