The Lord’s Prayer is a concise series of short statements which cover everything and anything we could ever want to pray about. The Lord’s Prayer says it all. It contains one short bullet point prayer after another, no frills or details, nothing extra added. Just a list of requests. That is true until we get to the part about asking for our sins to be forgiven, though. Then that nice pattern changes. See if you can pick up the change:
“Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Did you see it? There is a condition here. We would expect a period after the word “debts” but instead Jesus continues. In effect, He changes this from another in a list of requests to focusing on something the one praying has to do (or not do). It seems as if He is saying that the way we treat others is the way God will treat us! Why would God limit Himself to what we do or don’t do on earth? Does this mean we must do this work of forgiveness of others in order to earn God’s forgiveness of us?
We know forgiveness is by grace and not something we earn, but the principle is still true: unless we forgive others God won’t forgive us. That means if we pray these words with unforgiveness in our hearts we are actually asking God not to forgive us! It’s like saying, “God, since I haven’t forgiven this person, please do not forgive me!” If we aren’t going to forgive others then we better make sure we never sin and need God’s forgiveness! After all, how can we ask God to give us something we refuse to give to others.
Does that mean God’s forgiveness is conditional and we need to earn it by forgiving others? No, this is not a work to impress God, it is keeping from a sin that will come between us and God. This whole concept has nothing to do with salvation, that is already a settled matter. What this has to do with is daily fellowship. How can we be close to someone when there is an issue between us?
Jesus knew what He was saying would arouse the interest of those listening so, as soon as He was done with the prayer, He came right back to the issue of forgiveness. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). This is the only part of this prayer that He singles out for special commentary, making sure all understand that it means just what it says. He even told Peter he had to forgive “seventy times seven” times in a day (Matthew 18:21-22) and then went on to tell a story about a man who was forgiven a debt of about $25 million dollars but wouldn’t forgive someone who owed him $5,000 (Matthew 18:23-26). As a result he was thrown into prison until he could pay back his own $25 million debt.
The only condition of forgiveness is a repentant heart. We are never closer to God’s grace than when we confess our sins to Him. We are never more like Jesus than when we forgive those who have sinned against us. We’ll never have the true freedom God intended for us to have until we learn to forgive others, 100% unconditionally forever. If God is reminding you of someone you need to forgive take a few moments to listen to Him. Then forgive that person and pray for God’s forgiveness of you.
(Written by Jerry Schmoyer, 2014. You can find more of his writings at http://www.christiantrainingonline.org/. If you have questions or suggestions feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)