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The Quality of Forgiveness

Pastor Dennis Smith

In what we sometimes call the Disciple’s Prayer, Jesus taught his followers a pattern for praying. We find this in Matthew 6. Consider for a moment verse 12, where Jesus includes this petition: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

What does it mean for us to ask God’s forgiveness “as” we forgive our debtors? As is such a little word, yet it has so much significance here. What did Jesus mean by it? I think there are several possibilities — the word could mean while or because or in the same manner.

Let’s briefly explore each possibility. If Jesus meant while, then we should ask the Father to forgive our debts against him while we go about forgiving those who have offended us. If Jesus used the word to mean because, we would understand him to be saying that we can ask forgiveness because we have forgiven others. I do not think that either of these meanings captures Jesus’ intent here. No, I think Jesus meant that we should ask the Father to forgive us in the manner, or in the same way that we forgive others.

So when we think about the manner in which we should forgive others, I believe we need to understand some things about God’s forgiveness.

First, we should realize that God’s forgiveness involves forgetting. He said in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” When God says that he will not remember our sins, does he mean that he will somehow wipe them out of his memory? No, God knows all things, and there can be nothing of which he is unaware. What does he mean then? I think he means that he will not bring up our sins again once he has forgiven them. He will never remind us about that time when we offended him. He will not allow past transgressions to affect his relationship with us as his children. They are forgiven!

Second, we should understand that God’s forgiveness involves releasing the sinner from the debt owed. Sin constitutes an offense against the holy God — a debt of sorts is incurred. Notice that “debts” is actually the word Jesus used here to refer to sin. When God in Christ forgives our sin he releases us from the debt; he cancels the debt we owe.

So then, when we forgive others, let us do as God does when he forgives us. First, let us put the offense behind us, not bringing it up again, and not even allowing ourselves to play it over and over in our own mind. Second and more importantly, let us resolve, at least in our own heart, to cancel the debt that they incurred against us. Let us take the attitude, “You don’t owe me; I’m not looking for you to make it up to me.” This is not easy to do, but it’s necessary if that’s the quality of forgiveness we seek from God.

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