From the Pastor’s Desk
“Forgive us our Debts”
Matthew 6:7-8, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this …”
This week we continue with our study of the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matt 6:9ff). Today we are considering the fifth petition, “… and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). The second half of this prayer – petitions 4, 5, 6 – can be summarized as prayers for ‘provision,’ ‘pardon,’ and ‘protection’ respectively. Thus, this petition is a prayer for pardon.
There are two main questions for us to consider. First, as Christians, why do we still need to pray for forgiveness? Are we not already forgiven? Indeed we are! But this questions highlights an important Biblical distinction; namely the distinction between the believer’s justification and his sanctification. When a sinner initially repents and puts his faith his Christ, he is forgiven. That is to say, his sins are once and for all put on Christ. The penalty of every sin of that new Christian (past, present, and future) has been paid (Rom 8:1; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 3:18). We are declared righteous in Christ. And here is the key for our discussion – no longer do we stand before God as a condemned criminal before a judge. We now stand before God as children to a Father (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2). And although the penalty of our sins has once and for all been paid, the reality is that we still sin (Gal 5:16-26; Rom 7:15-25). But now we are thinking in terms of our adoption and sanctification – of our growth and discipleship as Christians. Consider the analogy to our earthly families … when a child disobeys his parents, his disobedience does not affect his objective status as a child. It does not affect the objective love the parents have for him – a love that will never change. However, such disobedience does affect the subjective relationship between the parents and the child. It can hamper, dampen, and disrupt the relationship. And when the child confesses his disobedience and asks the parents for forgiveness, they of course will forgive him and the relationship is restored and oftentimes strengthened. And so it is with the Christian and his Heavenly Father. So why do we need to ask for forgiveness? Because we still sin! Each day and every day! In thought, word, and deed! And such sin displeases our Heavenly Father (2 Samuel 11:27). But we are now thinking in terms of our sanctification – our subjective relationship to our Heavenly Father … NOT in terms of our justification – our objective standing before the bar of God’s justice. David’s experience is a helpful illustration (see Psalm 32).
Second, what of the phrase, “… as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Does this mean that God only forgives us when we have forgiven others? That somehow God’s forgiveness of us is conditioned on something we do (our forgiveness of others). Absolutely not! That would make our forgiveness a meritorious work undermining the free grace of God in Christ (Eph 2:1-10). What it does mean is this … that our forgiveness of others is a sign and confirmation of God’s work of forgiveness in our hearts. Only a forgiven heart can forgive others. Our heart that forgives others is a testimony to a prior work of God in us (cf. Matt 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50).
Brothers and sisters, may we ask our Heavenly Father to show us more of our sin. May we keep short accounts with our Lord. May we live each day on our knees confessing our sins and rejoicing in his never-failing grace and forgiveness (1 John 1:9-10)! And may our hearts that have experienced the forgiveness of God overflow in forgiveness of others!