Forgiveness is an issue central to the Christian faith. After all, Jesus’ primary mission through his life, death, and resurrection, was to bring forgiveness; a forgiveness that would repair the relationship between humanity and God.
In the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus teaches us how to pray, and in doing so teaches us to ask for forgiveness from God. After asking for ‘our daily bread’, that is, our needs, we are also taught to ask for God to ‘forgive us our debts’.
To be clear, what Jesus is not teaching us here is that God will forgive our financial debts. So often we use the term ‘debt’ in a financial sense. This is the way the word is typically used today. Perhaps unfortunately for you, after praying this prayer you will still have your financial debts to pay. The mortgage will still be there, the car loan still needs to be paid this month, and the credit card bill continues to stack up.
But this idea of financial debt gives us an illustration of the position we find ourselves in. We are in debt to God.
We may ask, why am I in debt to God?
Well, the Bible teaches us that we are in debt to God because of what is called ‘sin’. Essentially, we have disobeyed, fallen short, and rejected God in our lives. In doing so we find ourselves in debt to God. As Romans 3:23-24 says,
“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Here we find the Apostle Paul highlighting how great our sin is, therefore how great a debt we have, but also how great a God we have who freely gives his grace to those who believe.
I am well aware this is not easy teaching to accept. To understand our need for forgiveness means we need to understand and accept our own wrongdoing toward God. And considering the hardness of life and injustice in our world there are times we are tempted to blame that on God himself.
Yet, what God has done is actually grace. And that grace comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ. You see, forgiveness is achieved because Jesus has paid the debt we couldn’t pay. His death on the cross was the payment for our debt and covers all sin–past, present, and future. It is not through saying this prayer that brings forgiveness, through prayer we come recognising what has already been done for us–God has forgiven our debts through the death of his Son.
In preaching on Ephesians 4:32, Charles Spurgeon remarks about forgiveness,
“[God] not only forgave us at the first all our sins, but he continues daily to forgive, for the act of forgiveness is a continuous one. I have sometimes heard it said that we were so forgiven when we first believed that there is no need to ask for further forgiveness; to which I reply—We were so completely forgiven when we first believed that we ought continually to ask for the perpetuity of that one far-reaching act, that the Lord may continue to exert towards us that fulness of forgiving grace which absolved us perfectly at the first, that we may continue to walk before him with a sense of that complete forgiveness, clear and unquestioned. I know I was forgiven when first I believed in Christ; and I am equally sure of it now: the one absolution continues to ring in my ears like joy-bells which never cease. Pardon once given continues to be given. When through doubt and anxiety I was not sure of my pardon, yet it was still true; for he that believeth on him is not condemned, even though he may write bitter things against himself. Beloved friend, catch hold of that, and do not let it go. Divine pardon is a continuous act.”
It is hard to understand the need for forgiveness from God if we don’t recognise our own brokenness and sin. And it is hard to understand grace because it is so undeserved. But amazingly, it is done. The call for us is to believe.
And so when we pray this prayer, when we pray for God to forgive us our debts, we are to come with a humble heart, being self-aware enough to know our own brokenness and need for God.
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following: