Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
Forgiveness is a difficult subject to write about for two reasons:
The first may be a bit obvious:
I’m still struggling with it. It dredges up the tender, broken places within and forces me to deal with all of those things I thought I’ve let go of, only to learn that Jesus is still healing and restoring. It causes me to look in the mirror and realize that I’m still filthy and culpable; that I’m not as innocent as my heart would try to fool me into believing.
Self-righteousness and Bitterness writhe and cry out, “Not fair!” when confronted with Forgiveness. And I realize that the flesh revels in being the judge, jury, and executioner while simultaneously pleading for mercy and grace from the only True Judge.
Forgiveness is difficult to explore because it offends everything in my flesh.
Reason number two is, forgiveness offends pretty much everyone else too. In our present day and age, people don’t like to hear that they’re wrong, or that they’re part of the problem, or that they need forgive and be forgiven.
But telling you that “you’re okay, I’m okay” isn’t helpful; it’s not truth. It’s not love. And it’s not freedom.
In exploring prayer, we come to one of the richest, most fundamental parts of prayer. It’s the glue that holds it all together.
Forgiveness is a prerequisite before the throne of God: both accepting forgiveness, and forgiving others.
Accepting God’s forgiveness means recognizing the Who of prayer: that He is the Almighty, Holy One with which all justice, righteousness, and perfection resides. It means that I recognize that He is Ruler over all things and that His word is good and faithful and true.
…And agreeing, in humility, that I am none of those things. It means recognizing that there’s a standard that He’s set that I don’t meet. (And honestly, I can’t even meet the standards of ethics and morality that I set for myself, let alone the Holy God of the Cosmos.)
Acknowledging my neediness is validation of who He is and who I am in light of Him. Creator vs creation. Faithful vs faithless. Holy vs sinful.
He holds all of the cards and extends grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Not because I’m so great, but because Jesus is so great.
And so sin’s chains are broken and I am able to freely come before the throne of God, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus because I accept His forgiveness.
Which leads us to the second requirement: forgiving others.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” -Matthew 18:23-35
Forgiving others isn’t a suggestion. It isn’t pop psychology (though, science supports that it’s good for your mental health). Forgiveness is a command.
It’s a difficult command; but God never tells us to do something if it’s not in our best interest (and for His glory).
Harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It ruminates within our souls, poisoning every part within, breeding self-righteousness, wrath, pride, contempt, idolatry, and envy. These are the worst kind of sin: the kind that only God and I can see. These are the kind that I can do mental aerobics to justify that “everything’s okay” within, when I’m actually filled with rot and death inside.
This is why Jesus commands us when we pray to let it go. To give up our right to anger and bitterness and vindication: it was Him who was first sinned against. He’s more suited to handle the whole business of justice and mercy than we are.
The weight of other’s sin is a poison He could drink and die from and be raised again; we can’t.
/ / /
Forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from our Father isn’t giving – or getting – a “free pass.” It’s giving justice and mercy right back into the hands they always belonged to.
And it doesn’t mean denying our feelings. Forgiveness is a command; healing is a process. God does not command healing, but is Himself the Great Physician who mends all wounds and is near to the broken-hearted.
But living in obedience to forgiving others develops our eternal sight in such a way that we begin to see others and ourselves the way that God sees His beloved creatures:
We are all perpetrators of sin and deserving of judgment. We are all victims of sin and walking around with deep wounds. Eternity is etched in the heart of every person we encounter, who is desperately trying to fill the void with something that is here and tangible.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12
It’s powerful. Forgiveness leaves no room for superiority, because it places every person in the seat of the guilty – towards one another and towards Jesus. The barrier between you and me” or “us and them” is shattered because, on a heart level, we are all the same. Wretched, selfish, prideful, idolatrous, and wrathful, everyone stands before the throne – and one another – as guilty.
Jesus offers forgiveness and grace. How dare we hold anyone, including ourselves, in contempt and condemnation when Jesus declared us righteous by His blood?
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
He calls us to revel in our own forgiveness. To live and walk in freedom, that we might be free to enjoy His presence uninhibited and His grace to overflowing. This is the place where life abundant begins. Here is the place where our souls are nourished by the only thing we ever really craved. This is the place of freedom, where intimacy between God and man begins and ends.