“Forgive Us Our Debts”

“Forgive Us Our Debts”

Matthew 6:9-13

If you have a cat or have been around cats, then you are familiar with the care they take in how they walk. They move in a cautious or stealthy way (see sermon video for clip), sometimes with confidence and sometimes with fear. There is a verb in our English language used to describe a person who behaves in an overly cautious way out of a fear of what to do or a fear of taking a stand against or for something. The phrase we use to describe this kind of behavior is “pussy-footing around.”

My family used to have a cat, and most of the time our cat walked and acted with grace and care. However, there were several times I had to remind our cat there were certain rules in the house that applied to her. One particular day, I found our cat clawing the carpet on one of our steps. She proceeded to claw the carpet after I firmly told her not to do so. I did not tell her once, not twice, but three times. When I heard her go to town on our steps the fourth time, I gracefully grabbed a pillow, snuck around to the base of our steps and launched a pillow so fast at the step just under her to remind her that I had the ability to snuff the 9 lives right out of her. I am not sure I have ever seen that cat run so fast out of fear of that pillow. Most of the time one could barely hear our cat walking around the house, but on that day, I could hear her run from those basement steps, through the kitchen, and into one of the bedrooms; in those moments after I threw that pillow, there was no “pussy-footing” around.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” is the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, and the second one that concerns our wellbeing. In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, sin is equated to a debt, and in Luke’s version the word that is used is “sin.” The debt that we have been forgiven is the debt we acquired from our sin against a holy God. This is why the Bible states in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” When it comes to our sin, we stand in a helpless state of uncleanliness, or as the Prophet Isaiah describes: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6). Romans 3:23 does not end with the wages we deserve for our sin but continues: “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In Romans 3:23-25 Paul explains how our debt was paid: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23–25). The English word “propitiation” means payment. The payment for our sin was the life of Jesus on the cross who bore the wrath of God for sins we were, are, and continue to be guilty of.

When our sin is exposed under the light of God’s holiness, and in the light of God’s holy violence upon sin on the cross of his Son, then it ought to be apparent just how serious our sin really is. When we pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name… we are immediately reminded of the magnitude of God’s mercy and grace that overcame our sin at Golgotha’s cross. We, like John Newton, pray forever aware of this simple and profound fact: “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.”

Thomas Watson wrote in his little book, The Mischief of Sin: “To love sin is to love a disease…. It is true of those who love sin that sin puts a worm into conscience, a thorn into death, yet that men should love sin shows that madness is in their heart. There is no creature who willingly destroys itself but man. Sin is a silken halter, yet he loves it.” Yet, while in our sin, God found us, redeemed us, and reconciled us to himself through a payment Jesus satisfied on our behalf on a cross he endured even though it was a cross you and I deserved.

Our Canceled Debts

The other place in Matthew’s gospel where sin is equated as a great debt is found in chapter 18. Peter asked Jesus about forgiving those who have sinned against us: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus’ answer helps us understand what it means to forgive those who have sinned against us. Consider Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Seventy times seven Jesus? I have a hard enough time forgiving a person seven times, but seventy times seven? Jesus is not saying we forgive seventy-seven times or even 490 times, Jesus is saying to Peter that the number doesn’t matter, but instead he should be willing to forgive the sins others have committed against us to the degree we have been forgiven.

Jesus is not saying that we should ignore a person’s sin; because he had just finished explaining the process of holding a person accountable for sins that a person committed against you (see Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus told a parable that gets at the heart of why we ought to forgive others. The parable is found in Matthew 18:23-35. Let’s look at the first five verses of that parable as we seek to understand why we should forgive:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. (vv. 23-27)

According to Jesus’ story, there was a king who wanted to settle accounts. As the king was seeking to settle accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents, which was the equivalent of about 160,000 years of wages. If we were the man in Jesus’ story, our debt today would be around 2.5 billion dollars. It was physically impossible for the man in Jesus’ story to repay his debt as it would be impossible for you to pay off a 2.5-billion-dollar debt.

The point Jesus was making in His parable was that the man’s debt was incalculable. Nothing this man did would ever be enough to pay off his debt. Jesus’s point is that we are like that man, and nothing we could do would ever satisfy that debt! So, what was the man to do? Look at verse 26, “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” The king understood that there was no way that his servant could ever pay off his debt, but what did the king do? He forgave the man of his entire debt. My fellow Christian… Jesus is describing the one whose sin was paid for at the cross of Christ. This is the point of Colossians 2:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14). What did it cost Jesus? Well according to the prophet Isaiah, it cost him everything: “…he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

In light of the great debt we owed due to our sin which Jesus paid on our behalf, I am reminded of a prayer written by a Christian long ago:
No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in your sight. Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart; praise has been often praiseless sound; my best services are filthy rags.

Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in your appeasing wounds. Though my sins rise to heaven your merits soar above them; though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell, your righteousness exalts me to your throne.

All things in me call for my rejection, all things in you plead my acceptance. I appeal from the throne of perfect justice to your throne of boundless grace.

Grant me to hear your voice assuring me: that by your stripes I am healed, that you were bruised for my iniquities, that you have been made sin for me and I might be righteous in you, that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven, buried in the ocean of your concealing blood.

I am guilty, but pardoned. Lost, but saved. Wandering, but found. Sinning, but cleansed.

Give me perpetual broken-heartedness, keep me always clinging to your cross, flood me every moment with descending grace, open to me the springs of divine knowledge, sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied through my wilderness of life.

The question before us is why must we seek the forgiveness of our sins if Jesus already paid the full debt our sin incurred before a holy God? What about Romans 8:1 that assures the Christian, “There is no condemnation for the Christians”? The last line in this very old prayer gets at the heart of the kind of petition Jesus means for us include in our prayers: “Give me perpetual (continuous) broken-heartedness, keep me always clinging to your cross, flood me every moment with descending grace, open to me the springs of divine knowledge, sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied through my wilderness of life.” To seek the forgiveness of our sins, is to go before a holy God as one grieving over our sin we committed against our heavenly Father.

The Christian enjoys positional justification while experiencing progressive sanctification. Positional justification is what it means to have all your sin debt canceled due to the payment Jesus made upon the cross for sin. Progressive sanctification is the change that begins to happen at the moment of new birth and continues until the day you stand before God as your Father instead of your judge. J. I. Packer described the Lord’s Prayer in the following helpful way:
The Lord’s Prayer is the family prayer, in which God’s adopted children address their Father, and though their daily failures do not overthrow their justification, things will not be right between them and their Father till they have said, “Sorry” and asked him to overlook the ways they have let him down.

This is what I believe the apostle John meant when he wrote 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Forgiving the Debts of Others

In his parable in Matthew 18, Jesus did not end his story with the cancellation and forgiveness of the servant’s impossible debt. To have experienced the great mercy of the king as the servant who was ‘forgiven much’ had experienced, you would think it would have affected the way he treated those who were indebted to him. Unfortunately, this man’s story did not end with gratitude or genuine appreciation for what his master did on his behalf. What we learn of this servant is that he went out and found the first person he could that was indebted to him. Notice this man’s attitude even though he had been forgiven of his incalculable debt: “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (vv. 28-30).

There was no mercy demonstrated by the “forgiven” servant! There was no consideration of the great debt that he was forgiven, instead he meant harm on a man who owed him very little in comparison. All that was owed to the “forgiven” servant was 100 denarii, which was the equivalent of 4,000 dollars. Now $4,000 was a lot of money in Jesus’ day, but 2.5 billion was a little more, don’t you think? Here is the point Jesus was making in this parable: the sins people commit against us are petty compared to our offence against God that he mercifully cancelled.

Now if the Bible stopped there, we would all go our own ways thinking of this nice moral tale. But Jesus did not stop there; notice what happened next in the story:
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (vv. 31-34)
Then Jesus concluded his parable with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35)

What is the point of Jesus’ parable? The point is this: “Those who have been forgiven much, must be willing to forgive others.” What is Jesus saying in His parable and what bearing does it have in Matthew 6:12 and our prayers? Let me begin by telling you two things Jesus IS NOT saying here.

  1. Jesus is not saying you will lose your salvation if you are unwilling to forgive the one who has sinned against you.
  2. Jesus is not saying that if we forgive others of their sin, our sins will also be forgiven.

What Jesus is saying:

  1. There is an unbreakable connection between God’s forgiveness of our sin and our forgiveness of other people’s sin against us.
  2. A forgiving spirit is part of what it means to be a Christian.
  3. If you are an unforgiving person, you may not belong to the kingdom of heaven.

What is the mark of the true Christian? Considering our Lord’s prayer, I think it is twofold:

  1. A genuine sorrow over the sins we commit that grieve the heart of our heavenly Father. The Christian is one who loves God and out of that love, seeks the forgiveness of God not so much out of a concern for his standing in heaven, but the relationship he enjoys with his heavenly Father.
  2. The fruit of the right understanding of what it means to be forgiven and to be a child of God is the ability to forgive others of the sins they have committed against you. The evidence of the truly penitent heart is a forgiving spirit. A forgiving spirit is one of the birthmarks of the child of God that can and ought to be seen by a cancel-culture-world.

Just as we pray for our daily bread daily, we who have received the mercy of God, can go to him daily because the well of his grace and love is infinitely deeper than the depths of our sins, though we commit them daily. His mercy is new every morning and ready to wash over your guilty conscience. As Daniel Doriani concludes from our Lord’s prayer: “The question ‘Will God forgive again?’ is sensible, but it underestimates the gospel. God’s grace is greater than our sin. The gospel goes to sinners, to the poor in spirit. We rest in God’s love, not our performance. The Lord is pleased when we obey, yet he loves and forgives, whether we obey or not.”

At Jesus’ birth, the angel said to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). If you are a Christian, that good news met you in the darkness of your own sin and now: You are guilty, but pardoned. Lost, but saved. Wandering, but found. Sinning, but cleansed. You, my dear Christian, are a child of the living God!