Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:12b “. . .us our debts,. . .”
Blessed are all who realize we owe God for each second we live and every breath we take. When my son was born, Dr. James Seese, a Godly Christian physician, said, “Preacher, learn a lesson. Your son drew his first breath not from within himself, but from outside himself, from God’s atmosphere.” God’s moment by moment sustenance of us should spawn in us a debt of gratitude which ever increases a sensed debt of duty. We should realize every second is owed to be lived for God, and when we fail to fulfill our debt of duty, we develop a debt of default.
As we draw closer to God, we become more sensitive to our spiritual debt at every level–gratitude, duty, default. As we grow more mindful of our debts of gratitude and duty, the more sensitive we become to how often we are guilty of the debt of default. We begin to feel we never have done, and never can do, enough for God. In a maturing believer the sense of debt becomes such an overwhelming fact of life that one constantly senses a need to call on God to ask His forgiveness.
This regular acknowledgement of sin does not mean we dwell in morbid introspection. We are optimistic, not pessimistic. Our admission of sin is a vehicle God uses to convey us to a more intimate closeness with Himself. Our motive is never fear of condemnation. At the moment of conversion we are granted a legal forgiveness for all sins–past, present, future; our condemnation is forever legally removed. After conversion we admit sins in order to receive personal forgiveness. A believer’s only fear is the loss of God’s smile. Sin causes a believer’s relationship with God to be disturbed, not destroyed; marred and muddled, but not broken.
Our text should comfort all who daily, yea hourly, find new failure in themselves. Though our text assumes we are regularly guilty of sin, it also assures pardon. Sadly, people tend to make forgiveness a thing hard to obtain. Most deal with guilt by trying some type of penance, seeking to earn merit or favor by compensating in some way for their sin. This is a seriously flawed, impossible, and useless scenario. Since all of life is owed to God, no time is left to make up for lost time. We cannot borrow from one moment to pay for the failure of another.
The only way to find forgiveness is the Biblically prescribed method. Jesus tells us to swallow our pride–this precludes acts of penance–be sorry for our sins, turn from them, and straightforwardly ask Him for free and full forgiveness. No deals, no games, no peddling. God never taunts us, hawks us, or wants us to buy His favor. He is a forgiver, not a merchant. Nehemiah (9:17 NAS) said, “Thou art a God of forgiveness.” John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (JN 1:29). Forgiveness of sin is the very thing Jesus came to make possible. Even in this prayer He gave us, Jesus included a phrase which forces us to ask constantly for forgiveness. It is, as it were, His stock in trade, what He specializes in, and wants to do. We do not have to pry it from Him, we merely have to be sorry for our sin and request His forgiveness.
If we truly ask for pardon, God grants it immediately. Consequences abide, but Jesus’ smile shines on us again as if we never sinned. God, in His book, crosses out the black lines of our sins with the red lines of His Son’s blood (Trapp).
This sounds too easy, too good to be true. Even if convinced of God’s delight to forgive, we still have nagging questions about ourselves. How can we be sure we are seeking forgiveness in the right spirit and attitude? Are our humility and repentance genuine? Jesus, knowing we would worry about our own motives, presses ahead to give a test whereby we can be assured our requests are legitimate.
Matt. 6:12c “. . .as we forgive. . .”
We are not left to merely our own subjective feelings when testing the validity of our spirit and attitude, and the sincerity of our humility and repentance. In this text Jesus gives a litmus test we can apply to ourselves to know for sure if our prayers for forgiveness are legitimate or spurious. The same frame of mind which spawns an authentic request to be forgiven also creates a willingness to forgive.
If our spirit and attitude are right, and our humility and repentance genuine, we will deem our own sins against God as much more serious than any wrongs committed by others against us. God has far more to forgive each of us for than any of us will ever have to forgive anyone else. This is not to minimize the severity or seriousness of the hurt others cause us. The issue is, what is done against us affronts humanity, whereas what is done against God affronts deity. We are sinners, He is perfect. We are clay, He is the Potter. Therefore, the debt owed to us by others will always be infinitesimally small compared to what we owe to God.
People unwilling to forgive prove they do not realize the staggering load of their debt to God, and give evidence they have no appreciation for what Jesus had to pour out for them at Calvary. Such people cannot be right spiritually, for they do not begin to have even a clue as to how much forgiveness they need from God.
This miscalculation pinpoints a prime reason many fail to live an abundant and victorious Christian life. Power and blessing cannot flow from God apart from His ongoing forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness from Him if we forgive not others. This is the very reason many Christians have had no power for years.
Our text teaches a principle simple to state: we can be forgiven only if willing to forgive. We can do no real praying for forgiveness until we have forgiven others. Robert Louis Stevenson conducted family worship for his household every morning, and concluded each service with the Lord’s Prayer. One morning Stevenson, feeling anger toward someone, rose from his knees and left the room in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. An unforgiving spirit was blocking his way to God’s power. His wife, fearing he was sick, followed him and asked, “Is anything wrong?” He replied, “Only this, I am not fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer today.”
There is no virtue in repeating the Lord’s Prayer mechanically. Its every phrase is intended to call us to absolute humility and surrender. “Forgive us our debts” reminds us we have all been forgiven by God often, freely, and fully. All who most realize this truth find it easiest to forgive others. The more conscious we are of our own failure before God, the easier it will be for us to forgive others.