The Prayer Part 4: “Forgive us our debts…”

Jesus’ model prayer continues to unfold. It begins with worship (Part 1) and flows into our submission to God’s ways and His Kingdom even while living on earth (Part 2), then the prayer shifts to us and our “daily bread” or our needs (Part 3). The next verse moves us to a deeper understanding of our daily needs, pointing us in the direction of what we need more than money, health, food, or a winning quarterback. The good news Jesus preached (the Gospel) is all about giving us what we could never give ourselves, Grace.

We will look at this verse in two parts over the next two weeks. It begins like this:

“Forgive us our debts…” Matthew 6:12a (ESV)

This is the “Good News” of Jesus, most of us have heard it so many times that we quickly run past it. The Bible tells us that because of sin our punishment is death.

“The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23a (ESV)

There is nothing we can do to pay this debt, though we can change our future actions as to not incur more death, but dead is dead no matter the measure. However, Jesus came to give a gift that we can only receive through Himself, as Paul continues in Romans:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (ESV)

So there you have the message of Jesus Christ. If we are “in Christ,” we are gifted eternal life, if we are not in Him, we will get what we are owed. The Lord’s Prayer seeks not only to remind us of this fact of life but seeks to give us the opportunity to daily ask forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed that day. Just as we have to return to ask God for our daily natural needs, we too must ask Him daily for our spiritual needs.

The Bible tells us plainly that if we bring our sins before God, that He will forgive us. Period.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

There is nothing He can’t forgive, no mess that He can’t make better, but we have to be sure that we are asking for the right thing. When we pray, God wants us to hand over the broken pieces of what we’ve done, and allow Him to renew us. However, this isn’t what most of us do when we go through the motions of asking for forgiveness. What we are actually doing is laying out the excuses of why we did what we did, and hoping God will excuse us of what we have done and will continue to do in the future. This isn’t what Jesus means in His prayer.

C.S. Lewis put it this way, in his book “The Weight of Glory:”

“…there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “You, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says, I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites.”

If I raise my daughters to believe that they can act in any evil manner as long as they have a good excuse, they will grow up to do unimaginably destructive things. However, if I raise them to be open and honest about their mistakes, acknowledging good from evil in their pleas for forgiveness, they will grow up walking in a way that seeks not to continue to make mistakes. When we make excuses, we are setting our selves up for disaster. God doesn’t want to see us destroyed. He wants what’s best for us. That is why He wants us to seek forgiveness on His terms. When we do it His way, He is faithful to forgive each time. This isn’t a one-time event, this is a daily prayer.

God’s grace and love are bigger than we can imagine. When we stumble daily, God doesn’t break out his giant eraser and remove our name from the Book of Life. He’s able to keep us from falling completely away. However, where one side errs in thinking we are “saved one moment and lost the next,” the other side sees no need for daily repentance, seeking for God to point out where we have fallen short so He may strengthen us to walk more carefully today than we did yesterday. Repentance should be a part of our daily practice of prayer. It brings us closer to God and keeps the areas in our lives where we are weak, central to our relationship with God so He can be our strength, and we can all use more of that.

This, however, isn’t the end of the verse on forgiveness, next week we will look at the other half of the verse, and what deep truth we must confront in order to receive the forgiveness that God is offering.

Grace and Peace to You.

Read the next part here: The Prayer Part 5 “…as we also have forgiven our debtors.”