This had been my understanding too but I did not think about it much since it was one of those parts of the Bible about which I sometimes have to say, "I'm not sure I've got that right; it doesn't seem consistent with my understanding of other parts of Jesus' life and teachings, but I'm sure God gets it even if I don't." So when a pastor for whom I had much respect and affection spoke about this, it gave me something to chew on. Pastor Schmid said, "Oh, no, God forgives first and completely and that is how we are able to forgive."* Can't say I made it my life's work to pursue this thought, but it has gently percolated in my heart over the years and I came to this place:
What if God forgives, through the blood of Christ, all His children but we reject that forgiveness in our willfulness and rejection of God? So when we start a conversation with God, begin to trust God, embrace the salvation paid in full by Christ, then we develop by grace the capacity both to accept forgiveness for ourselves and to forgive others fully?
I think of an angry child (I see myself in that posture more than I would like) with clenched fists, frustrated, or afraid, or sulky or stubborn with a posture of rejection of all a loving parent offers to assist. There is no instruction, intervention or restoration possible until the child can let go at least a bit. We comfort, we cajole, (we storm, we fuss) but at some point the child must respond in some small way to allow the situation to improve.
Thus might it not be with God, who longs to tend, guide, instruct, empower, heal and inform us that we might accept God's abundant and free blessings? Is it not as we experience grace that we begin to understand how amazing is that Grace and how it might benefit those we love, then maybe those we like and eventually even those we fear or hate?
So just possibly might my ability to forgive be a noteworthy gauge for me to monitor if I am truly seeking to grow in the Kingdom of God?
O Spirit of God, instruct my heart in this work of forgiveness. Allow me to fully trust God that I might believe in my own forgiveness. Allow me to see the pain and longing of my brother and sister that I might passionately long to offer forgiveness, modeling for them that they might turn to You for forgiveness, redemption and renewal. Free me from all bitterness that reduces my capacity to more fully be filled with Your love, hope and purpose. Open my hands that they might reject the temptation to clutch past hurts and wrongs, so that I am instead fully open to poring Your love into the lives of others, no matter how much I am or am not attracted to someone. AMEN
He (Jesus) is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2
* It has been at least 30 years so that should not be considered a direct quote, but rather what I remember from whatever he actually said.