Luke 11:4 "And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us."
Once a person remarked about forgiveness:
"forgiveness is a great act for everyone to practice until I personally have to do it."
The most familiar prayer in the Bible is the Lord's prayer. Each line is packed full of truth taught by Jesus about prayer. In this post we consider that part of the Lord’s prayer that deals with the matter of forgiveness. Forgiveness, at its core, means: “to let go”. Confession of sins in forgiveness is crucial to maintaining fellowship with God, with others and ourselves. Let’s explore three angles when asking for forgiveness
Ask God for forgiveness.
This first angle at looking at forgiveness deals with our fellowship with God. Jesus never divorces our confession of sins to God from how we treat others. Luke 11:4 records Jesus' words: "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." Who of us has ever experienced that sense of "indebtedness" to someone? Forgiveness addresses the weight of our guilt, shame and "indebtedness" we incurred as a result of our actions against another. Whenever forgiveness is sought with God, the desire is for a "clearing away" of whatever is preventing closeness with God.
As already noted, Jesus never separates the "vertical" element of one's fellowship and relationship with God from the "horizontal" level of our relationship to others. Matthew's version of this prayer records these words in Matthew 6:14-15
"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
More will be said in a moment on this score. Seeking forgiveness in prayer clears away obstacles. Restores clarity and closeness with God. 1 John 1:5-9 describes this point:
"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself 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 that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
So as we ask God for forgiveness in prayer, we need to have the readiness to forgive others. Forgiving others is so closely associated with God's forgiveness that they are scarcely mentioned apart from one another in the Bible.
Jesus tells an illuminating parable of a servant seeking forgiveness of a debt from his master. The indebtedness was quite substantial for the servant. After much pleading with his master, the master grants the servant a reprieve. However, no sooner is he absolved of his insurmountable debt than to go out demanding repayment of a much smaller sum owed to him by a fellow-servant. The other servants are so offended by this turn of events that they report it to the master, who in turn reverses his original decision. The point Jesus is making is that in experiencing God's forgiveness, the number one fruit ought to involve the willingness to forgive others that wrong us (see Mt 18:21-35).
Too often in our church-life do we find Christians operating in resentment. Such a terrible spiritual condition is what the Bible calls "taking up offense". If not remedied, the offended Christian can practically begin to think-like, act -like and relate-like an unbeliever. Forgiveness is not only for the sake of the other person, but also for the healing of our own hearts. Jesus urges his disciples to forgive as often as they can (Luke 17:3-4).
To knowingly withhold forgiveness from someone fails to give evidence of one's conversion. The Apostle John warns us in 1 John 4:19-21
"We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."
Forgive yourself? Instead, accept God’s forgiveness.
In today's post we have considered the importance of forgiveness in one's prayer-life. We've looked at asking for God's forgiveness and making sure we exercise forgiveness to others. One last area is important before closing out this post: the subject of forgiving ourselves. This oft-cited sentiment is found throughout our culture. People coming to terms with what they did in the past involves the so-called act of "forgiving oneself".
The question is: is forgiving oneself Biblical? If not, what appropriate alternative might there be? The simple answer is to receive the forgiveness already won for you by Jesus Christ. John MacArthur notes that self-forgiveness won't do any good, since we have no ability to do away with the guilt and shame we carry around apart from Christ's work applied by faith. We read in Colossians 3:13
"bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."
Peace in the soul is not found in a bottle, a pill or in escape through social media. The cross confronts me with what I've done and bids me to acknowledge what Jesus has done for me through letting go of any effort to "self-atone" for past indiscretions. This is why I love 1 John 1:9, wherein we read that not only is Jesus "just and faithful to forgive me", but also "to cleanse me" of the effects brought about by my sin. So whenever Jesus urges us to pray for forgiveness, we do so with the idea to restore fellowship or closeness with God, with others and to receive all Jesus did to attain peace in our hearts.