And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
This is simultaneously the most hopeful and heavy piece of the Lord’s Prayer. It is hopeful because Jesus is encouraging us to come to the Father to ask for forgiveness. The heaviness comes next, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” As we petition God to forgive our sins, we must also forgive the sins of others. In order to truly understand this principle, let us breakdown what Jesus means by debts here.
Christ calls us to ask the Father to forgive our debts, presumably our debts owed to Him. But what debt do we owe God? The answer is a sin debt. Each one of our sins is committed in offense to God, who is holy and eternal. David, after committing adultery and murder, prayed to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” He knew, of course, that his sin hurt others, but he also recognized the greater truth that God was most offended. Sins against people are also sins against God, in part, because God made people in His image. Murder is the defiling of God’s image, and God takes direct offense. But even more than offense, sin is disobedience, the breaking of His commands. Sin is, therefore, an act of open rebellion against God, and the punishment, since God is eternal, must also be eternal. We rebel against the Infinite One, and we suffer an infinite punishment, a never-ending debt.
Fortunately, God answers this exceedingly bad news with good news. Though God could not simply forgive sin without the penalty being paid (Prov. 17:15), He provided a way to both maintain His justice and display His mercy and grace toward us. God came to earth, taking on human flesh, becoming one of us. He then lived a perfect life, entirely without sin (the first and only person to accomplish that feat). Even though He did not deserve death as we did, He willingly suffered death by crucifixion in our place. He took our debt upon Himself. The infinite God absorbed our infinite punishment at the cost of His blood. Jesus, therefore, ransomed our lives with His, and with His resurrection, He secured the sole right to forgive us of that debt.
We can only ask God’s forgiveness in Christ’s name and by His death and resurrection. There is no other means of forgiveness. But we must also be humble enough to accept forgiveness. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking that endless guilt is an act of humility; however, believing we are beyond forgiveness is actually arrogance and pride. Theologian R. C. Sproul writes, “When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.”
But we must also go further. If we have been forgiven of our infinite debt by God, we also cannot withhold forgiveness of lesser sin debts that others owe us. Matthew 18:21-35 is a parable of a man who is forgiven of a gigantic debt and then refuses to forgive a much smaller debt. The man ends up being punished severely because of his lack of grace. Recipients of grace must also be givers of grace.
Meditate upon Matthew 18:23-35 and think of any people that you need to forgive. Consciously choose to forgive them, even if you must continue to choose forgiving them each day.
Pray for forgiveness of your own sins, asking the Lord for grace to turn away from committing those sins again.