After the words: “Give us this day our daily bread” the Lord’s prayer continues with “And forgive us.” Are there any prerequisites for being forgiven?
Prerequisites for forgiveness.
In 1 John 1:9 we read: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Proverbs 28:13 states: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” So we see that the first step in being forgiven is to confess our sins, and not to deny that we have sinned. If we confess, we have God’s assurance that He will forgive us and cleanse us.
Secondly, Jesus says: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). So our willingness to forgive others plays a role as to whether or not God will forgive us. These are the conditions we must meet. The conditions we are not able to meet God has already met for us.
What are the means of forgiveness?
What are the means of forgiveness? The reason we can freely be forgiven is because Jesus died for us on Calvary. We know that “according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Because there is no remission of sins without blood, that is why Jesus paid the ultimate price for us and shed His own blood on the cross of Calvary, so that “whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Ephesians 1:7 verifies this: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” And Peter states: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:10). We are saved because of God’s grace through faith, by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who can forgive?
Who is able to forgive? Only the person who has been offended or sinned against can offer forgiveness. J.S. Candlish describes three types of moral evil. He says moral evil against another human is a crime. Moral evil against oneself is vice. And moral evil against God is sin. However, all moral evil, even against oneself, is at the same time an offense against God. Since every sin is an offense against God, if we sin, we need to seek God’s forgiveness.
What word is used in Greek?
Matthew 6:14 reads: forgive us our debts. The Greek word used here for debts is ὀφείληματα. The understanding here is that we have such a great debt before God, that we cannot pay it. The only hope we have of clearing the debt is to be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Our only hope is for God to annul it, to forgive it, to cancel it. That is exactly why Jesus paid it all, so that we can be free from this debt. The parable in Matthew 18:23-35 makes this teaching of Jesus clear.
In Luke 11:4 we have another version of the Lord’s prayer. Here it reads: Forgive us our sins. The Greek word used here is ἁμαρτίας. It is plural and therefore includes multiple sins. Hamartia is often defined as missing the mark. In Romans 3:23 we read that all have sinned or missed the mark. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
God has a standard for us, a law, a mark, and ignoring or disobeying that law is sin. Another definition for sin given in the Bible is ἁμαρτίαν (1 John 3:4), which is lawlessness. If instead of heeding God’s law – do not lie, do not murder, love the Lord with all your heart, love your neighbor – we ignore it or say we do not need it, then we practice ἁμαρτίαν, which literally means without law, or lawlessness.
After “forgive us our debts,” the Lord’s prayer continues: “as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Jesus explains what he means by this in Matthew 6:14: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Here he talks about trespasses. If we disobey God, we trespass. So whether we miss the mark, act contrary to God’s law, sin, or trespass God’s commandment, all are a debt or an offense against God, which only God can forgive or release us from. He wants to do this. It is yours for the asking.
Praying for others
Interestingly enough, Jesus does not teach His disciples to pray: forgive me my sins, but forgive us our sins. How often have we prayed that God forgive the sins of others? We know that Job sacrificed for his children in case they offended God (Job 1:5). Also, Daniel, although he was righteous, placed himself under the sins of the people of Israel and made confession for them. We read: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: ‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws’” (Daniel 9:3-5). “We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, LORD, because we have sinned against You” (Daniel 9:8).
So Daniel places himself in the position of the people and pleads on their behalf. What can we learn from this? Is there a place for intercessory prayer on behalf of others in a similar way? What did Jesus do? He placed Himself in our place and bore our sins. I know that we cannot bear the sins of others like Jesus did, but we can learn from Jesus, from Daniel, and from this prayer: “Forgive us our sins.”
When God forgives our sins, He does not just overlook what we have done, He also changes us (1 John 1:9). When we come to God and genuinely ask for forgiveness, we are born again (1 Peter 1:18-23). A transformation takes place. We are changed. After forgiving us Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you,” but then He adds the words: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). May God help each one of us to have victory over sin by asking God for His help to overcome whatever temptation may come our way.