Introducing the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”
In this fifth petition, we ask our Father for what we need in the life to come: the forgiveness of our sins. When we receive by faith His forgiveness, our Father’s name is hallowed among us, His kingdom has come to us and His will is accomplished in us.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Protestants in traditions which have eliminated daily or weekly corporate and individual confession and absolution may find this particular petition a little puzzling at first. I have heard questions similar to these: Did our Father not forgive all my sins (past, present and future) when I first believed in Christ? Why should I ask for the same forgiveness over again?
Actually, our Father forgave all our sins when Jesus died for them on the cross. “For If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:10) Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against all sin on the cross. “It is finished.” (John 19:30).
But, if God’s wrath against sin was satisfied on the cross, a problem still remains on our side (pre-conversion): How do we know we are forgiven? How do we know that for the sake of Christ we have a gracious God? We still do not know God as Father. We are by nature enemies of God (Rom 5:10). We are like the prodigal son who is away in the far country. We need our minds changed towards God. But how?
The answer is that God must take the initiative. He must find us through the proclamation of the Gospel for us. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” (Luke 15:6) The miracle that repents us, reconciles us to God, converts our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, is receiving by faith the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, and, for His sake, God has forgiven us all our sins. Then, we have peace with God and a Father to whom we can pray.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)
Because our sinful nature still clings to us, even after initial conversion, the Christian life is one of daily repentance, of turning back to our Father with contrition and receiving His free grace. Even Jesus’ disciples, when beset with the sin of pride, were admonished by our Lord to “turn and become like children….”
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14)
The sinful nature in the Christian is like a “natural person [who] does not accept the things of the Spirit”. It desires to turn us away from our Father to go back to the far country, to existence without a Father. When Christians sin, it is our sinful nature at work turning and moving us away from our Father. Sin is a sign of unbelief. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23) Sin separates us from God. The longer our sins go unaddressed, the more difficult it becomes for us to pray to our Father. Unaddressed sin hardens the heart against God.
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Prov 28:13)
Therefore, we have a daily need to turn with a contrite heart from our sins to the free grace of our Father for the forgiveness of our sins and the renewal of our lives. Jesus has given us this petition – forgive us our trespasses… – so that we may daily examine our lives, confess our sins to our Father and receive forgiveness. The forgiveness of sins turns us back to our Father with a clear conscience and gives us the confidence to pray to Him as Father for all our needs.
We should never be ashamed of our weaknesses or of our need for daily forgiveness. Remember, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:8) Therefore, let us trust God’s holy Word: “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)
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:14-15)
Following the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus appended this short commentary on the fifth petition. He teaches repeatedly throughout the Gospels the importance of forgiveness between people. Earlier I described how sin separates us from God; but sin also separates us from each other. If forgiveness is the one thing which heals the rift between God and people, it follows that forgiveness is the essential element which heals the rift between people.
This petition teaches us to see our fellow human beings the way Jesus sees them – as people for whose sins He also died and to whom our Father’s arms also extend with grace and forgiveness. As Jesus illustrated in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, our debt to God, which He forgives, is infinitely greater than any debt owed to us by our neighbor.
Therefore, the second half of this petition – as we forgive those who trespass against us – is our pledge to God that we have forgiven our neighbors’ trespasses against us. Further, we ask our Father to hold us accountable for making good on our pledge. Our forgiveness of our neighbors’ trespasses against us signifies that we truly believe that our Father has forgiven us our trespasses against Him.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Ps 51:10-12) Amen.
Next week we will continue with the sixth petition: “Lead us not into temptation.”
Copyright © 2016 Jean Dragon – All rights reserved.