“Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors”


This is an important petition. After Jesus instructs his disciples how to pray, he immediately follows with this rationale: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others your trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is a vital part of our relationships with God and with each other. If we are truly to live in real relationships at all, God must forgive us and we must forgive each other. In the church there is no shortage of opportunities to forgive one another! One time Peter asked Jesus whether we could limit our forgiveness to brothers who sin against us. Jesus’ response with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is definitive—someone who wants to limit forgiveness doesn’t understand forgiveness and will receive no forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13; cf. Ephesians 4:32). It would be sinful not to forgive when God has told us that we must. Your forgiveness of others is not a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness of you, but it is a necessary consequence of having actually received God’s forgiveness.

Notice that Jesus does not teach us to pray, “I’m sorry,” to apologize, to give excuses, or to promise to make up for our sins. He teaches us to place ourselves at God’s mercy and ask him to forgive us. Forgiveness is costly and painful to the one who forgives. The one who asks for forgiveness asks the offended party to bear the burden of the brokenness of the relationship without retaliation or retribution, without extracting the debt of justice from the offender. The one who asks for forgiveness has no right to do so—no one deserves forgiveness. We owe God all the love of our whole heart, mind, and strength. We owe him our lives in complete devotion. When we sin in any way, we have withheld our love from him, and therefore have a debt we cannot repay. When we ask him to forgive us, we ask him to pay our debt for us so that we can live in relationship together. In his gracious and merciful love, God took the initiative to do this before we even asked for it. He paid our debt, took responsibility for us and accounted for our violation of love, at the cross of Christ. He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). At the cross, Jesus became our debt, and was wiped out so that we could live with God. Someone who has begun to know the magnitude of God’s mercy in Christ will begin to extend that same mercy. It’s one of the main ways God’s name is hallowed and his kingdom advances in the world.

Why is it difficult to pray and ask God to forgive your sins? What sins do you need God to forgive you? Can you remember them all? Will God forgive sins you haven’t remembered to ask him to forgive? How can God forgive you—not extract the debt of justice from you—and still be just? Why do we need to pray this petition more than just once at the beginning of our relationship with God? Is it ever appropriate to speak of forgiving God? What are some instances where you have forgiven brothers and sisters in the church for their sins against you? Why is it difficult to forgive in such instances? How have you been able to do it? Why is it sinful not to forgive? What are some beautiful stories of forgiveness that you know, and why are they beautiful?

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