“The Model Prayer: Receiving & Giving Forgiveness” (Matthew 6:12 sermon)

In 2012 a book was published with the title: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It became a New York Times Bestseller, and was regarded by many as a “pretty cool” book on prayer; how a lot of our prayers can be summarized as “wow”, look at all the “neat” things around us; “thanks”, obviously being grateful for what we have; and “help” for when we need it. Pretty neat stuff, many thought. But Tim Keller, whose commitment with his wife to prayer I mentioned last week, pointed out: “It is striking, though, that the book leaves out one of the most crucial categories of prayer, namely confession and repentance.” (Timothy Keller, Prayer, p. 60-61) It’s not too surprising to me, though, that a book that would be popular with the world would leave out confession and repentance. Those things just aren’t “popular.” 

The truth is, a lot of us would rather “leave out” confession and repentance, because that is certainly not the most “fun” part of prayer, but as we all know, there are a lot of things in life that may not be “fun” but they are necessary. Jesus knew that we NEEDED this category of prayer, and so He included it as one of the 6 petitions of His Model Prayer. 

We have seen over the last weeks that Jesus gave us this Model Prayer not as a “script” to be recited, but as a model outline to follow. He gave us at least 6 categories in this prayer of things that God wants us to talk with Him about when we pray — especially those longer prayers that we should pray to begin our day. So this morning we come to the 5th Request, which deals with forgiveness:  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

There are two parts to this 5th request, both of which deal with forgiveness: the first deals with the forgiveness we RECEIVE from God, and the second, with the forgiveness which we are to GIVE to others:  Both of these are important, and necessary, and BOTH of these phrases should play an important role in our prayer time every day. 

I. First, this request teaches us to pray about the forgiveness we RECEIVE:  ”And forgive us our debts …”

A.  The MEANING of forgiveness.  

Here Jesus pictures our sin as a “debt.”  This word originally refers to a person who had a monetary debt, and whose debt was wiped away. So when we ask God to “forgive our debts” here, we are asking Him to “wipe away” the debt of our sins that we have before Him.

This is THE basic request of the gospel: asking God for forgiveness of sins.  This is how we get saved in the first place. We realize that we are morally and spiritually bankrupt before God, because of all of our sins, so we ask Him to wipe out our spiritual debt because of what Jesus paid at the cross. On the cross, Jesus said: “It is finished,” (tetelestai) which was a Greek business word which means “the debt is paid in full.” The “debt” that He was talking about paying was the debt of OUR SIN. When we hear the message of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and like the Publican in Luke 18:13, we pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” then God DOES forgive our sins, and He “wipes them away.”  That is what forgiveness is. If that has not happened to you, then the first thing you need to do — right now — is admit your “spiritual bankruptcy” before God right now, and ask Him to wipe out the debt of your sins in Jesus’ name! 

Many of us here this morning would say we have already done this.  But if you have, you need to make sure that you never lose this attitude before God.  I’ve mentioned before how Jerry Bridges famously said that even as Christians, we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves every day” — NOT because we need to be saved again every day, but to remind ourselves that we were only saved by God’s grace, and as a constant guard against being “holier than thou.”  It’s easy for us to think that we are saved by God’s grace — but then become legalistic after that, as if we now have good standing before God by how much we go to church, or read the Bible, or live up to a certain moral code. And sometimes Christians tend to “look down” on other people who aren’t “living up” to those things — so we become “holier than thou” and judgmental.

As an antidote to this, IN PRAYER EVERY DAY we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves” during this confession time of our prayer. Tell God the areas in your life in which you know you have sinned, and thank Him that those sins are ONLY forgiven by because of the death of Jesus on the cross. That’s important. Martin Luther said that sometimes we try to “beat ourselves up” over our sins, as if we think the worse we can feel about it, and the more we “punish” ourselves for it, the more likely God is to forgive us. Luther said in a sense that is trying to pay for those sins yourself!  Your forgiveness is not based on how much you “beat yourself up” over your sins. Your forgiveness is based on what Jesus did on the cross ALONE!  So confess your sins to Him, and ask for His forgiveness, and accept it in JESUS’ name. “Preaching the gospel to ourselves” during our confession time every day will keep us humble before God, and remind us that we are only saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  

B.  The IMPORTANCE of (daily) forgiveness.

So it’s important for us to confess our sins to God daily.  As I said, this is NOT because we need to be SAVED daily. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this.  Some people fear that they will be lost if they don’t confess every one of their sins every day. This is not a biblical concept.  Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  When you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved of all your sins: past, present, and future, and there is right “NOW, no condemnation” for you. You do not have to confess every one of your sins every day in order to be saved and to keep from going to hell. The truth is, WHO could do that? Who could remember and confess every single sin? NOBODY could. Thank God our salvation does NOT depend on whether we can remember and confess every single sin. Thank God we can trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross for our salvation, and know that there is “therefore NOW, no condemnation” for us through faith in Him! 

Then WHY, someone may ask, do we need to confess our sins every day?  In fact, some go so far as to say that we DON’T need to. One so-called Bible teacher said that you do NOT need to confess your sins to God every day, because all our sins are already forgiven for all time. This too is erroneous teaching. We ARE indeed saved from all sin, once and for all in Jesus, but He does teach us here, in what we have seen repeatedly is a  DAILY Model Prayer, to ask the Father for forgiveness of sin every day.  And I John 1:9 speaks in the present tense when it says “If we confess our sins” — meaning, “if we keep on confessing our sins” — because it is something that we are to continue to do.  

So WHY keep confessing our sins to God daily if we are already saved from them?  Because although we are not “lost” because we commit daily sins, unconfessed daily sin does put a kind of “cloud” between you and God in your daily relationship. For example, Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” If you have sin in your life that you have not gotten right with God through repentance and confession, it doesn’t make you “lost” again, but it does put a “cloud” between you and God, that hinders your daily relationship with Him. And you will not have the close fellowship Him that you want to have until you confess that sin.  

I have never personally made this mistake, but some of you unfortunate husbands out there have probably said or done something stupid that angered your wife  🙂  When that happens, your wife might get angry, or maybe she will give you the “silent treatment” or whatever her particular method of vengeance is.  She may say things are “fine” — but you know better. You can feel it; it is like there is a little “cloud” between you and her in your relationship. Now, that little “cloud” doesn’t mean that you are not married; you still are. (In fact, you are VERY well aware at that moment that you are married!!)  But there is definitely “something there” that is not going to just “go away” until you get that thing right between you — apologize, talk it out, or make it right — whatever you need to do.  

That is somewhat similar to what happens to a Christian in our relationship with God when we sin. Our sin does not make us unsaved; we are still His child, and nothing will ever change that.  But just like in that marriage, our sin does put a “cloud” between us and God.  So we need to confess our sin to Him so the “cloud” between us will be taken away, and there won’t be any barriers between us and Him, which hinder our fellowship with Him.  

Someone may say, “I didn’t realize that confessing sin was that important.”  Listen: the fact that Jesus allocates one whole section of our prayer time just for confession of sin, shows just how seriously the Lord takes this.  

One of the biggest problems that people in general have — and unfortunately we as God’s people are not immune to it — is the trivialization of sin. We just don’t see sin as that big a deal — and it IS. Sin of every kind is rebellion against the King of the Universe and His Lordship in our lives.  Someone might say: “What’s the big deal about Adam & Eve taking the fruit in the Garden; that just doesn’t seem to be such a horrible thing.” It’s not just that they took a piece of fruit; it is that they purposefully disobeyed God. They knew that God was their Father & King; they knew what He had commanded them to do — and they purposefully chose to disregard Him, and do what they wanted to anyway. It didn’t matter what it was; it didn’t have to be the fruit; it could have been anything. And it’s the same with OUR sin. Sin doesn’t have to be “big” in people’s eyes for it to be bad. Sin of every kind is high treason against Heaven — and God takes it seriously. Sin is so serious that God had to send His Only Begotten Son to die in agony on the cross, when He’d asked Him if there were any other way out of it — because there was no other means to deal with it. Only Jesus’ death could pay for it, and nothing else. That’s how serious sin is.  It may seem like a “little” thing to you, but it is deadly serious to God. And it should be very serious to us, too.

And the Lord teaches us here how serious our sin is, by having us spend time each day facing up to it, and confessing it to Him, and removing the “cloud” that has come between us and Him each day as a result of our sin.  

C.  The CERTAINTY of forgiveness

So if you will spend time every day confessing your sins to God like Jesus shows us here, you can have every certainty that they WILL be forgiven. 

I John 1:9 is a great promise, and should be a centerpiece verse for our confession times in prayer: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  

It says IF we confess our sins (which is what Jesus is telling us to do in this portion of the Model Prayer) — THEN God will be “faithful & righteous to forgive us our sins”.  

— “Faithful” means He will do it every time. This should be encouraging to us: you cannot confess your sins to God and Him not forgive them.  He is “faithful” to forgive them. He will do it every single time. 

— “Righteous” means that it is only just and right for God to forgive us if we confess. As Tim Keller wrote: “In other words, it would be unjust of God to deny us forgiveness, because Jesus has earned our acceptance.” (Keller, p. 209) THAT is a great statement! If you ever doubt that you are forgiven when you have confessed something to God, remember that: It would actually be UNJUST of God, NOT to forgive you, in light of what Jesus did on the cross. He PAID for that forgiveness, and promised you could have it — so you WILL have it whenever you claim it. Every single time!   That should be the greatest encouragement for us to come to His throne of grace every day.  Don’t put it off; don’t allow your unforgiven sin to put a “cloud” between you and God. If you will confess it — He WILL forgive it!  

We need to do this at LEAST daily, during this time in our Model Prayer outline. Take some time, after you have praised God, and prayed for His kingdom work, and His will, and your daily prayer requests, to just sit before God, and ask Him to remind you of your sins from the day before:

— what have I DONE that I shouldn’t have?

— is there anything I SAID that I shouldn’t have?

— have there been THOUGHTS I shouldn’t have harbored in my mind?

— have I had an ATTITUDE that has been wrong (pride, worry, etc.)

— is there some PERSON I need to forgive (we’ll talk about that some more in a minute)

— and is there something I SHOULD have done, but didn’t? 

God’s Spirit will bring these things up if you will give Him the opportunity. And Jesus is saying, THIS is the time in your prayer when you should do this.

And talk about lengthening our prayers: we would pray MUCH longer prayers if we took our sin seriously and really spent the time we should confessing our sins to God. Take one of these people who says “I can only pray for 5 minutes.”  Think again!  If you really ask God’s Spirit to show you all the sins you’ve committed in those categories we mentioned — how long do you think you could spend praying??!!  The truth is, most of us could pray some pretty lengthy prayers if all we did was confess our sins!  

Now, we shouldn’t only confess our sins in our morning prayer time. We should also confess them as soon as we commit them and are aware of them. In fact, talk about a lesson in continual prayer: if we’d offer up a quick prayer of forgiveness to God every we sinned, we’d have no problem “praying without ceasing;” most of us would very literally be praying all the time! 

But an important element of Jesus’ Model Prayer is having this time when we ask for the forgiveness of our daily sins — NOT just to make our prayers longer — but for the sake of keeping open the relationship that God wants to have with us.  This 5th petition teaches first of all, about the forgiveness we are to RECEIVE every day as we pray through in this Model Prayer.  

II.  Next it also teaches us to pray about the forgiveness we are to GIVE:  ”as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  

A. Forgiven Forgivers!  

Again, it is significant that Jesus uses this analogy of “debts” to represent sins: “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  This is the very same picture that He uses in Matthew 18 in The Parable of the Two Debtors. Many of you are familiar with this story, in which Jesus said that there was a certain slave who owed his king 10,000 talents of gold (which would be millions of dollars in our money). The slave couldn’t pay him, so he asked him to have mercy on him, which the king did, and he went free.  But then the story says that this slave went out and found his fellow slave who owed him 100 days wages, and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “pay back what you owe.” His fellow slave asked him to have mercy on him — just like he himself had just prayed — but he wouldn’t, and he had his fellow slave thrown into prison.  When the king heard what happened, he was infuriated, and said, “I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?”  And Jesus said he threw that wicked slave to the torturers!

Jesus teaches us here the importance of forgiving others, because God has forgiven us. If we truly realize that God has forgiven us ALL of our debts, then we cannot possibly refuse to show that same grace towards other people, that we have received ourselves. In fact, if we DO refuse to forgive, then it demonstrates that we must have never really comprehended the grace of God at all. If we truly understand how God has freely forgiven us, then we WILL freely forgive others as well. And that is what we are to do in this part of the Model Prayer. We should ask the Lord to search our hearts, show us those people who have offended us, and ask for His help in forgiving them.  

B. Now notice: The MANNER of our forgiveness:

“AS we also have forgiven our debtors.”

The little word “as” here is a little word in the Greek New Testament too, but it is a KEY word. It is comparative; it means to be “like” the thing it is compared with. Here is it, “forgive us AS — in the same way, JUST LIKE — the way that we forgive our debtors.”

It is significant that Jesus uses this same Greek word again in that Parable of the Two Debtors in Matthew 18:33, where He says, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, EVEN AS I had mercy on you?”  He was saying that the forgiven slave should show the same mercy to his fellow slave, that his Master had just shown to him. That is what Jesus is teaching us here in Matthew 6.  In prayer, we are to be ready to forgive anyone who has offended us, JUST AS God has forgiven us. So, what does that mean?  Let’s think for a minute about how God has forgiven us: 

1. He has forgiven us GRACIOUSLY: 

That is, we did not deserve it.  God did not forgive us because we were “good.” Romans 5:8 says it was “while we were yet sinners” that “Christ died for us.” He forgives us because He is gracious, which means that He treats us better than we deserve.   

2. He has forgiven us FREELY:

God did not make us “earn” our forgiveness by doing some great deed. Forgiveness is not cheap; it cost the unimaginable price of the death of the Son of God on the cross. But it is free to us; we don’t have to “pay” anything for it. God forgives us freely.

3. He has forgiven us DEEPLY:

No matter what our sin was, He forgives us. King David was an adulterer and a murderer and a liar, and God forgave him. The Apostle Paul was a blasphemer; Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus; Paul said in I Corinthians 6, speaking of adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, and drunkards, that “such were some of you, but you were washed.” ALL of these sins can be forgiven, and washed away. I John 1:9 says “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from ALL sin.” We can take comfort in that. He forgives us deeply — no matter what the sin, He forgives it!

4. Not only that, He has also forgiven us REPEATEDLY: 

Just like we talked about, we can always claim I John 1:9, and know that He will forgive us, Every. Single. Time. “70 x7” and more! Thank God! 

So, when Jesus says we are forgiven “JUST AS” we forgive others, that means that we are to forgive others in ALL those same ways:

1. Graciously (that is, even when THEY do not deserve it; just like we didn’t!)

2. Freely (that is, you don’t make them “earn” it, or “pay for it” in some way; just like we didn’t!) 

3. Deeply (no matter how great the hurt, you still forgive; just like God forgave all of your worst sins!) 

3. Faithfully (that is, you do it EVERY time: 70 x 7, “JUST AS” God forgives those sins you commit over and over — you forgive them that same way!

It is notable that immediately following the Model Prayer, in :14-15, Jesus expanded on this line of the prayer with a little more commentary. Right after the “amen” of the Prayer, He said: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

We need to keep in mind that He is talking here about the forgiveness of our daily sins. He’s saying, if you, in your heart, don’t forgive others for their sins against you, then God will not forgive your daily sins that you are confessing to Him at this point in your prayer.

— He’s NOT saying you will be lost if you don’t forgive someone. He IS saying that there will continue to be a cloud between you & God until you learn to forgive. Some people wonder why they don’t “feel” as close to God as they used to — they need look no further than this. If there is bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart towards someone, they need to realize that this has created a barrier between them and God which will not be removed until they forgive that person!  

— And we should also remember that Parable of the Two Debtors from Matthew 18 warns us that if we are unwilling to forgive others, it may well indicate that we have never really experienced the grace of God ourselves.

This is a serious, serious stuff Jesus is talking about here. We need to take this line of the prayer seriously, and think through its implications.  A few weeks ago, as we began this series, Roxana sang for us the classic version of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  There is one part of that song that is always so striking to me: where it comes to the part of the prayer where she sings; “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” — some of you know this part — then the soloist stops singing for a moment — and the piano echoes those notes “as we forgive our debtors.” To me, that is such a poignant part of that arrangement. It is as if it’s saying: stop and think about the seriousness of this request you just sang: you are asking God to forgive YOU now, in the same way that YOU forgive others. If you are not in fact forgiving others, then you are praying a CURSE upon yourself in that line. It is a very serious thing to pray. 

And it says something about the importance of forgiveness, that this was the only segment of the Model Prayer that Jesus specifically expanded on after the prayer was over. WHY did He come back, and say after the prayer, “For if you forgive others, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you …” and so on?  It is obviously very important. There are some of us, who quite honestly, if God were to forgive us the way that we forgive others, we’d be in big trouble. We need to take this matter of forgiving others, seriously. 


As is often the case for me, C.S. Lewis puts it best: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable (in others), because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”   BOTH of these truths are present here in this 5th Petition of the Model Prayer: we ask God to forgive the inexcusable in us — AND we ask Him to help us forgive the inexcusable in others. We don’t want our prayers to be like that “help, thanks, wow” prayer — and leave out this important element. Jesus knew we NEEDED confession and repentance in our daily prayers, which is why He put this 5th request here in the Model Prayer He gave us. Every day we need a time in our prayers when we face up to our sin, and confess it, and get it right with him — and with anyone else we need to get right with. 

In just a few moments, we are going to be sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Before we do, we need to take some time to apply this verse. We need to spend some time asking the Lord both to forgive US, and to help us forgive OTHERS, as well as make some other commitments that God may be speaking to us about. Let’s bow before Him right now … 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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