Forgiveness is a needed commodity, isn’t it? We have all been recipients of God’s gracious acts of forgiveness and I am personally thankful for that. We have received it, yet we continue to seek it every day.
God’s forgiveness is clearly expressed in the model prayer in Matthew 6:12. Let me remind you this is a prayer for disciples. Some have taught that once you become a Christian you never need to confess your sins or seek forgiveness again. However, Jesus taught His disciples to pray this prayer daily. It must be a habit that is cultivated and understood.
THIS PRAYER MAKES A PERSONAL CONFESSION. Forgive us our debts is a confession of a felt need. When we pray this petition, we admit to the Heavenly Father that we are indebted to Him. This raises important questions concerning the Christian life. Does a person sin after he becomes a Christian? Is he still responsible for his sins after he becomes a Christian?
Both the Scriptures and the Christian experience answer these questions. Scripture assures us that it is in the will of God that we not sin, but God has made continual provision for us when we do sin (1 John 2:1–2). It warns that if we deny we have sinned, we are playing games with ourselves and seeking in futility to deceive God (1 John 1:8–10).
In our honest moments, we have to admit that we have not given God and our fellow man all that we owe them. When we fail to give God a life of complete love, service, worship, and devotion, we have a debt that we cannot pay. The same is true in our relationships with others. We owe them love, concern, and care. We are to be as concerned for others’ welfare as our own. A failure to minister such concern runs up a debt.
THIS PRAYER EXPRESSES AN URGENT APPEAL. The heart of our appeal for forgiveness is an acknowledgment of our inability to pay the debt we have run up on the books of the holy God. The essence of the appeal is that God will cancel out all that is ledgered on our account. We know that we are unable to do anything about the debt that we owe, so we ask God to cancel it. This is really an appeal for God to bear the cost Himself. Christ died in our place, and thereby paid the price so that God freely and generously forgives.
We ask forgiveness because sin creates broken fellowship. Receiving Christ as the Lord of your life places you in His family; but you can lose the joy of being in the family if you do not continue to practice confession and seek forgiveness. While the sins in your life do not cause you to lose your place in the family, they do interrupt your fellowship with the Father. So the urgency of this appeal comes out of the sense of sin and the burden of broken fellowship. If we start to confess, His Spirit works within us and forgiveness returns to us joy in our salvation (Psalm 51:7-8, 12).
THIS PRAYER INCLUDES A TESTIMONY OF OUR FORGIVING OTHERS. The appeal is of no value unless it is accompanied by the reciprocal testimony, as we forgive our debtors. Life is so constructed that we must anticipate that we will be wronged by others along the way. When we come to God to ask Him for forgiveness, we must be able to give testimony that we have forgiven those who have wronged us.
This does not mean that we are making our actions toward others a basis for our appeal. We are no more deserving of God’s forgiveness after we forgive than we were before. But we are in no position to receive or experience God’s forgiveness as long as we are unwilling to forgive. We are not truly repentant until we have come to the place where we can forgive. This testimony gives evidence of a broken spirit and a contrite heart.
Our Lord recognized that all of us will experience mistreatment and injustice in one form or another. In His own experience, He developed the habit of always practicing forgiveness rather than responding with hate and bitterness. Retaliation of evil for evil will destroy our homes, families, and fellowship.
A forgiving spirit delivers us from a vicious cycle of self-destructiveness. A forgiving spirit heals the broken heart and the injured spirit of another as well as our own. A forgiving spirit permits us to reveal the love of God as we have experienced it through Jesus Christ. A forgiving spirit enables us to experience God’s continuing miracle of forgiveness. Rather than being vindictive and retaliatory toward those who mistreat us, let each of us develop the habit of being forgiving even as we have been forgiven.
Image: Milada Vigerova | Unsplash