The Lord's Prayer, Part 3From Food to Forgiveness
Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss on the prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Many people who say these words don’t really feel themselves to be truly guilty sinners who need God’s forgiveness. I think that’s probably because we tend to compare ourselves to others.
We can always find somebody who looks like a worse sinner, or maybe is a worse sinner, in some senses, than we are; and that leaves us feeling like, “Well, I’m not so bad.”
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, November 7.
Last month Revive Our Hearts listeners were invited into a deeper prayer life. We spent quite a bit of time pondering the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It was part of two series we’ve heard so far this fall on the Lord’s Prayer. Today, Nancy begins The Lord's Prayer, Part 3, focusing on the topic of forgiveness.
Nancy: We come today to the second of three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer related to our own needs. Remember, the three petitions in the first half were for God’s glory, His kingdom, and His will.
Now we’re looking at three petitions that relate to our needs as the children of God. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” That’s the way it reads in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Matt. 6:9, "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Within one sentence Jesus teaches us to ask our heavenly Father for everything we need, from food to forgiveness.
That says to me that He is no less able to provide one than the other. We are as much in need of Him for one as for the other. We need Him for our daily food, and we need Him for the forgiveness of our debts.
That says that no need is too small, and none is too great for Him to care about or for us to ask Him about. His grace and His power span the entire spectrum of human need, from food to forgiveness and everything inbetween.
Aren’t you glad we have a Father—a heavenly Father—who cares about all of our needs?
“Give us our daily bread.” That addresses our physical hunger, our physical needs. “Forgive us our debts.” That addresses the hunger and the needs of our souls.
“Give us our daily bread.” That addresses our need for provision. “Forgive us our debts.” That addresses our need for pardon. Isn’t that the great longing of all of our human hearts, to know peace and pardon and release from guilt? That's what world religions are all about, people trying to find pardon for sin.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ provides a means by which fallen sinful man can be reconciled to God. No other religion can offer forgiveness of sins. This petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts,” deals with our fundamental problem, the fundamental problem of every human being who has ever lived on this planet, and it’s a three letter word: S-I-N.
What’s in the middle of that word? I. The “I” problem, the sin problem. And in this passage in Matthew 6:12 (“Forgive us our debts”), sin is defined as a debt. We’re asking God to forgive us of our indebtedness to Him.
We tend to think of the effect our sin has on us, and it does have a huge effect on us; but at its heart, we need to remember that our sin is against God. He is the one to whom we are indebted.
We're not saying forgive us because we have harmed ourselves or because we have made our lives more miserable or because we've messed up our lives or even because we've messed up other people's lives. But, "Forgive us Lord because we are debtors to You." We are liable to God.
If the sins we have committed have not been forgiven, then we are still in debt to God. We can’t just gloss over them, ignore them, or forget about them. They have to be dealt with. That’s why Jesus said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father . . . forgive us our debts’” (Matt, 6:9, 12 paraphrased).
When it comes to this matter of experiencing and receiving God’s forgiveness, it occurred to me as I was meditating on this passage that we tend to fall into one of two errors in our perspective on sin.
Some are more inclined to struggle with one of these errors. Some struggle more with the other. And if the enemy can’t get us to fall into one extreme, he’ll get us to fall into the other. We’re going to look at the first one today and the second one in the next session.
The first error is that we minimize our sin. “I’m not that bad.” The second error is that we minimize the grace of God. “God can’t forgive what I’ve done.”
I’ve found that most believers I talk to tend more toward one of these than the other. Personally, I fall into the category of tending to minimize my sin, but I know others who consider their sin to be a very great, serious, grievous offense against God. They wallow in it, and they never experience the freedom and the release of God’s forgiveness.
I was talking to somebody just this week who is prone to fall into that error. He has minimized the grace of God.
We’re going to see that whether you tend to minimize sin or whether you tend to minimize the grace of God, the solution for both is to get to Christ, to get to the cross of Christ, and you’ll see that.
“Forgive us our debts.” I want to talk today about those who minimize sin. Many people who say these words—millions of people who say these words—don’t really feel themselves to be truly guilty sinners who need God’s forgiveness.
I think that’s probably because we tend to compare ourselves to others. We can always find somebody who looks like a worse sinner, or maybe is a worse sinner, in some senses, than we are; and that leaves us feeling like, “Well, I’m not so bad.”
I think the reason I know more about this error—minimizing sin—is because I had the blessing of growing up in a godly home and in the church and being taught in the ways of God, being protected from stepping into certain types of sinful behavior just by virtue of a good upbringing.
Some of us who have grown up in the church have learned how to act right. We’re “spiritually house trained.” We’re particularly susceptible to this mindset.
I’m thinking of those of us who would honestly never think of using profanity or looking at pornography or having an affair or having an abortion. We wouldn’t think of embezzling money from our employer or divorcing our mate.
Now, let me just say here, any person can fall into any sin. I’m not saying any of us are immune from these sins; but for some of us, these are not the things that tempt us. These are not the things we’re likely or prone to do.
Compared to others who commit these kinds of “serious sins,” it’s easy for us to feel that we really aren’t so bad. We wouldn’t say that, but that’s often the way we feel.
So when it comes to our sins of:
- wasting time
- talking too much
- eating or drinking too much
- a sharp tongue
- a critical spirit
- selfish motives
. . . those things don’t seem all that major.
In fact, we may not even consider them to be sins at all, in some cases. We may prefer to think of them as weaknesses or struggles or personality traits. Isn’t that euphemistic? We say, “I’m really struggling with . . .”
Well, maybe in some cases what we should be saying is, “I’m sinning with this or that.” But we want to call it a struggle, not a sin.
When the pride of our hearts causes us to minimize our sin, whatever that sin is defined to be, what happens is that then we come to God, to pray or to worship or to serve Him, without a spirit of brokenness and penitence.
We’re not like that broken-hearted publican who came into the temple to pray and could not even lift his head up to heaven, but just beat on his chest and said, “Oh, God, please have mercy on me, a sinner” [Luke 18:13 paraphrased].
That’s not our attitude when we come to pray. We can imagine why others would have that attitude, but it is not our attitude. If we come in pride and without brokenness and without a penitent heart, when we pray “Forgive us our debts” we are using vain repetitions—mechanical, meaningless words.
Now, we may mean it a little bit, but we're not feeling the weight and the conviction of sin that we have minimized.
The apostle John says in 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin . . .” Now, most of us wouldn’t say, “I have not sinned,” but if we’re not conscious of any sin in our lives, we lie: “. . . we deceive ourselves.”
“But if we confess our sins . . .” If we bring them into the light—if we pray the Lord’s Prayer and mean it, (“Forgive us our debts”)—“. . . [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9).
So this request is an implicit acknowledgement. It’s a confession that we have sinned. I’m saying, “Lord, I have sinned.” How can I pray “Forgive us our debts” if I don’t think I have any sins to confess?
It’s an acknowledgement, a confession: “I have sinned.” We are debtor to God. We cannot pay our for our sin. It's an open admission that we are guilty. We accept responsibility. There's no blame here. It's just, "I have sinned."
The problem is, until we experience conviction of sin and wrongdoing, we probably won’t sense any great need to pray for forgiveness.
So as we try to make this phrase personal, particularly for those of us who perhaps think of our sin as not being quite as bad as other sins, we need to ask ourselves questions like this: “Do I see myself as a sinner, deeply indebted to God and desperately in need of His forgiveness?”
Do you approach your heavenly Father with a self-satisfied heart when you go to pray, or do you come before Him with a penitent spirit? Are you “touch sensitive” to sin in your life?
I’m not suggesting being morbidly introspective. I know some people who tend that direction, and you need to hear the next session about minimizing the grace of God.
Some of you wouldn’t think about glossing over sin. In fact, you’re always being very convicted over everything, including some things that aren’t sins.
I’m talking about those of us who can be comfortable day after day with perhaps not ever, or for long periods of time, being broken-hearted before God over our sin.
When is the last time you experienced deep conviction and sincere brokenness over your sin? Has it been days? Weeks? Months?
Let me make it even more specific. If I asked you, “How have you sinned in the past week?” would it be hard for you to think of an answer?
Some of you could quickly make a big, long list, and that’s why I want you to come back in here the next session on how to not minimize the grace of God. But some of us honestly, I’m afraid, would have to stop and think, “How have I sinned?”
Some of you are looking at me like, “I cannot imagine that!” Well, good. Then I’m speaking to the ones who can.
- When is the last time you confessed specific sin to God and asked Him to forgive you for your debts? Not just the last time you were convicted.
- When is the last time that conviction turned to penitential prayer?
One of the Puritan writers reminds us, “No sin is small. No grain of sand is small in the mechanism of a watch.”1 It all matters. It’s all significant when it’s against God’s holiness.
If only we could see ourselves and our sin as God sees them. We would realize that every single sin is a big deal, that every sin is an act of rebellion and cosmic treason against the God and King of the universe.
Every time I choose to go my way instead of God’s way—I may not be flashing my fist in God’s face, but when I just say yes to flesh and no to the Spirit’s prompting in my heart, I have revolted against the King, about whom I have just prayed, “Thy kingdom come.”
So sin is a big deal. That’s why we need to pray for deep, true conviction of sin.
I have to say that we don’t see a lot of that in Western Christianity today. We don’t see a lot of that in our churches, and I particularly want to tell you, I don’t see nearly enough of it in my own heart.
I’m not talking about groveling in the presence of God all the time. There is joy for those whose sins have been forgiven, but you know what? The person who’s never experienced deep and intense conviction of sin will not experience the ecstasy David experienced after he confessed his sin and was forgiven.
You can’t experience the joy and the freedom and the exhilaration David had when he said, “How blessed is the man whose sin is forgiven” (Ps. 32:1 paraphrased), if you’ve never come to the place where you’re under the deep, soul-searching conviction of God’s Spirit, the hand of God heavy upon you, and you know yourself to be a great sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.
That’s one of the marks of a true child of God—deep, penetrating conviction of sin. That’s one of the true marks of revival. Always when you read about revivals you read about this humbling, penetrating hand of God convicting of sin. I read about one revival in 1814 in England where they spoke about penitential pain. Men and women being in great distress over their sin.
Where’s that heart-searching conviction of the Spirit of God? As I’ve been studying this passage, I’ve been realizing how little I pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer—how seldom I say, “Forgive us our debts. Lord, I have sinned. Forgive me.”
That led me to realize—just being honest here—that I don’t nearly often enough see myself as a great sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. Honestly, I have trouble relating to the apostle Paul who said he was the chief of sinners. I believe that Paul meant that when he said that. I can be pious and say the same thing, but it is not something I really feel deeply. You say, Paul killed Christians. But Paul's in a mature, spiritual place when he's saying this, "I consider myself to be the chief of sinners."
So as I’ve been studying this passage, I’ve been asking God to make me more sensitive to my sin and to help me see it as He sees it, to give me a greater sense of what God’s Word calls the “exceeding sinfulness of sin.”
I’ve been asking God to give me a penitent heart, to help me realize how great my need is to ask for His forgiveness, not to minimize my sin.
As I said a few moments ago, whether you tend to minimize sin or you tend to minimize the grace of God, the cure for both is to get to Christ—to get a fresh view of Christ and to get to the cross and to see the price tag for our sin.
Not long ago in our church, we had an observance of the Lord’s Supper. We came together to the communion table. I’m very thankful for those times because it’s always a really good time for my heart to be recalibrated and to look at Christ and His cross afresh.
This communion service occurred during the process of my studying on this passage and asking God for a fresh consciousness of my need for His forgiveness and His grace. What a precious time that was!
The Lord used that communion service as a means of grace for my own heart. You know how it goes—they may do it a little differently in your church, but our church observes it in a fairly traditional way.
The elders and the pastors passed out the little wafers, and I took my wafer and held it in my hand, and we waited until all had been served. While others were being served, we were singing together as a congregation some songs that reflect the work of Christ, the work of His cross. Songs that made us reflect on the meaning of the bread. It is the body of Christ broken for us.
We sang that song by D. A. Carson, that more contemporary hymn, “I Am Ashamed; O Lord, Forgive.” The stanzas of that hymn talk about different ways we have sinned against God.
We sang them as a confession, and then the chorus would say over and over again, “I am ashamed; O Lord, forgive,”2 reminding us that it’s my sin, it’s our sin, that sent Christ to the cross.
As we sang, God began to impress my heart with a fresh sense of the weight of my sins against Him, and I found myself not just singing vain repetitions, but really crying out to the Lord and saying, “I am ashamed; O Lord, forgive.”
But you know, our singing didn’t end there. We went on to sing, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior, Precious Redeemer and Friend,” transferring our focus from the weight and guilt of our sin to Christ—wonderful, merciful Savior.
You know what? I’ve sung that song many times, but I don’t remember a time when it’s been more precious to me than at that point where God was weighing in on my heart with such conviction of my guilt.
In the face of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, Christ becomes an exceedingly wonderful and merciful Savior, a precious Redeemer and Friend.
You are the one that we praise.
You are the one we adore.
You give the healing and grace [That’s what I need!]
Our hearts always hunger for.3
After we sang that song, we were invited to eat the bread, the wafer. It was crisp; it was hard. As we bit into it, there was that sense of the body of Christ broken for me, broken for my sin, broken for our sin.
Then the juice was passed, the juice of the grape, representative of the blood of Christ. As it was passed, we sang a chorus that, again, may not be familiar to some of you, turning our eyes again to the cross:
Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin;
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning your bloodstained brow.
This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.4
As we sang that chorus again and again, I found myself weeping in the presence of the Lord, saying, “O Lord, forgive us our debts. Forgive me my debts. But thank You for the power of the cross, where You became sin for us. You took the blame; You bore the wrath. We—I—we, this congregation of fellow forgiven sinners here, we stand forgiven at the cross.”
Oh!, precious is the flow
That makes us white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.5
So as we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” there’s an invitation and an appeal to pray that Old Testament version of The Lord’s Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24 ESV)
And what’s that “way”? Christ. It’s Christ—wonderful, merciful Savior. Do you love Him? Are you grateful for His forgiveness?
Leslie: The events of the last few years have shown us how devastating debt can be. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been reminding each of us how deep our debt of sin has been. And she’s been showing us how incredible it is to receive forgiveness from that debt.
At the beginning of this year, Nancy offered a challenge. She asked listeners to commit to reading at least some portion of the Bible every day in 2012.
Did you take that challenge? Would you let us know how it affected you? We’ve set up a listener call in line for you to tell your story. Let us know how reading the Bible has affected you. If your story is used on the air, you could be encouraging other women to get into God’s Word. The listener call in number is 269-697-6123.
If you missed it, you can get the number from our transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com.
The concept of guilt isn’t very popular. Adults get counseling for it. Parents try to keep their kids from having it. But a sense of guilt actually can be very helpful.
Tomorrow, Nancy will talk about the freedom that comes from being honest about guilt.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
1Jeremy Taylor (Puritan).
2“I Am Ashamed,” Lyrics by D. A. Carson. Music by Ian Brown. Copyright © 1999, Christway Media, Inc.
3“Wonderful, Merciful Savior,” Dawn Rogers and Eric Wyse. Copyright © 1989 Word Music.
4“Power of the Cross,” Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music.
5“Nothing But the Blood,” Robert Lowry and Howard Doane, 1876.