The Lord's Prayer, Part 3As We Forgive
Leslie Basham: If you don’t forgive other people, it will affect your relationship with God.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: In fact, I believe that the single greatest reason perhaps that people struggle to experience God’s forgiveness when they have sinned is because there’s unforgiveness in their heart toward someone else.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, November 13.
Nancy's in the series, The Lord's Prayer, Part 3.
Nancy: We come today to what I think may be the most difficult phrase in the Lord’s Prayer to say and mean it. We’ve been talking about the issue of forgiveness. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts [now we come to that next phrase], as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:11–12 NKJV).
This petition, by the way, is the only one that Jesus elaborated on in the Lord’s Prayer. After we get through the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, when we come to verses 14 and 15, Jesus adds kind of this P.S.
He says in verses 14 and 15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
I didn’t quote that verse, but I made reference to that point on a recent Revive Our Hearts program and got some mail about it. People thought I was saying you could lose your salvation. By the way, we welcome those kinds of questions and inquiries.
If something we say isn’t clear, we want to hear. If you think something I’m saying is not biblical, I definitely want to hear that. It helps me to say things more clearly. I think when you read a passage like this, you can see why people could get confused because it does sound like if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.
I want to say that these are two verses we can’t dismiss. You can’t explain them away. There is obviously a clear connection between how we treat others and how God treats us, and Jesus said it. There’s a connection between our willingness to forgive others and our ability to receive and experience God’s forgiveness for our sins.
In fact, I believe that the single greatest reason perhaps that people struggle to experience God’s forgiveness when they have sinned is because there’s unforgiveness in their heart toward someone else.
When we refuse to forgive others, when we hold onto bitterness, when we hold onto hurt, when we hold people hostage, when we keep them as our debtors, when we refuse to release them from that debt, we are affecting our capacity to receive and experience God’s grace and forgiveness.
When we hold others hostage, we end up in prison ourselves. I think this explains, at least in part, why so many Christians I know live with chronic discouragement, depression, unresolved guilt, anger, emotional issues. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful.” The people who are merciful, the people who extend mercy to others are blessed because they will obtain mercy.
Let me say conversely, I believe it’s also true that those who have obtained mercy will be merciful people. Jesus says if you’re merciful to others, you will receive mercy. Now that suggests that those who are not merciful to others, those who don’t extend mercy toward their offenders will be forced to do without mercy themselves. They’ll be forced to bear the weight of their own guilt. They will live under a sense of condemnation in their own hearts.
I think this explains why so many Christian women in particular live with that emotional bondage, that sense of unresolved issues in their heart because they’ve not been merciful to others. They’ve not extended forgiveness to others, and yet they’re hoping that God will let them off the hook when they haven’t been willing to do that for others. We cannot expect God to forgive us if we’ve not forgiven others.
Now, does this mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional? Is Jesus teaching that we can lose our salvation? If you don’t forgive others, then you won’t be able to be forgiven? You need to keep in mind that this prayer that Jesus taught us to pray—the Lord’s Prayer—is given to those who can say, “Our Father.” It’s given to those who are children of God. They’re part of the family. This prayer is not for unbelievers. It’s for believers.
By the way, there are a lot of people who quote this prayer in their church on Sunday mornings periodically or regularly who have no business praying this prayer. They have no right to pray this prayer because they can’t truly say, “Our Father.” We talked about that earlier in the series. This prayer is for those who have already received God’s eternal pardon and forgiveness for their sin—their sin, past and future.
So Jesus, I don’t believe, here is talking about justification, about judicial forgiveness before God. We said in the last several sessions that that is based purely and simply on the sacrifice that Christ paid for our sin. He shed His blood so that we could have forgiveness. It’s through the cross of Christ, the death of Christ, the blood of Christ that we have forgiveness for our sins.
So Jesus is not saying here you will lose your salvation or you can’t get salvation until you’re willing to extend forgiveness to others, although let me say this. If we perpetually, habitually refuse to forgive others, we have reason to question whether we truly are saved. We have no basis for assurance of salvation if we are not forgiving people.
Assuming that you are a child of God, if that is the case . . . If you haven’t been with us in this whole series, I hope that you’ll order it particularly so that you can listen to the last few sessions where we’ve talked about how to know that your sins are forgiven. But once your sins have been forgiven and you become a child of God, now you need daily ongoing cleansing and forgiveness in order to maintain open fellowship with God as His child.
We’re not talking here about something that can cause you to lose your relationship with God once you have one. We’re talking about something that can cause you to lose your fellowship with God. It can be a barrier in your fellowship with God. In order to have that ongoing, open fellowship with God as believers, as 1 John chapter 1:9, says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” In order to experience that forgiveness, we need to be forgiving others.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12). Forgive us for our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. So this passage is not talking about salvation from sin but about fellowship with God. We cannot walk in right fellowship with God if we refuse to forgive others.
Unforgiveness not only affects our relationships with other people, it affects directly our relationship with God. You will live under the weight and guilt of sins you have committed against God if you are holding other people's sins against them.
Now Jesus taught us to pray this way, and I don’t believe He intended that just some believers should have to pray this way. This is for all believers. We are all to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
That implies several things. First of all, it implies that we have debts. Not only do other people owe us, not only have other people sinned against us, we have debts. We are debtors.
I’ll tell you it’s a whole lot easier, isn’t it, to see how others are indebteded to us than to see how we are indebted to God? We’re much more conscious of other people’s debts, of what they have done to sin against me than we are of how we have sinned against God.
When it comes to human relationships, when it comes to marriage relationships, I’d like a nickel for every time a woman has told me about what her husband has done to harm their marriage in some way. I know these things happen. I’m not doubting their word. But I’ll tell you what, I’d be a poor person if I were waiting for a nickel for every time someone has said to me, “I am a sinner in our marriage.”
Now I’m not suggesting that your sins are worse than your husband’s. I’m not suggesting his sins are worse than yours. In a way it doesn’t really matter. He’s responsible for his. You’re responsible for yours. When it comes to relationships, aren’t we much quicker to see how other people have hurt us? We’re so conscious of that.
I began thinking about my whole message on forgiveness. I speak on this. I teach on it in conferences. In that message I’m focusing on how we need to forgive others, but I wonder if I haven’t bypassed or not placed enough emphasis on the fact we are sinners who need to be forgiven ourselves.
The issue in your marriage, the issue in your roommate conflict, the issue in your conflict with your siblings or with your stepchildren or with your boss. The issue is not just how they have sinned against you. More often than not, there is also the issue of how you have sinned against them, though not always.
If you haven't sinned against that person, I'm not saying go make something up. I'm not trying to make you feel guilt where there shouldn't be or isn't any. But the fact is, in human relationships, we all sin.
The question is not so much how has that person sinned against you. We’re going to talk about that in this session and it’s important. But the first question is how have you perhaps sinned against them? That’s why we pray first, “Forgive us our debts.” Are you as conscious of your own sins in broken relationships as you are of the other person’s sins? That’s what it boils down to.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” So this passage implies that we all have debts. That’s what we’ve been talking about the last several sessions. But it also implies that we all have debtors. Our sins make us debtors to God. We need His forgiveness for those sins. Other people's sins make them debtors to us. We’ve all sinned, and we’ve all been sinned against. We all need to be forgiven, and we all need to forgive others.
Now, as you’ve perhaps heard me teach before on Revive Our Hearts, there are two essential ways of dealing with other people's sins against us, with their debts. Number one, we can keep those debts on the books. We can keep the debtor on the hook and hold out for payment, become a debt collector. Or number two, we can press the delete button. We can write those debts off. We can forgive them, release them.
This is what Jesus is saying to us in this prayer as He teaches us to pray. We’re praying, “Lord, if I want You to release my debts, I want You to let me off the hook for my sins because of what Christ has done on the cross to pay for my sins, I can’t expect You to do that. I can’t ask You sincerely to do that if I’m not willing to release those who have sinned against me.”
We pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The plural there is interesting to me. Our sins, our debts. Our sins are multiple and many.
We need to confess them all, and we need to ask God to forgive them all, which means that we need to forgive all who have sinned against us and all of the sins they have committed against us. If we want forgiveness for all our debts, we have to be willing to extend forgiveness to all our debtors for all their sins.
In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:4), the prayer is phrased this way: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Do you find there are some people who are maybe a little easier to forgive than others? Maybe some offenses haven’t hurt you as deeply? Do you have somebody in your life that just gets under your skin and they don’t go away? Maybe you live with them.
Maybe it’s one particular child for whom no textbook was ever written, and you’re thinking, “Lord, I didn’t bargain for this.” You may find sometimes that that child is a lot like you. Maybe you feel like you’re looking in a mirror.
But whatever the reason, there’s someone that you just think, “I can’t forgive that person.” Jesus taught us to pray forgive us our debts as we forgive everyone who is indebted to us. We cannot hold back pardon from anyone and expect God to forgive us. The extent of our pardon must be to everyone who has sinned against us and to all of their sins. Comprehensive, complete coverage of all our debtors and all their debts.
Now we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” By the way, this is what meditation on God’s Word is. It’s taking a phrase like this and just mulling it over, word by word, phrase by phrase. This is what I do as I study God’s Word. There’s no big secret to it, okay?
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We’re asking God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. To deal with us in the exact same way that we deal with those who sin against us. Now be honest.
- Would you want God to forgive you as you forgive others? In exactly the same way? To only the same extent?
- Why should God give to us that which we are unwilling to extend to others?
- Why should He pardon us for our sins, which are many if we’re honest, if we refuse to pardon others for their sins?
- Don’t you think it’s hypocritical for us to ask for God’s forgiveness for our sins if we aren’t willing to forgive others?
This request, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” is not a once-and-for-all proposition. Oh, that it were that easy, right? We have a perpetual need for forgiveness of our sins. We keep sinning.
Now hopefully as we’re being sanctified, we’re not continuing to commit the same sins over and over again and God is cleansing us and changing us, transforming us by His grace. But I think all of us would have to say we sin repeatedly. And we repeatedly need God’s forgiveness.
Therefore we have a perpetual need to forgive others who have sinned against us. As long as you’re in this body, in this world, you are not going to stop sinning entirely. As long as you’re in this body, in this world, people are not going to stop sinning against you entirely. There will always be sins for which we need to be forgiven, and there will always be sins that we need to forgive on the part of others.
We keep sinning. We keep needing pardon. That means we keep needing to forgive others. If at any point I stop extending forgiveness to someone else, if there’s some person or some offense I refuse to forgive—maybe I’ve forgiven for years, but then I say, “Okay, this is it. I can’t go any further than this. This went over the line.” If I stop that forgiveness—shut it off at some point—what do I do? I shut off the flow of God’s forgiveness to cover up my sins against Him.
You have those filters in your faucets and sediment that’s in the water gets screened out through that filter. It kind of piles up there in the filter. Sometimes you’ll notice that the water flow through your faucet is getting less and less until finally you just got a little drip coming through. You say, “We've got a problem.”
Sometimes the problem is that you just need to pull that little filter out and clean out that sediment that’s been blocking the flow of the water. That’s what unforgiveness does. As we let that sediment—other peoples’ sins—pile up and we refuse to forgive, it blocks the flow of God’s grace and forgiveness coming into our lives.
Let me just make another observation about this request. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. We commented earlier in this series that all the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer are plural pronouns, and there’s a corporate community dimension to the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.
As we pray this prayer, we’re not only praying, “Lord, forgive my sins, as I forgive my debtors.” We’re confessing our need as the family of God for forgiveness. Our need collectively to be forgiven and our need collectively to forgive others.
How well do we forgive others corporately, collectively? Sometimes bitterness can affect an entire church or group in the church or a whole segment of the body of Christ or a whole family as they hold grudges or bitterness in their hearts toward others. Sometimes collectively we just need to agree to pardon, to forgive, to let it go. When we hold those grudges and that bitterness, it results in pride and estrangement and barriers and division.
This is where divorce comes from. This is where church splits come from. This is ultimately where world wars come from. An unforgiving family or church will quench the Spirit, will hinder the free flow of His life within the body and will limit the expression of His grace and love through that body.
I got a heartbreaking email from a pastor, we did at Revive Our Hearts, a week or so ago, who was expressing gratitude for what we had taught in a series on forgiveness. He said, “My church has dwindled down to about thirteen people.” I think it was over a hundred at one time if I recall. He said, “You know what it is? It’s the result of corporate, collective bitterness and unforgiveness. One person after another, one family after another. It’s been a collective thing in our church.”
He said, “I’m going to buy several copies of your book, Choosing Forgiveness. I want to give it to these people in our church and those who have left our church because we need to forgive.” “Forgive us our debts, as we forgiven our debtors.”
Charles Spurgeon said, “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” Think about that. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
If I’m holding that offender hostage, someone who has sinned against me, someone that I refuse to forgive, I’m reading my own death warrant. I’m saying, “God, don’t forgive me.” If God were not to forgive us, we’d go to hell, ultimately, if we didn’t have forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
If you pray these words while holding onto unforgiveness in your heart, you are asking God not to forgive you. So let’s make it personal. Is there anyone you need to forgive? Anyone at all?
Jesus said in Mark 11:25, “Whenever you stand praying [the Lord’s prayer or any other prayer], forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
- Is there anyone you need to forgive?
- Is there anyone you’re holding a grudge against? Maybe you don’t call it a grudge. Maybe you’re so focused on what they’ve done that you haven’t even recognized your bitterness or unforgiveness. Have you forgiven? Are you holding it over them? Are you holding it against them?
- Is there anyone you’re resentful toward? Anyone who when their name comes up, somebody else brings it up in a conversation, you just kind of shudder? You have negative thoughts, negative emotions. You want them to be hurt.
Maybe it’s not a big conscious thing. Maybe it’s not hatred in your heart, but it’s just simmering resentment. You find yourself trying to put them in a negative light when somebody else brings up their name. Anybody you’re resentful toward? Anybody that you’re still trying to collect their debt and make them pay?
Would you let it go? Would you press the delete key? Would you say, “As God has forgiven me, so I choose to forgive this person.” Then you can pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be back to lead us in prayer. If you thought of someone you need to forgive, I hope you don’t put it off. You can learn more about the freedom that only forgiveness can provide when you read Nancy’s book, Choosing Forgiveness.
She writes about the danger of bitterness and shows you how to escape it. She walks you through a process of identifying those who have wronged you and knowing that you have forgiven them. We’ll send you Choosing Forgiveness when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. For details, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call toll-free 1-800-569-5959.
If you struggle with feeling unforgiven for sins you’ve confessed before God, I hope you’ll listen tomorrow. Nancy will help you understand how to say "no" to the lies about sin that come at you. Now she’s back to pray.
Nancy: Father, I pray for a baptism of forgiveness in the hearts of Your people. How we need it. How we need it. O Lord, we see it in the news highlighted. So often issues that are the result of bitterness and unforgiveness. We don’t just see it in the secular culture. We see it in the Christian culture. We see resentment and harbored hurt and broken relationships and contention and division.
O Father, forgive us for that. Forgive us for our unforgiveness. Forgive us for bringing a reproach to the name and the church and body of Jesus Christ because of our contentions, our family contentions. O Lord, we have family members that we have not forgiven. I know that’s not easy. I know there are people listening who have huge issues, barriers, sins that have been committed against them.
Lord, I know it’s not easy, but I thank You for the cross and for Christ who make it possible. Father, would You help us to forgive, to make the choice to forgive, to release it, to let it go? Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.