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The Lord’s Prayer, Part 9

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) By debts, Jesus is not referring to financial indebtedness, but our sins. The New Living Translation renders this verse, “And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Just prior to modeling this prayer, Jesus reminded His listeners, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) If God knows what we need before we ask Him, then why ask? We ask God because it’s fitting to do so.

As we read or pray this prayer, it would be easy for us to see our “daily bread” or the “forgiveness of our debts” as the focal things, but they aren’t. The focal thing in this prayer is God and our relationship with Him. When we express our need to Him for bread and for forgiveness, we interact with Him in a way that cultivates our relationship with Him and acknowledges who He is. God is not merely the “bread-Giver” or “Forgiver,” He is our Father. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

I also recently heard someone claim that if one is “in Christ,” then that person is already forgiven all past, present and future sins and need no longer ask forgiveness. This statement is an attempt to reduce our relationship with God to mere dogma or theology. Think of this in terms of relationship instead. If a husband says, “I don’t need to tell my wife I love her, she already knows that,” he is depriving his wife and himself of the expression of and cultivation of their love relationship. The same is true for us if we say we don’t need to ask God forgiveness.

When we sin, we need to confess our sins, humble ourselves before God and ask His forgiveness. Sin rifts any relationship. Forgiveness repairs that rift. Theologically we know that God will forgive us before we ask Him, but experientially we need to ask Him. We need to express our sorrow over sin and resolve to love and follow Him. This is all necessary for a healthy relationship. (See 1 John 1:9.)

But there is a second part of this prayer of forgiveness. We’ve already asked for God’s kingdom to rule in our hearts and lives. One of the ways we live that out most fully is by forgiving others when they sin against us. We want to be like our Father, who is loving, long-suffering and forgiving. Can we really expect Him to forgive us if we refuse to forgive others? In fact, shortly after this prayer, Jesus commented, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

A friend who discipled me many years ago coached me to “keep short accounts” with God and with others. What he meant was to attend to our relationships in such a way that we would never be harboring ill-will toward someone or withholding forgiveness from someone. In this same spirit we pray to our heavenly Father, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

©2011 Rob Fischer