“‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’” – Matthew 6:12
The Lord’s Prayer – Fifth Petition
Forgiveness of sins is so important to our life, our hope, and our faith that Jesus teaches us to pray in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our debts. Our debt to God is the enormous number of sins which we commit in our lifetime—all that we do to offend God’s holiness and all that we fail to do according to his will. Included are not only the sins which we commit in thought, word and deed, but also our sinful condition with which we are born. Can we ever pay this great debt? Not a chance!
That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness. This is “an appeal to God not to regard our sins and punish us as we daily deserve, but to deal graciously with us, forgive as he has promised, and thus grant us a happy and cheerful conscience to stand before him in prayer” (Martin Luther: The Large Catechism). Our appeal in this petition is based on the confidence that God richly and daily forgives our sins through Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from all sin.
It happens in this life that others offend us. People are not perfect. Friends will hurt us by what they say. Spouses will act unkindly. Others will take advantage of us. We live in a sinful world filled with sinful people, and at times we will be targeted by sinful actions or words. Jesus teaches us that as God was willing to forgive the huge debt of our sin, we are to forgive others in response to God’s love.
When we forgive people for wrongs that they did against us, we assure them that we don’t hold the matter against them and that our relationship with them in the future will not be affected by anything that they did. Forgiving someone in that way is a difficult thing to do. Our natural self wants to get even, and we have a hard time forgetting about the matter that affected us so deeply.
The only way that we can learn how to forgive freely and fully is to focus on the forgiveness that we have from God through Jesus. Because Jesus willingly took the blame for our sin, God does not hold us accountable for the guilt of our many offenses against him. And he promises that our relationship with him will always be peaceful because he will remember our sins no more.
How blessed we are that God shows us such great mercy! One way that we can show him our gratitude is to be forgiving toward others as he has forgiven us. In this regard, Jesus gives a warning: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are stubborn to forgive others when they commit an offense against us, we can’t expect God to bless us with the forgiveness of all the sins that we have committed against him. Our stubbornness reveals how we are resisting God’s love and are not following his will.
To be forgiven by God is a never-ending need. We can’t confidently walk through today and step into tomorrow without the assurance of God’s forgiveness. To be forgiving toward others is a continuing virtue that we strive to practice as a fitting response to God’s merciful love. Without forgiveness, we cannot live in loving harmony with God; without a forgiving spirit, we can’t live in peaceful accord with people.