Matthew 6: 12, 14-15
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
A debt is something that is legally due, something owed, a duty. The Greek word is opheilēma, one
of five Greek words in the New Testament used for our word, sin. Sin, in this usage, reflects a failure of duty. None of us can say that we have completely fulfilled our duty to God. We all fall short.
In order for us to have a relationship with God, we must, first, recognize our sins. It seems that we can readily see the sins of others but have trouble recognizing or admitting our own. Jesus, in Matthew 7:3 asks, "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" The Holy Spirit leads us into faith and then convicts us of our sins and continues to convict us the rest of our lives....if we listen. It is possible for us to quench the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells us explicitly never to do this. Our salvation depend upon it.
After we recognize our sins we must repent. Repentance is not saying we are sorry in the way children apologize to a brother or sister. Repentance (metanoia) means having a change of heart, which means we also have a corresponding change in behavior. Repentance, then, is a turning away from our old ways, a turning away from our old relationships if they had a bad influence on us, a turning away from our old thoughts. With God's help (which we seek each day) we are made new- new ways, new friends, new thoughts. And if and when we sin again, we repent again. And we ask for forgiveness.
How many times will God forgive us? God's forgiveness is infinite and when we sincerely ask for it we shall receive it. This is hard to believe, but we must have the assurance of this. Not believing this can hinder our relationship with God and our growth as Christians. One of the largest hindrances that can stand in a people's way of having a deep and abiding relationship with God is the belief that their pasts cannot be forgiven; their sins cannot be washed away. But it is true. When we repent, we stand before God as a new creature and our past sins are forgotten, as if they were never committed.
However, there is one more thing. In order for God to forgive our sins, we must live a life of forgiveness. We must forgive others. When we pray the Lord's prayer and we have not forgiven others for their sins against us, we are asking God not to forgive us our sins.
People tend to take the forgiveness of others lightly, thinking that it is ok for them to harbor a grudge or remain angry at the actions of others. But the forgiveness of others should not be taken lightly since it is essential for our salvation.
There are several aspects of our forgiveness of others that we should consider:
1. How many times are we to forgive others? Jesus tell's Peter that there is no limit (Matthew 18:21). Why? Because this is the way God treats us; not because we necessarily deserve it, but because God is merciful and full of grace.
2. Our forgiveness of others is not contingent upon them asking for forgiveness. Too often I hear people say, "They are not sorry, so I cannot forgive them." Christ's cry on the cross "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing" serves as a model for us.
3. Forgiveness of others may take time. Before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote: "I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my youth. I had done it many times before, but this time I think I have really done it." Forgiving someone who wronged us may be a long process. But what is important is that we make up our minds to forgive that person. And over time, after many, many times of saying "I forgive you," we may actually be free of that heavy burden.
4. Forgiveness of others does not require our forgetting. In Isaiah 43:25 God says, "I am he who blots out your transgression and I will not remember your sins." But we are not God. There is absolutely no way that we can forget the abuse and harm suffered at the hands of another. But we can will ourselves to forgive them. Forgiveness frees us from the anger and hate that have weighed us down and held us back in our relationship with God and is indispensable to the life and health of our souls.
Tomorrow we study the time of trial.