When they hear the word “forgive,” many Mormons immediately think of God’s command to forgive. It is the primary focus of LDS teaching on forgiveness. Rarely does it talk about God’s forgiving us.
In striking contrast, the Bible highlights how God forgives us in Christ. You will want to talk about the peace, comfort, and incredible joy you have, knowing you are forgiven in Christ. Don’t be afraid to get emotional. The more you can convey what a tremendous difference God’s forgiveness has made in your life, the more attracted they will be to it. As always, our goal is to witness Christ rather than debate.
One good passage to talk about God’s forgiveness is Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. Many Mormons are familiar with it and may even cite it to prove that we have to earn God’s forgiveness. However, that is not the proper interpretation. Rather, this passage conveys the biblical truth that God’s forgiveness is unconditional.
At first glance, it does look like Jesus says we have to earn forgiveness, especially as we look at verse 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” It sounds like Jesus says we must be forgiving if we want to experience God’s forgiveness.
As we take a closer look at the parable, however, we see this is not its message! It’s critical to keep things in their proper order. Before anything else, the king forgives the unmerciful servant! Note how wonderfully he does it. The servant doesn’t even ask for forgiveness. All he requests is a time extension. Instead of granting him that, however, the king immediately and fully forgives his massive debt. 10,000 talents was approximately 50 tons of gold, an unbelievable debt! Jesus used such a tremendous figure to illustrate how greatly we sin and thus how great God’s forgiveness is.
Focus on the king’s incredible forgiveness of the massive debt. The king forgave him quickly and without attaching any conditions. Notice whose forgiveness came first, the king’s or the servant’s? The forgiveness we show others flows from God’s forgiveness, not vice versa.
This parable is another illustration of how works; in this case, forgiving others is an effect of God forgiving us and not a cause or reason why God forgives us. It brings in the added aspect that God’s forgiveness changes people. We were spiritually dead. God’s forgiveness makes us spiritually alive. If the change is not evident – in this case, by being forgiving – it indicates that the person does not truly believe.
When talking with Mormons, it is not always necessary or often even wise to cite a number of passages that prove the same point. It is usually much better for them to wrestle with just one passage. Other verses beautifully talk about forgiveness. These might be effective to bring up in subsequent visits as you revisit forgiveness, such as Hebrews 10:17-18, Ephesians 1:7, Micah 7:18-19, and Psalm 103:1-12.