In this section of Jesus’ prayer, He tells His disciples to pray “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In this prayer Jesus teaches them about Prayers of Confession: the need to be forgiven and to forgive.
Forgive Us Our Sins
When we become a Christian, God forgives all our sins. This includes all our past, present, and future sins. Colossians 2:13-14 says that God “forgave us all our trespasses…He erased the certificate of debt…and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.” With all our sins already forgiven, why does Jesus tell His followers–who are already forgiven–to pray “Forgive us our debts”? We must understand two key theological terms: Justification and Sanctification.
Justification occurs when an unbeliever confesses their sin and receives the grace of God through faith in Jesus (see Eph 2:8). The unbeliever, who has sin deserving of death (Rom 6:23), becomes a believer, who has been “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). When a sinner is justified, he is declared righteous by God. This righteousness is not his own, but the righteousness of Christ which He freely gives. A Christian is righteous in God’s sight because he now has a right standing before Him and is no longer in rebellion. Romans 5:1 says, “Having been justified, we now have peace with God.” Romans 8:1 says of those who are justified, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Justification by faith is very important because it is the heart of the gospel.
Whereas, Justification is a one time event that happens upon faith in Jesus; Sanctification is an ongoing process after one has been justified in which the one justified becomes more like Jesus. Justification says you are God’s son and Sanctification is the process in which you become more like God’s Son, Jesus. Jesus’ prayer in Luke 11:4 instructs us that an important part of Sanctification is the habitual confession of one’s sins. It is through the confession of our sins that we draw closer to God and He corrects and adjusts us to be more like Christ. David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” An old Puritan prayer says: “Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.”
Confession is important because it keeps us close to Christ and helps us not be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). We are in a battle and tragically we often battle against ourselves. If anyone tells you to follow your heart, tell them Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Christians must regularly confess their sins to God.
What Does Genuine Confession Look like?
When we confess our sins to God and to those we have sinned against, we must make sure it is genuine and heartfelt. Christian counselor Judy Dabler defines true confession as:
- Describing specifically your sinful words, actions, attitudes, and their impact,
- Expressing responsibility and sorrow,
- Engaging the consequences by asking the offended party for what they need,
- Describing what you should have done differently and what you intend to do differently,
- Seeking forgiveness by asking for it.
Phony confessions usually include an “If, then” statement. For example, “If I have…, then I’m sorry” or it may just be “I’m sorry you were offended/hurt.” This is not genuine confession because the person saying it is not actually admitting wrongdoing, they are just sorry someone took offense.
For We Forgive Everyone Indebted to Us
After He instructed His followers to pray for God to forgive their sins; He then told them to pray, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus ties the two together because we should only ask God to forgive our sins after we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness is a spiritual indicator of faith. If you can’t forgive someone who wronged you, your faith is either little or none. Remember, that Jesus is speaking of forgiving others as a part of Sanctification. God is not going to “unjustify” you if you have not forgiven someone. But, the one who has been justified by God knows the power and importance of forgiveness and must always be willing to forgive. This is an integral part of Sanctification. A Christian is a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). A Christian must put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (Col 3:8). Christians should be “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col 3:13).
What does Genuine Forgiveness look like?
Genuine forgiveness is powerful and necessary. Mrs. Dabler defines true forgiveness as:
- Active choice to release the offender from their debt, out of gratitude for God’s forgiveness through Christ,
- Act of faith in God’s sovereignty and justice,
- Act of love that covers “a multitude of sins”,
- Act of obedience because we are commanded to forgive,
- Covenantal promise that is lived out.
Why Should I Forgive?
Forgive because you understand and are grateful for the forgiveness you have received through Christ. Forgive because God commands you to forgive. Remember, forgiveness frees you to serve God. We are to forgive as God has forgiven you (Col 3:13).
How do I Forgive & Reconcile?
Conflict is inevitable. Having said that, a clear sign of Christian maturity is not how well you avoid conflict, but how you respond to conflict. Immature Christians are quickly offended and slow to forgive; whereas mature Christians are slow to take offense and quick to forgive. When you sin against someone, go to them ASAP. If someone has sinned against you, choose to forgive them. Christians should always forgive and there are times when we must approach someone who has sinned against us in order to reconcile and restore the relationship. As you consider how to approach someone who has sinned against you, keep the following in mind: Here is a 4 Step Road Map for Biblical Confrontation: (from Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands)
- Consideration. What does God want the person to see?
- Confession. What does God want the person to admit and confess?
- Commitment. To what new ways of living is God calling this person?
- Change. How should these new commitments be applied to daily living?
Is there anyone that you refuse to talk to? Is there anyone you refuse to forgive? Are you disobeying God’s command to forgive? If so, you need to dwell on Christ’s sacrifice for you and God’s forgiveness of your sin and rebellion against Him. Pray and ask God to help you forgive. Ask someone you respect to help you and hold you accountable.
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