“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NIV)
“As we also…”
This simple phrase may be the bit of this prayer that is most obviously challenging to us.
Everything else is petition and declaration. This is petition–asking God for something, with comparison–“as we also…”
Jesus is explicit in his follow-up in Matthew’s gospel:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
Sort of sounds like a trade-off. Like we need to do the right thing in order to be forgiven. That seems like a straight-forward reading of this teaching.
So, what I wonder, however, is if this speaks more to the nature of the transformation that should happen in our heart because of grace than it does to the limits of grace offered to us.
Might it be that becoming more genuinely forgiving is such a clear and definitive mark of someone who has been forgiven in Christ that whether or not we have a forgiving spirit is an indicator of whether or not we’ve actually received the gospel?
That seems to be the answer in the famous parable found in Matthew 18:21-35 about the servant who owed his king a great debt. He plead for the debt to be forgiven and the king had mercy on him. While walking away, however, he encountered a fellow servant who owed him a small fraction of what he had just been forgiven. But instead of imitating the mercy and forgiveness of the king, he was insistent and threatening with the fellow servant.
Imitating the forgiveness of God is a sign that the gospel has really taken hold in someone’s heart.
So, here’s our temptation: to think of other people we don’t think are very forgiving. Let’s avoid that and keep our eyes clear and focused on our hearts. How forgiving are we? Not just letting things go or going along to get along. I mean real, authentic, working-through-it, forgiveness.
Forgiveness is so important that Jesus embedded a continual request for it into the prayer he taught, and a reminder that capacity for forgiveness is an essential indicator of Christian transformation of the heart.
Prayer: God, keep me forgiven, and forgiving. Do your deep work of transformation in my heart. Amen.