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Forgive But Only If

Ewen trains evangelists by teaching the Bible to students at Edith Cowan University.


12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

We have a debt to pay

It shouldn’t surprise us when the Bible presents a grim view of humanity. No other species on earth has the propensity to mistreat others like people do. After all, no one locks their doors at night in fear of killer kangaroos. While everyone disavows the actions of the corrupt, few would admit a liability that they themselves bear. We delight in exposing the depravity of others but balk when the spotlight turns to us. Even so, when we ourselves are subject to the scrutiny of the Bible, the result is grim indeed. For the Bible is resolutely clear. We are guilty.

Forgive us our debts/sins/transgressions (depending on translation) implies that we are morally deficient. Whether it’s by wilful aggression or careless omission, no one is immune from moral failure. Where God is concerned, we are morally bankrupt. Hence, Jesus teaches us to pray forgive us our debts.

God is the one we’ve wronged

That Jesus teaches us to seek forgiveness from God also highlights another important truth. Even though we may have wronged our fellow human beings, it is ultimately God whom we have offended. Firstly, because God is perfect and we have failed to live up to what we ought. But secondly, since we are all God’s creatures, any insult to the creature is an insult to the creator. Even more so when we consider that we are God’s children. This is why King David could say he sinned against God even though his actions were directed toward other people (Psalm 51:4). And so it is from God that we must seek forgiveness.

Do what now?

Our prayer for forgiveness must come after we have forgiven those who have wronged us. The grammatical structure of the two lines make this clear. Just in case we attempt to misconstrue it, the next few verses leave no room for doubt.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It would seem that our forgiveness is contingent on us granting forgiveness to others. But does that sound right? How sincere would it be anyway if I forgive someone in order to attain forgiveness for myself? Besides that, what does forgiveness entail? If someone stole money from me, I could absorb the loss and not pursue the matter. But what if a spouse commits a marital affair? Or what if a person’s reputation gets assailed by baseless accusations? Forgiveness in many cases aren’t just difficult, they are incredibly complex. Rather than absolve us, this should spur us on to seek forgiveness all the more.

How to obey

Let’s face it. No human being is capable of perfect forgiveness. This verse ought not discourage us but motivate us to look beyond ourselves. Even though we can’t, there is someone who can and who has. Consider Jesus Christ who when He was brutally nailed to the cross forgave his attackers (Luke 23:34). There is no doubt that when Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray in this way, He knew that the time would soon come when He Himself would have to embody this very verse. Jesus Christ is the one who perfectly forgave those who have sinned against Him and achieved forgiveness from God, not for Himself, but for us.

12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

We need it. Jesus lived it. Praise God for all that He has done.