“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12 nasb
At last we come to a section of the Lord’s prayer that’s often easier said than done. We all want forgiveness for our own sins, but offering the same gift of forgiveness to those who wound us is not always easy. We’ll take a quick look at the key words in this verse before we tackle the nuts and bolts of a hard question. Do we have to forgive to be forgiven?
FORGIVE: This word comes from two root words meaning “separation” and “send.” It literally means to let go of a debt by not demanding it. When forgiven, the debt owed is completely cancelled. (1) This word can be used in regard to a debt of any kind, including a sin debt. When “forgive” is used concerning sin, it indicates both the removal of the penalty related to the sinful action and no lingering debt owed. It is this level of forgiveness by which God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)
DEBTS: This word can mean either sin debt or a monetary debt. (2)
DEBTORS: A debtor is one who has not yet made payment to the one to whom he owes a debt or has not made restitution to someone he’s injured in some way (whether a physical or emotional injury). (3)
Scripture makes a few things very clear about our need for forgiveness.
Why forgive? We have a sin problem and only Jesus can fix it.
- We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).
- The price of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
- Jesus offers a relationship with Him as well as eternal life but it is only possible when we repent of our sins and follow Him. (Mark 1:14,15)
- When we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
We must confess our sins to receive forgiveness, but confession is more than saying, “I did it.” It requires repentance, or sincere sorrow for the action, and a commitment not to do it again.
No one wants to spend an eternity in hell so the opportunity to have our own sin forgiven is very attractive, isn’t it? Unfortunately, we want to receive as much grace and mercy as possible but we are not always as eager to extend the same grace and mercy to someone who has wounded us. When we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive others, we acknowledge our own need to forgive.
No unforgiving people in the kingdom of God
John Piper has said, “There are no unforgiving people in the Kingdom of God.” (4) His words shock and jolt me. Can this be true? If we look closely at Scripture, we see it is what Jesus intends. Those who are forgiven must forgive. It’s the simple. It’s that hard.
Lack of forgiveness leads to a root of bitterness and is among the most unattractive attitudes possible. Bitterness in our lives rarely goes unnoticed and never draws people to Christ. Has anyone ever encountered an angry, bitter person and said, “I want to be just like him?” No, indeed. Neither unforgiveness nor bitter is an option for those who follow Jesus or for those who want God’s forgiveness.
Do we have to forgive if we want to be forgiven?
To be clear, our salvation is not dependent upon whether or not we forgive and we can’t earn forgiveness by forgiving others. Forgiveness is not the door to the Father nor is it optional. Jesus is The Door and the only name by which we can be saved. If we are disciples of Jesus, we will forgive. It’s that simple. It’s that hard. With that said, when we ask God to forgive us of our sin, failure to forgive someone else may well be the sin for which we need forgiveness.
Four Steps to help in forgiving others:
1. Acknowledge the hurt: Write out a summary of the event leading to the hurt, your response, and your feelings. Be sure to include your part in the hurt and and consider any hurt you might have also inflicted.
2. Choose to forgive: Present your summary to the Lord and ask Him to help you forgive the insult and remove any root of bitterness.
3. Release the hurt: Burn the written account as a symbol of removing it from your mind and heart just as God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west.
4. Stop rehearsing the hurt. Take every thought captive. When thoughts of the hurt return, use them as a trigger to pray for the person who has hurt you and ask God to bless them in any way He chooses.
Questions to consider about forgiveness:
- Is there anyone or anything I have not completely forgiven?
- Has bitterness due to an unhealed hurt taken root in my heart?
Ask God to reveal any areas of unforgiveness or bitterness then make a commitment to forgive and release the hurt. Don’t forget to seek God’s forgiveness for holding on to the hurt instead of allowing Him to heal and cleanse.Endnotes:
(1) “G863- aphiēmi – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 13 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G863&t=NASB
(2) “G3783 – opheilēma – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 13 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3783&t=NASB
(3) “G3781 – opheiletēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 13 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3781&t=NASB
(4) Piper, John. “Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors.” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/forgive-us-our-debts-as-we-forgive-our-debtors Accessed 6.13.20.