The Lord’s Prayer (#6): “Forgive Us Our Debts”


Sermon Text: Matthew 6:12
Main Points:
I. Forgive us our debts
II. Forgive us … as we also have forgiven our debtors
III. Forgiveness in our midst!

Our task for today is to consider this matter of forgiveness, especially from the words of our Lord Jesus given in this prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I believe all born-again Christians know what forgiveness is. It’s the foundational doctrine of Christianity, meaning that God releases sinners from judgment and freeing them from the divine penalty of their sin.

So, considering forgiveness again and again and deepening our understanding of its doctrine is vitally important for all Christians because doing so is like solidifying the foundation of the house one lives in. Doing so is like building one’s house on a rock that would stand firm on a stormy day. So, I pray that this may be a good opportunity for all of us to deepen our understanding of forgiveness, thus, set the basis of our salvation firm in the grace and love of God through Jesus.

With this prayer, I’d like to consider, first of all, what is our ‘debt’ that we seek its cancellation to God. Then, I want you to see why the forgiveness of our sins is interwoven with our act of forgiving others. And finally, we’ll contemplate on how forgiveness is vital for our oneness in Jesus.

So, let’s begin with what ‘our debt’ to God means. We could also say ‘trespass’ instead of ‘debt’ here because two words point the same thing. Our debt to God is incurred by our failure in implementing our duty to God. Every human being is born to praise God, our Creator, and to enjoy His presence and fellowship with us. Let me give you one biblical proof out of numerous references; it’s 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” No wonder why both Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms begin with the same question, ‘What is the chief [and highest] purpose of man?’ whose answer is, ‘The chief [and highest] purpose of man is to glorify God and [fully] to enjoy Him forever.’ But no one fulfils this original purpose of his/her being, none is willing to do it. If you wonder what it might be to live up to this creation purpose, the examples are the angels and the seraphim in heaven. Together with them, the saints in heaven who have completed their tasks on earth and dwell in their eternal home are also good examples. They fulfil their duty every moment in full joy. But we’re not; none in flesh living on earth lives up to this creation purpose. So, failing in fulfilling our duty incurs our debt to God.

The extent of this debt each of us owe to God is incalculably and immeasurably great simply because our failure is to the eternal God. Let me explain it this way. Suppose that you have a special fruit tree in your garden that you love greatly. It’s so special as to call it unique – the only one in the kind – because of your unique and special memories with the tree over many years. Then, suppose that a branch fails to bear fruit. Not only that, but also does it become a nuisance as it has turned into something like a cancer. Then, what would happen to this branch? What would you do to it? You’d prune it, cut it off from the tree. That’s similar to the extent of our debt to God; we who are created to praise and worship God and to enjoy Him fully and forever fail in carrying out our purpose, then, we’re done, cut off from God forever. And that’s how much we owe to God, our Creator – our debt to Him is terminal as much as incalculable.

Yet, we’re commanded by Jesus to seek to God the cancellation of this debt. In other words, the cut-away branch seeks to be grafted back to the tree. This is what the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray and say, ‘Our Father in heaven, forgive us our debts.’

Some Bible commentators say that when we seek forgiveness of our debts here in the Lord’s Prayer, it is different from our initial repentance which accompanies faith in Jesus and, ultimately, leads us to salvation. But I don’t see it that way because each sin weighs the same, incurring the same result, that is, eternal damnation or separation from God. So, every time a Christian seeks forgiveness, the depth of the remorse over his sin is the same. Only difference between the first repentance at conversion and daily repentance after conversion is the repenter’s realisation of sin. I mean, when a sinner repents and believes in Jesus at conversion, his heart is shocked by the ugly and deadly face of sin, thus, laments and seeks Jesus’ grace. But when a born-again believer repents of his sin, he remembers the snare of sin, realises his weakness again, thus, in full lament, desperately seeks his Saviour’s blood for cleansing of sins. The sorrow over his sin is always the same. In fact, the more mature a Christian becomes, the heavier and sadder his remorse over his sin becomes.

So, as we pray and say, ‘Father, forgive us our debts,’ we acknowledge our failure in glorifying and enjoying Him today as we did fail yesterday and will be the same tomorrow. Furthermore, with our failure, we owe a great and unpayable debt to God. So, we say, ‘Father, forgive us our debts,’ appealing to the grace and mercy of God our Father in the name of Jesus our Saviour!

Then, a question arises – Why does Jesus teach us to pray, ‘forgive us as we also have forgiven our debtors’? Why do we need to add to our prayer, ‘AS we also have forgiven our debtors, forgive us’?

In search of its answer, the first thing we need to know is that this is not a condition to our prayer. I mean, if God cancels our debts, forgives our sins, in proportion to our act of forgiving others, it would be a disaster for every one of us and there would be not a soul in heaven. And we all know why it would be so. None of us can forgive others like Jesus does, nor is there anyone who forgives his/her offender. We’re by nature unforgiving toward others. So, this addition to our petition for forgiveness is not its condition. Thanks to Jesus for this!

It is rather a plea for God’s mercy in His forgiveness of our sins. In other words, it is a plea to God for leading us to learn and understand God’s forgiveness of our sins through our experience of forgiving others.

We try to forgive others who offend us, then, we could see how gracious God is in His forgiveness of our sins. We can never forgive anyone; we could pretend to have forgiven anyone. But deep inside us, a grudge is stuck and it’s unerasable and whenever there’s a chance, it quickly rises and makes us bitter again and again toward others. But God’s forgiveness is not like ours; He forgives, and never does He remember it as He declares in Isa. 43:25, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Our first Bible reading from Ps. 103 also tells us the same. So, every Christian who knows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to forgive anyone, truly wonders how God could forgive us, how the Father could give His only Son Jesus to us to die for the forgiveness of our sins! This is what it means when we pray, ‘Father, forgive us as we also have forgiven others.’

In addition, we need to know another truly important lesson for us. That is, we pray to God, asking Him to help us to daily exercise forgiveness toward our fellow men. Like the way we seek God’s daily provision with our food, saying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we also seek Him to provide us a gracious heart daily toward others, especially toward all who offend us, all who insult us, all who trouble us. Make us be generous and help us remain as such for one day at a time. It is our petition for the Father’s daily provision with our disposition toward others. ‘Let me and let us imitate You, Father, for today!’ is what we pray with these words, “Father, … forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

One last lesson we need to know with this petition. And this is a vitally important, indispensable lesson for us all who are the members of Christ’s church. When we pray for the forgiveness of our sins, we cannot seek forgiveness without this, namely, our union in Christ Jesus. In other words, when we pray for God’s forgiveness, we seek restoration of our union in the Lord.

A clear proof is given straight after the Lord’s Prayer in Mt. 6, especially in vs. 14-15. Jesus ends His prayer at v. 13 with the words, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Then, He comes back to what He taught in v. 12 and says this: “For if you [all] forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you [all] do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Jesus does not mean any singular person forgiving unspecified number of others; rather, He means us all, and the forgiveness is among brothers and sisters in Christ’s church. He means a mutual forgiveness that releases all grudges held against one another among the members of Christ’s body.

The same is again taught in Mt. 18:21-22. There, the apostle Peter asks, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” By telling him seventy-seven times, the Lord means we’re never to number our forgiveness of our brothers, and never to stop forgiving our brothers – like the way of our heavenly Father has done to us through His Son Jesus, our Saviour!

What amazes me is that this is a part of the Lord’s teaching on how to reconcile among believers. In Mt. 18:15-20, He gave us a truly simple yet powerful way of reconciliation. If any brother – a fellow Christian – sins against you – that is, he becomes your ‘debtor’ – then, you go to him and sit with him and talk about the offence, about your hurt, but in love, not in bitter enmity. This is to reconcile two Christian brothers [or sisters] and deepen their bond as Christ’s disciples. At this, both pray to God in principle, ‘Father, forgive us, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’

Then, see what sort of blessing is promised when two Christians forgive each other and reconciled in Jesus – I’m reading from Mt. 18:18-19, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” To such forgiveness, a remote key to the treasure house in heaven is promised, if you know what I mean. Also, the presence of Jesus in the midst of the reconciled brothers – in other words, mutually forgiven Christians – is guaranteed! So, in a sense, our Lord Jesus teaches us in this Lord’s Prayer how to have Him the Lord in our midst. And if He is with us, we could glorify the Father and fully to enjoy Him, namely, our creation duty and delightful privilege through Jesus!

In short, you and I pray, ‘Father, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,’ we’re in effect praying for the unity of Christian brothers and sisters, and for the manifestation of Jesus in our midst. We pray that this day we say this prayer may be the day we face Jesus in spirit who has come into our midst; we pray that tomorrow on which we’ll surely say this prayer again may be another day we face Jesus in spirit again. And all this may be possible as we forgive one another – in other words, as we ‘love’ one another – daily!

Let me conclude with the story H. A. Ironside told. On a Lord’s Day, a group of missionaries and believers in New Guinea were gathered together to observe the Lord’s Supper. After one young man sat down, a missionary recognised that a sudden tremor had passed through the young man’s body that indicated he was under a great nervous strain. Then in a moment all was quiet again. The missionary whispered, ‘What was it that troubled you?’ The young man said, ‘Ah, the man who just came in killed and ate the body of my father.’ That shocked the missionary. But the man continued, ‘And now he has come in to remember the Lord with us. At first, I didn’t know whether I could endure it. But it is all right now. He is washed in the same precious blood of Jesus our Saviour.’ And so together they shared Communion. Ironside commented after telling this story, ‘It is a marvelous thing, the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Does the world know anything of this?’ Of course, the world would never know anything of such thing, but all who pray daily, ‘Father, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,’ do know!

Brothers and sisters, I’m sure that in that Lord’s Supper, Jesus resided and all people, including that young man and the man who once had killed and eaten his father, dined together! For such a unity between us and God and among us, we pray, “Father, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”! ***

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