Our Greatest Need: Forgiveness

Matthew 6:9b-15 9b “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.11 Give us this day our daily bread,12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 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.

This is such a good time of the year for us to study this prayer together. We are already, I hope, thinking much about Christ Jesus, His coming and His future return and now we read the Lord’s prayer which reminds us that we can pray, we are commanded to pray as followers of Jesus who has come and who will come! Our relationship with the Father is possible and a reality for many of us here because Jesus came. If there were no Savior, there would be no need for prayer. If Jesus had not come there would be no reason for us to pray, prayer would fall on deaf ears. But with Jesus we have this very real entrance into the presence of the God of all creation, we have His ear and He wants to hear from us…and so we pray! Today our focus will be on verse 12 and verses 14 and 15. They go well together and verses 14 and 15 help us to see the important significance of verse 12. Verse 12 says:

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

And verses 14 and 15 read like this:

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.

Both speak of forgiveness. Our greatest need as humans is forgiveness of sin. Without forgiveness of sin we would not benefit from any other aspect of salvation. In fact there would be no salvation apart from forgiveness that God offers to us through Jesus Christ. The cost of forgiveness is also quite high. The blood of Christ was the price, God offering up His own Son was the price. One important truth for us to remember regarding forgiveness is this…sin makes us guilty and guilt of sin brings judgement. This is the human dilemma. We as people are guilty of sin, we are sinners. This is not a popular theme today. We are a society that is really confused about sin and what sin is and really many are living today who think they are not sinners. The right way to live seems to be follow your heart, be true to yourself and if you live that way then you are living right or sin free. The problem there is the definition of sin. What is sin? Sin is breaking or violating God’s standards not some internal personal standard. But today everything seems to be more and more about what individuals consider good and bad, right and wrong, evil or righteous. But in the end being true to yourself will only get you eternal punishment in hell. It is God’s way that matters eternally. He is God and His standard is what will rule eternally. Romans 6:23 says this:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If this verse is true, and it is, then we must be clear on what sin is. Because its wages are death, spiritual death, separation from God for eternity. Sin is not what we may imagine it to be. It is what God says that it is. Romans 3:10 -18 says this:

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is man’s predicament. And while many try to overcome their sin problem in their own way, there, in reality, is only one way to deal with sin and it’s judgement. And this is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness, what I will call judicial forgiveness, is God wiping our record of sin clean. It is God setting us free from the penalty of our sin. This is incredible and it is complete in a legal sense. Here is how complete it is...in Jeremiah 31:34 we read this: “I will remember their sins no more.” So forgiveness is taking our sins away. It is like if I had a ledger in my hand of all the debt you owe to your bank or credit card company and whomever else, and I paid all those debts for you so there is no debt left for you to pay, all your debt would be paid, there would be none left. This is what God does for us through Jesus. Jesus paid our debt and as we receive Him our account is paid, it is cleared, it is gone. Isaiah 53:6 says our iniquities were laid on Christ. This is what we call judicial forgiveness. It is forgiveness that is part of our justification. When we are truly saved, we are forgiven, our sins taken away, hidden with Christ to be remembered no more. This is true forgiveness of our debt of sin. Isaiah 43:25 “I am he who blots out your sin.” Christ Jesus died for our sin, this is judicial forgiveness. You then can never stand before the judge of the universe and be declared guilty, it is complete. Christ is the solution to our sin problem.

Now having said that we need to also remember, as if we need reminding, that even after salvation, we go on sinning, we are still sinners. Our sins won’t send us to hell but we still sin. We have been judicially forgiven and yet we still sin. What is this about and is there something we should do about it? Since we still sin, though it should be more infrequently, we need more than judicial forgiveness. We also need relational forgiveness. This prayer, as we have discussed, describes God as our Father, He is not just our judge but is also our Father. He has forgiven us as a judge but we need His relational forgiveness as our Father. When we sin, as believers and children of God, it affects our relationship with Him. Just like if I sin against you it will affect my relationship with you. Let me show you this. In 1 John 1:3-10 John writes this:

3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

John preached Christ so that many would receive judicial forgiveness and know God, experience forgiveness of sin through Jesus. Now, notice verse 5:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

This passage is about fellowship. It is written to believers. The message is that we do sin as Christians and we should keep on asking forgiveness from the Lord for the sake of our relationship of fellowship with Him, not for our eternal salvation. Judicially we are forgiven when we accept Christ, but relationally we should continue to confess and seek His forgiveness. In John 13 we see an interesting illustration of this. You may remember the scene. Jesus is with His disciples in the upper room and he gets up, gets a bowl and towel and proceeds to wash the disciples feet. Jesus got to Peter with the bowl and towel and Peter protests in verse 8:

8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, Jesus responds: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter then said: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

We can follow Peter’s thought here. Lord, if washing my feet is what will make us close then go ahead and wash all of me. Not just my feed but my hands and my head too. Like if a little is good then a lot more will be even better! But notice Jesus’ response:

10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…

What does this mean? Jesus was saying, you are already clean, you have already been redeemed, you are already righteous by faith, I just need to keep the dirt off your feet. They had already been spiritually bathed with judicial forgiveness, washing his feet was to keep the fulness of their relationship open, this was relationship cleaning, relationship forgiveness. Now, I need to jump down to verses 14 and 15 because they tie in here:

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

Forgiveness is not just a matter between us and God but also between people. We are to pray: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. First, I want to say a few things about what forgiveness looks like between two people. We read in Ephesians 4:32:

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

And so we see first that we are to forgive others and secondly that we should forgive as God forgives us. How does God forgive us? Well, we have talked about that already. In Jeremiah we read that He chooses to no longer remember our sins, or you could say He does not hold our sins over us. If we are going to forgive in like manner to how we are forgiven then forgiveness is a promise that we make to others. If we say, I forgive you, and we mean it the way God forgives us then we are making some promises. We promise: not to dwell on the other person's sin and our hurt, not to hold that person’s sin over them, that means we treat them as if they have not sinned against us. We also promise not to then gossip to others about their sin and we promise not to keep bringing their sin up with them. These are ways that God forgives us. Let me talk briefly about each of these. When I say we are not to dwell on the other’s sin that is not to rehearse it over and over again in our minds. God says He will not remember our sins. This is a willful act on His part not to dwell on our sin. We all know the harm this does to relationships. If all I dwell on is your sin, this will affect everything about our relationship together. We must let that go as we obediently forgive. When I say we don’t hold a person's sin over them what I mean is that we don’t, like every time that person walks into the room our contenance doesn’t change, does not drop. We don’t get in a foul mood because they are near. We treat them kindly, we treat them with a loving spirit, we do what is best for them.

When I say we don’t gossip about their sin that means we don’t try to bring them harm in other people's eyes. We don’t say things like, “...you’ll never believe what so and so did!” Now this does not mean we can’t seek counsel about another person or we can’t tell others who may be in harm's way, or we don’t notify the authorities about a crime. It simply means we don’t talk to others about the person just to talk badly about them or for no godly reason. Lastly, we don’t constantly bring the matter up with the person we have forgiven. We don’t run them down over their sin. This doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it in a way so that both can grow in Christ or to help them, it just means we don’t bring it up again and again in a way where all parties can’t move forward. And so forgiveness includes these promises to other people. Many times, really all the time, we need God’s help with this, we need God to help us truly forgive others in a biblical way.

Now what about this matter of necessary forgiveness or God will not forgive us? Is God giving us this as a condition to salvation? Is God saying you just come to Christ by faith and forgive others as a work necessary for salvation? No, not at all. I think the point here is that Christians are forgiving. Forgiveness is not optional for Christians. Christians are those who understand the depths of their own forgiveness, of their own sinfulness and having known such forgiveness, are then willing to forgive others. The world does not understand such forgiveness but we all should! And so a fruit of salvation is that we will chose to forgive others as we have been forgiven. And so, verses 14 and 15 make sense.

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.

For the person who says, “I will never forgive,” he or she must look deep within and consider if they have really been forgiven themselves. If we chose to stubbornly not forgive, then perhaps we are not in Christ at all. In that case we aren’t forgiven and we therefore do not have an ability to biblically forgive others. Forgiveness is so important for our salvation and for our relationship with God and with other people. We are called to seek forgiveness and to forgive others who sin against us. I would urge you you to consider whether you are perhaps refusing to forgive someone. If you are will you consider how much you have been forgiven? Will you think on how God has forgiven you at the cost of His Son’s death on the cross? If that does not move you then take the next step and ask yourself if perhaps you have really come to Christ by faith? Are you in Christ? Our ability to forgive is possible as the Spirit of God moves in us. It is a supernatural work. One last thing before we end. Forgiving another person is not some kind of admission that what they have done against you was ok. Sin is never ok. But it is giving it over to God to deal with that person however He choses. God judges the heart, not us. We are commanded to forgive.

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 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.