In Scripture we find that God can forgive us. We seek forgiveness from God through prayer. This is one of the purposes of prayer, and we find it throughout the Bible. I’d say most prayers include asking God for forgiveness. Many times it is teamed with asking for something else they want, but regardless, forgiveness is sought through prayer. Jesus even taught that we should do this. But He also expounded on the idea a bit. When training His disciples on how to pray, Christ said, “You should pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13)
We are breaking that prayer down in our devotionals this week.
Today we look at the fourth part of the prayer. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Forgiveness comes from outside. One of the things we can’t do for ourselves is forgive ourselves. We often hear people say things like, “You have to be able to forgive yourself if you want to move on.” Well, that’s good humanistic theology, but there is no Biblical basis for ‘forgiving yourself.’ Forgiving yourself has no weight or value because you are the offender. You don’t have the authority or position to forgive your own wicked actions. Someone steals a car, and then later they drop it off at the rightful owner’s house. Then the thief looks in the mirror and says, “I’m not going to hold this against you. You are free to live your life as if this never happened.” That doesn’t work. The thief is still guilty because the offended party has not forgiven them.
So we seek forgiveness from God. Every sin is an act against God. We are guilty before Him. We have broken His order and laws, so we must ask Him to set us free from the guilt and judgment hanging over us. He is faithful, and will forgive us. But we must be honest before Him. It has been said that, “We owed Him a debt we could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.” It is in this transaction that we find the power for forgiveness. We have multiple debts before God, but His single act of pure sacrifice carries enough payment for every one.
Forgiveness correlates to what’s on the inside. God’s forgiveness cannot be earned. It is free. We cannot forgive ourselves. But apparently there is a connection between the way we forgive and the way God forgives. This is very powerful, and is meant to change us. Jesus says that we should seek forgiveness from God for our debts/trespasses/sins. But we are to pray that God forgive us in the same manner that we forgive others. Woah… hold the forgiveness train. God’s forgiveness of us is tied to our forgiveness of others? That seems to put a burden on us. If we are forgiven according to the way we forgive others, that could mean that we may not be forgiven of some things. That isn’t how God works, is it?!? Actually, it is exactly how it works. And here’s why…
The only part of this model prayer that Jesus revisits is this part about forgiveness. After completing the prayer, He tells His disciples, “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Could He be any clearer? Our vertical relationship is a clear reflection of our horizontal relationships.
If we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, we need to act like Jesus. Even in His dying breath, Christ was forgiving the very people who were killing Him. Here was a pure and perfect man forgiving wicked people. If a man who has never done wrong can forgive wrong people, it should be easy for people who have done wrong to forgive other people who have done them wrong.
If I am slow to forgive others, God will be slow to forgive me. If I am quick to forgive others, forgiveness will come quickly from God. That is crazy enough. But in the prayer, Jesus kind of makes this a part of our request of God. He doesn’t say, “Please help me forgive others as you have forgiven me.” He says, “Forgive me in the same way as I forgive others.” We aren’t just to ask God to forgive us. In the asking, we are to take inventory of how we treat others. We may think that is crazy. But it would be crazier for God to forgive people who aren’t forgiving people.
There is a phrase that goes like this, “Hurt people hurt people.” The idea is that people who have been hurt have a natural propensity to do the same thing to others. What if we said, “Forgiven people forgive people”? Today you will have the opportunity to forgive someone who owes you a debt (financial, emotional, spiritual). You will also likely be in a position where you will need forgiveness from God for a debt you owe Him. When that person who hurt you asks for forgiveness, please remember that you will be in the same position with God at some point. Respond to them as you want Him to respond to you.
If we forgive others freely, God will forgive us freely. If we hold things against others, God will hold things against us. How cool is it that God will forgive us? How cool is it that He will empower us to forgive others? If you are struggling in receiving forgiveness from God, look to your own life. Are you struggling to forgive others? Ask God to give you a forgiving heart today, because He has a forgiving heart, and there’s plenty to go around.
Here is a little extra reading from Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness…
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed $1,000,000.00 was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him $100. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’
“At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.
“Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.