Dear First Pres,
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Have you been thinking about this part of the Lord's prayer this week? I have. I'm so grateful for the message Pastor Joe White (from Neighborhood Church) gave on Sunday. What good news that, through Christ, we can ask our Father in heaven to forgive us the incredible debt that we owe to Him. And, He does!! Hallelujah! I hope you give thanks and praise to God for this incredible work in the life of the believer this week.
But after Jesus teaches us to pray this incredibly bold petition, forgive us our debts, he adds this striking phrase: as we also have forgiven our debtors. So, what does that mean? Does it mean the forgiveness of our sin is contingent on our forgiveness of others? Well, here are a few of my thoughts.
First, we need to remember, as Bruner highlights in his commentary, that the work for our forgiveness has already been accomplished on the cross. At the Last Supper, in Matthew 26:28, Jesus says, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." What we do when we come to faith in Christ is receive the forgiveness that God has already granted in Jesus' death. In other words, His forgiveness is not pending. Yes, we will experience the fullness of God's forgiveness when we stand before Christ the Judge and we are justified by our faith in Christ's death and resurrection. But God's forgiveness isn't pending in the sense that we have it one day and not the next based on our behavior (praise God). Christ's blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. We receive that forgiveness through faith in Christ, not by works so that no one can boast(Ephesians 2:9). And, as we'll talk about on Easter, through faith in the Living Christ, we have been given (even now) an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). The forgiveness of God is received through faith, not works.
Second, we need to remember that if we are coming to our Father in heaven and asking Him to graciously forgive our debts while we refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us, then we don't really understand what we're asking God to do for us. As Darrell Johnson points out, it's like we're standing before God and saying, "Forgive my sins, God, but don't forgive hers."
Darrell Johnson says this:
If I will not cancel your indebtedness to me I cannot possibly be asking God to cancel my indebtedness to him. I must be thinking that somehow my debt is not that big a deal or I have some excuse that justifies me not living up to my duty. I am in no way praying the Prayer [as Jesus meant it] (p. 88).
More positively, when we understand what it truly means to ask God to forgive us our debts, we become, by God's grace, people who are quick to forgive others. Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." To live this out you have to understand, by God's grace, how the Lord forgave you. One sign that you're not quite understanding it is that you're unwilling to forgive.
So, I've been praying this week that the Lord would help me to truly understand the beauty and the depth of God's forgiveness given to me through faith in Christ. I've been asking God to reveal any unforgiveness in my own heart and to help me deal with it appropriately. Then, as God reveals to me my sin, I've been praying, "Our Father in heaven, forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors."
I invite you to do the same. For as Lewis Smedes writes in his great book on forgiveness, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover that the prisoner is you" (p. 133).
P.S. Here are two great books referenced above.
Darrell Johnson, Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey Through the Lord's Prayer (Vancouver, BC: Regent College, 2005)
Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Do Not Deserve (San Francisco: Harper, 1984)
And if you missed Joe's sermon, or you just want to hear it again, you can listen to it on our website.