“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” (Matt. 6:12). These words from the well-known Lord’s Prayer are words that we often speak, yet it can be so easy to verbalize them without really thinking about their meaning. “As we forgive our debtors.” Because of our sinful human natures, that can be so hard to do! Living and interacting in a world full of sinners, we are sinned against daily. But how do we react? So often we are tempted to hold a grudge against that sinner, refusing to make amends and forgive him of his wrongdoing. But Jesus instructs us in Luke 17:3 as to the proper response: “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Here are a few things to consider that will help motivate us to maintain a forgiving attitude towards others.
Remember the great debt of sin that God has forgiven of us. “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). By nature, we hate God and want nothing to do with Him, content to drown in our world of darkness and sin. By nature, we commit the greatest of sins against Him, adding daily to the mountain of transgressions on our account. By nature, we are bound to serve the Devil, and do so willingly. Apart from God, we are blinded by the darkness of sin, desiring no salvation, but reveling in the lusts of the flesh. Yet God, in His infinite mercy and grace, chose us and loved us in eternity, and thus provided the Way for us to be redeemed and forgiven. He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us sinners who cursed, mocked, and ridiculed Him, and the sinless One willingly laid down His life fully to satisfy the whole wrath of God against our sins.
God calls us to forgive others out of thankfulness for His gracious forgiveness of us. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). As those who have had the mountain of our sins forgiven, we have the greatest example and motivation for forgiving others. When we meditate on the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of our sins, how can we not be filled with gratitude and a desire to reflect that great work of God in our relationships with others? When we remember this, we will always have reason to forgive because no matter how great a sin is committed against us, the forgiven debt we owed to God will always be infinitely greater.
Christ not only died to forgive you, but all of God’s children. If you are wronged in some way by a fellow Christian, remember that you are both sinners saved by the same grace. God holds that sinner in His hands just the same as He holds you, and he is part of God’s covenant family just as you are. God has already forgiven that child of His of that sin, so who are you to refuse him your forgiveness when he asks for it?
God forgives our sins constantly and completely – and so must we forgive our debtors. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” That is how completely God forgave our sins, and that is what true forgiveness is. It is not saying, “I forgive you,” while refusing to forget the incident and continuing to foster feelings of hatred and resentment against that person. But it is forgiving the sin so completely that we cast it from our memory, never allowing it to resurface to taint the reputation of the sinner. God also forgives our sins continually. Daily we add to the debt of sins we owe to God, and daily He forgives us of every single one. We, in turn, receive the calling to do the same with regard to our debtors: “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). When we remember how constantly we sin against God and how readily He forgives us of those sins, we should be able to forgive our debtors no matter how frequently we are wronged.
When we meditate on these things, we will find ourselves much more willing to forgive our debtors. And when we forgive our debtors, we will have the assurance that our debts are forgiven by God. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). Of course, our act of forgiving others does not cause God to forgive our sins – Christ has already accomplished that once and for all and nothing we do can change that. But when we forgive our debtors, we experience that forgiveness and have the assurance that ours are forgiven as well. Then we can pray with understanding the words of the Lord’s Prayer as Christ has taught us, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”