Forgive Us Our Debts

Matthew 6:12

Tom Pennington  •  March 5, 2006
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I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 6 again as we continue our study of The Lord's Prayer.

This week I had the opportunity to read an article about the growing pandemic problem with personal debt in this country. The article said that in 1950, U.S. household debt to disposable income, the ratio between debt and disposable income (that is basically after-tax income), was 34 percent. That means that if a person's disposable income was $10,000 in 1950, they had $3,400 of debt. At the end of 2003, that ratio was no longer 34 percent, but 115 percent and growing. That means that the outstanding debt on disposable income of $28,400, which is the current U.S. per capita average, on $28,400 the debt was $32,660. Or in other words, today for every $10,000 of disposable income households now have $11,500 in debt.

But dwarfing the U.S. personal debt is the national debt. We continue to accumulate as a nation a great deal of money. In fact, last night the national debt stands at 8 trillion 300 billion dollars and some change. Since September of '05, the national debt has been increasing by over $2 billion dollars a day. Now, just to put a billion in perspective, (most of us will never deal with numbers that size, certainly not money of that size, but of even numbers of that size in our lifetime.) To put a billion into perspective, as we sit here this morning the seconds are ticking away. A billion seconds ago it was 1974. A billion minutes ago it was AD 104. So, when you are talking about $2 billion dollars a day, you're not talking about a chunk of change: serious money.

But as I read that article, as I thought about the growing debt both personally and nationally in our country, and as I studied this week, I was reminded of the fact that we as human beings, and particularly, even as God's people have a much greater problem than the national debt or even the personal indebtedness because the Bible teaches that daily you and I accumulate personal spiritual debt to God. And in the Disciples' Prayer Jesus teaches us that we have to deal with that debt on a regular basis. We must address our spiritual debt to God.

Follow along as I reread this magnificent prayer, this model prayer of our Lord to teach us how to pray. Matthew 6:9:

"Pray, then, [Jesus says,] "in this way:" 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'"]

Now we've been learning that in this brief prayer Jesus outlines prayer for us. He outlines what every prayer that we pray should be and what our prayer life as a whole should contain. There are six petitions in this prayer. The first three are all about God. When is the last time that instead of starting with you and with your needs or even the needs of others that you started by praying about God; that He would make His name great in the earth; that He would advance His kingdom in your life and in the lives of others? When is the last time you spent time in prayer asking that God would help others and you to accept His sovereign will and to bow the knee in obedience to His revealed will? This is where real prayer begins. And until we have prayed those things there is a sense in which we could say that we are not really praying at all.

Last week we began to study the final three petitions, and these final three are for us and for our needs. Jesus begins with our physical needs for this life. Verse 11, "Give us this day our daily bread." Included in that prayer are all of those things that you and I need to maintain physical life in the world. It's a prayer for food and for shelter and for clothing and for health and for jobs and every other thing that keeps us surviving in this world. But the next two petitions, the fifth and the sixth, deal with, not the physical needs of this life, but with the spiritual needs that we have in the world. Notice the last petition, verse 13, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This involves our constant need for spiritual protection and for personal holiness. And, Lord willing, we will look at it in detail next week.

But the fifth petition, the one to which we come today, deals also with the spiritual issue. It deals with the reality of sin in the life of believers. Notice verse 12: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." In these familiar words we find the crucial issue of sin and how you and I as believers are to deal with the reality of our sinfulness. Jesus, in these magnificent words, teaches us that a proper biblical response to sin consists of three crucial elements. And I want us to look at those elements this morning. If you can get your arms around these three elements, then you can deal in a God honoring way with the sin that is a part of your life, and I can with the sin that is a part of my life.

The first crucial element that part of our biblical response to our sinfulness is this: acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness, acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness. Contained in this petition is that simple acknowledgement, "forgive us our debts" is to acknowledge that we have debts. We are sinners by birth, and we are sinners by choice. And although in regeneration we receive new desires and a new disposition or as the prophet says, "a new heart", it doesn't change the reality of our sinfulness. If I can put it this way, for the believer the cancer of sin is no longer growing and advancing, but it is still there. It hasn't been eradicated. As the apostle John puts it in 1 John 1:8, he says, "If we say [or if we are saying] that we have no sin, [this is a claim to be without the principle of sin] "we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." Then in verse 10 he says, if, on the other hand, we are saying that "we have not sinned", [here is a claim not to be without the principal of sin but to be without the acts of sin.] not only am I without the principal sin in my life, I don't commit acts of sin either.

John goes on to say if that is your claim, you make … [God] "a liar and His Word is not in … [you.] You see, as long as you and I remain in this life, we will be plagued by personal sin. Here in Matthew Jesus describes the ongoing problem that we have with sin and our sin in two graphic words. Notice in 6:14, "… if you forgive others their transgressions…." He mentions it again in verse 15, "transgressions". Some translations have the word "trespass". The Greek word means "falling beside". It refers to a "false step", "a leaving of the path", "a crossing of the boundaries". We understand what it means to trespass. Unfortunately, I have to admit to you that I did my share as a young person. To trespass is to infringe on God's property rights. God says, "Here's the line," and we cross over it. But notice in verse 12, there's a very interesting word that Jesus uses to describe our sinfulness, the reality of it. It's the word "debts", "And forgive us our debts".

There's evidence, clear evidence, in the New Testament that suggests that our Lord, while He was on the earth, spoke three different languages. He spoke Hebrew, which is the language the Old Testament was written in. He studied the Bible in its original. He also, apparently, spoke Greek. There're several instances where we think that's true. Greek was the trade language of the first century. It is like English today. If you wanted to do business you needed to know Greek. And apparently Jesus knew that language. But the common language which He would have grown up hearing in Nazareth, and all across the land of Palestine, the common language in all of Israel was Aramaic. And the Aramaic word for sin is the word "debt". And so, when Matthew records our Lord's messages, he uses the Greek word for debt. Originally, this Aramaic word was used for "a literal, financial obligation" and the Greek word as well. You can see that in Matthew 18:24. When Jesus gives the parable of the two men who owed a great deal of money, He uses this word. It's a financial obligation, but later it came to be used metaphorically of something we owe either to people or to God.

Now, obviously, when you think about this, we are debtors to God on many different fronts. We owe God everything. He made us; He provides for us; He sustains our lives; there is nothing that you and I have or enjoy that doesn't come to us from the hand of God. In that sense, we are debtors on every front. But most of those are not the debts to which Jesus refers here because notice in this context, verse 12, He's talking about a debt that needs to be forgiven. Luke makes it particularly clear. Luke, you remember, in chapter 11 of his gospel also records the Disciple's Prayer given by Jesus at another point in His ministry. Listen to how Luke records this petition. "And forgive us our sins" (the normal New Testament word for sin) as "we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." So, he uses both words: sin and debt, because debt (get this carefully), debt, as Jesus uses it in Matthew 6, is a word picture of human sin. Every one of us owes God full and complete, can I say, perfect obedience. If you sit here this morning, God has laid out His law. He has recorded for you in His Word. He has written it on your heart, and you owe Him absolute, perfect, unremitting obedience. And when we fail to render that obedience to God, we accumulate debt.

Before we came to Christ, we were not only in debt, we had accumulated a debt that we could never repay. You know there are people who live their lives doing good. They think that somehow by doing good they are going to balance the scales. Listen, your debt meter is increasing far beyond any good you do. You are not even keeping up, much less paying off the debt you owe. In fact, turn over to Colossians 2, there's a very interesting expression that Paul uses there. Colossians 2:13, he says,

When you were dead in your transgressions [there's our word] and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him. [Here's regeneration, He made you alive] having forgiven us all our transgressions, [And then he gives us a word picture of what that was like,] verse 14, having cancelled out [this is really what made forgiveness possible], having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and … has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

Now let me explain what's going on here. The word "certificate" literally is "handwriting", "the handwriting of debt". And that debt that we had accumulated, consisted of decrees against us. You see in the ancient world when you owed someone money, you would in your own handwriting (and we do this sometimes today, informally), in your own handwriting you would write out I owe so and so a certain amount of money, and I intend to pay it back by such and such a time. That was your certificate of debt, your handwriting of debt. And here we are told that our debt to God consisted of His decrees. In other words, He had said this is what you are to do, and we hadn't done it, so, we had accumulated a promissory note of what we owed God in obedience.

When Sheila and I bought our first piece of property in California it was called, affectionately, a town home, which is Californian for "something very small". We sat in a small office of an escrow company, and for an hour and a half we signed our names. We signed away all of our oil rights, we signed away our mineral rights, we signed away our first-born child. In fact, to be honest with you, I still don't, to this day, know all that I committed to that morning in that escrow office. But one thing was sure we had committed to pay a ridiculous amount of money for something that wasn't much bigger than a tool shed. I remember laying in bed that night feeling the weight of that debt. Crying out, "God, what have I done? What have I gotten my family into? This is more money than I have ever seen in my life or ever will." Well you multiply that an infinite number of times, that weight, that pressure, that debt; and that is what we owed God. Before we came to Christ we owed a debt to God that could never ever be paid. We couldn't even keep up with the interest.

Notice, in Matthew that all of the words used for sin there, debt and transgressions, are plural. You see every day without exception we commit many different sins, sins that theologians call sins of omission (that is we omit righteous things that we are supposed to do), and sins of commission (that is we commit acts of disobedience doing what we are not supposed to do). So, not only do we fail to do what we are supposed to do, we do what we are not supposed to do. And we do this often, all the time. In fact, Christ uses a financial word here I think, the word debt, to point out to us our utter spiritual bankruptcy. It reminds me of the first beatitude: "Blessed are the," what? "poor in spirit." Do you know what the word "poor" is in the Greek text? … the word "beggar". Blessed are the beggars in spirit.

I remember my first visit to India, years ago now. My host showed me to a Hindu temple, and on the sidewalk approaching the temple were a row of beggars, and one of the men still stands out in my mind to this day because he had his little bowl sitting there in front of him with a few coins in it, and he was seated behind that bowl, and this man had no arms and he had no legs. He was just the trunk of a person. He could do absolutely nothing for himself. He had to be carried there each day, and he sat there behind that bowl, and somebody had to come and help him eat, and somebody had to help him do all the issues of life, and then take him back home at night, and then bring him there again the next day. All he could do was ask for the help of others, to beg.

That's a perfect spiritual picture of our condition before God. We have no personal merit. We can make no effort to please Him. We have nothing to pay our debt with. So all we can do is beg. All we can do is ask God to come to our aid, to forgive our sin, and to restore the relationship that we have so desperately damaged and mangled. It's the cry of the tax collector in Luke 18, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner."

This fifth petition is really a cry for mercy and for grace. Do you know what mercy and grace are? They are twin attributes of God that are our greatest source of joy. Mercy is saying, "God, don't give me what I deserve", and grace is saying, "God, keep giving me the opposite of what I deserve."

You see this constantly in the biblical prayers of confession, people crying out to God. Turn to Psalm 51. In Psalm 51:1 David, of course you know the context that is given to us there in the heading. It is after Nathan, the prophet, had come into him; after he had gone into Bathsheba; after he had killed Uriah, her husband; after a period of months, apparently, the time that the child was in Bathsheba's womb; David refused to repent. Sometime, nine months or later, Nathan, the prophet, comes to David, and he tells him that little story. And when David is so upset about how that man with the little lamb is being treated in the story that Nathan tells, Nathan points his bony finger in the face of David and says, "It's you, you are the man."

David repents, and this is the expression of his repentance. Notice where David begins. He doesn't begin demanding from God. He doesn't begin telling God what he deserves. Look at what he does. He pleads God's character. He says,

Be gracious to me, O God. [God, You're gracious, show me grace. God, You have unfailing love, show me grace] according to Your unfailing love; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out [erase] my transgressions. Wash me, [cleanse me] For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, [Of course, he had sinned against Bathsheba and against Uriah and against all the nation of Israel, against his own family. But he says, I see now that my greatest offense, O God, is against You.] He says I have done what is evil in Your sight "So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. [You know what David is saying? God, do whatever You want to me, and I'll say it's fair because I deserve whatever is coming.]

Verse 5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me."

Now this isn't some sort of cop out on David's part. He's not blaming his mother for his problems. David is saying, listen, God, this sin that I've committed, it's not some aberration, it's not something separate from who I am, it goes to the very core of my being. This is who I have been from birth, and I've only sinned because it is what I am. That's what he is saying, and he's crying out for God to extend him grace solely because of who God is. You see what David is doing? He's acknowledging the reality of his sinfulness. When you and I come to God in confession of sin, when we come saying forgive us our debts, we are to come acknowledging our sinfulness to God.

Well the second element of a biblical response to sin is not only to acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness, but we must understand the nature of forgiveness, understand the nature of forgiveness. Forgive us. What is it we are really asking for? Did you there are some professing Christians who have a problem with our praying this prayer, and especially, with our asking God to forgive us our sins? There are not many, but there are a few who say a Christian should never pray this prayer. This was before the cross. Now, the reasons these people give for not praying forgive us, fall into two basic categories. Some of them say, we shouldn't pray this because, as believers, we have already been justified; we've already been forgiven; we don't need to say forgive us.

A second category is: there are some who won't pray this prayer because they believe that Christians can arrive at a point of spiritual perfection. If that is you, come back tonight and you will learn differently. Let me just say that Jesus here in this prayer commands His apostles and all of those who legitimately call God, Father, to pray this prayer. "Our Father forgive us our debts." So, this petition is intended to serve as a pattern for all of us who know God through His Son.

I mean, this was true of David in Romans 4, David is said to be justified. In fact, Paul quotes from Psalm 32, and he says how David begins Psalm 32, is saying a person is blessed to whom sin has not been imputed, as a sign that David understood and had the grace of justification. And, yet, what does David go on to do in Psalm 32? Ask for God's forgiveness. Jesus says pray, Christian, pray this, our Father, forgive us.

Now what exactly are we asking God to do when we pray that prayer? What is the nature of forgiveness? Well, literally, the Greek word for forgive means to send away, to let go, to give up, to give up a debt by not demanding it, to remit it, to forgive. We get a little more insight into this word "to forgive" by seeing in John 20:23, a word that is used as its opposite. The opposite of "to forgive", the apostle, John, explains is "to retain", or literally, "to grasp, to hold onto". So, we are praying, God don't grasp, don't hold onto my sins. Instead, let them go; send them away; write off the debt.

Now, if you are a thinking Christian, you are sitting there saying, "Wait a minute, I thought that is what happened at the moment of salvation. That all my sins past, present, and future were pardoned. So, why do I still need to ask for forgiveness? What about that verse we just read a few minutes ago in Colossians 2:13 where it says that He forgave us all our transgressions? Why does a sinner, who has been totally forgiven, and who has been declared forever righteous, still need to come before God and seek daily forgiveness?" That's a good question. It's an honest question, a fair question.

And, fortunately for us, Jesus answered it in John 13. Turn there with me. John 13, it was the night, of course, before His crucifixion, the upper room discourse. And in John 13:4, we are told that Jesus,

got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself." "… poured water into" [a] … "basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Now, in this passage, if we had time to look it in detail, we learn that Jesus wanted to underscore or teach two lessons here.

One lesson He wanted to teach (and it is developed beginning in verse 12 and further) is that: we are to be humble. We are to serve each other. Jesus was setting a model for humility in service by washing their feet. But there was another lesson Jesus wanted to teach here as well, and it's this washing of the feet was symbolic of the spiritual cleansing that His followers, who were already justified, needed. This is the point He makes in verses 6 – 10. Notice verse 6 says, He's washing their feet. He comes to Simon Peter. You always know when He gets to Peter it is going to be something interesting that's going to happen.

Peter says to Him, Lord, are you really going to wash my feet? And Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." In other words, work with me Peter, you don't get it now, but you'll get it, just stay with the program. I am going to teach it. Verse 8, Peter said to Him, "Never shall you wash my feet!" You see you've got to understand a little bit of the cultural climate. In that day, even a peer didn't wash another peer's feet. It was always somebody beneath you who washed your feet. And you certainly would never allow someone who was your great superior to wash your feet as Jesus is doing here. And so, Peter says, Lord, it can't happen, not going to happen.

Peter thinks he is being humble, but Jesus answered and said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." You've got to love Peter. Look at his response in verse 9. He says, Okay then, Lord, don't just wash my feet, but give me a bath, do "my hands and my head." And Jesus makes this profound point about what He is doing in verse 10. He says, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you," referring to Judas. He says all the rest of you, the other eleven, you're clean. You've already had a bath. I don't need to give you a bath, Peter. You've already had one. I just need to clean your feet.

You see what's going on here is a very powerful spiritual lesson about sin. Jesus is saying that at the moment of salvation we got a bath. We were bathed as the prophet, Ezekiel says, we were washed, we were cleansed. That's our justification. Yes, our sins were utterly forgiven and we never need another bath. I bet you young people will be happy to hear that. But we need our feet to be cleaned. That is a picture from the ancient world of the need for daily confession of sin and seeking of God's forgiveness. You see at the moment of salvation our relationship to God dramatically changed. We went from being rebels against our rightful King to becoming His adopted sons and daughters.

Let me see if I can help you understand this. This image that I am going to give you helped me greatly grasp this reality. Imagine yourself, for a moment, in the courtroom. God is your Judge. We are talking about now before salvation. Before salvation you and I stood before God not as our Father, but as our Judge, and we came to Him as our Judge pleading with Him, begging for His forgiveness, seeking pardon from our rebellion against His divine law. We deserved eternal punishment, and we stood in the courtroom of God's justice, and we said, "God, please forgive me, pardon me for Jesus' sake." And God did an amazing thing. And He did pronounce us pardoned for the sake of Christ. Pardoned, never again to face judgment in His courtroom for our sins. And we changed rooms because the Judge decides not only to pardon our sins, but to adopt us, to make us His Own sons and daughters.

And so, we leave the courtroom, and we go home with the Judge, and He is now no longer our Judge, but He is our Father. We find ourselves at home in totally different room if you will. And now, when we sin, it is not the sin of a rebel against the Judge. It is not the sin of a lawbreaker against a Lawgiver. It is, primarily, the sin of a son or a daughter against the Father. You understand what this is like. You remember what it is like to breach the expectation of your parents, their word, what they've asked you to do and a rift was created. You were still their child. It wasn't that it would change the relationship. It changed the fellowship until it was resolved, and that is the way it is now with us when we sin. We no more go back to the courtroom. We don't go back over there. That is forever settled. But here at home when we breach our Father's will, we come, and we seek His forgiveness as a child to a Father; no longer an offended angry Judge, but a loving gracious Father.

And here's the amazing part, God is by nature a forgiver. I love this. Listen to Psalm 86:5, "For You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive" [eager to forgive] "And abundant in …" [unfailing love] "to all who call upon You." [It's His character. He delights, the prophet Micah says, in mercy.] And God has promised to forgive. Not only is it a picture of Who He is, but He's promised.

Listen to Proverbs 28:13. "He who" covers his sin "will not prosper." I am confident this morning that there [is] … some true believers sitting in this room who are in the business of covering your sin. God says if you cover it, you will not prosper. But then He goes on to make this amazing promise. Whoever "confesses and forsakes them" will have mercy. It's a promise from God. Isaiah 55:7, "Let the wicked forsake his way [his path, his habits]) And the unrighteous man his" … [thinking]; "And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him. And to our God," … [and] "He will abundantly pardon." This is God! This is our God! God isn't hesitant to forgive.

This week we heard a sermon by John MacArthur on Luke 15. What is commonly called the parable of the prodigal son which pictures God running through town, getting shame to Himself, to embrace and receive the repentant sinner. That's God! That's our God! That's what He is like. Turn to Micah 7. Micah 7, one of my favorite pictures of the forgiveness of God in all the Bible. Verse 18,

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity" [who] "… passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, you will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea."

This is our God! This is how He responds. You say, how can He do that? He's holy, He's righteous. How can He just forgive sin? How can a righteous God let go or send away the guilt of sinners? Today there are people who say that the cross is just an expression of God's love. It's all it accomplished. It just showed us how much God loves us. And the truth is God didn't need to do that, He can just forgive us whenever He wants. He can just make a decision to forgive you, to forgive me with no cost to Himself. That's not what Jesus says.

Listen to what He says in Matthew 26 on the night before His crucifixion as they are celebrating the Last Supper. He says, "… this is my blood" … [and it] "is poured out for many [in the place of many] for the forgiveness of sins." Jesus said forgiveness is only possible for you and for me because He died as our substitute enabling God to let us walk; to let us live; to let us be sons and daughters. How can a righteous God let go the guilt of sinners, forgive the debt we owe? It is only through the punishment of our sin on a substitute, on His Own Son. When you and I come to God every day asking His forgiveness for our sins, we are approaching our own Father, and we are asking Him to forgive our debts against Him and to restore not our relationship; He remains our Father, but to restore our fellowship with Him and to do it solely because of the life and death of Jesus Christ in our place. And Jesus is here commanding us to do this daily. This is the nature of the forgiveness we seek from God, to be reconciled to an offended Father.

To pray "forgive us our debts" means one: that we acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness, two: we understand the nature of forgiveness and thirdly: and briefly, we must meet the condition of forgiveness. There's a condition, there's a catch. Notice the last half of verse 12, "as we also have forgiven our debtors." Now it is crucial that you understand that this does not mean that we can earn God's forgiveness in any way, that somehow our forgiving others earns God's forgiving of us.

In Ephesians 1:7 Paul writes, In … [Christ] we have "the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…." Forgiveness is always grace from beginning to end and nothing you or I ever can do will earn it. So, what does this mean "as we have forgiven our debtors?" Well Leon Morris explains the concept this way. "We have no right to seek forgiveness for our own sins if we are withholding forgiveness from others." Jesus outlines this as so important. As He finishes The Lord's Prayer, He only comes back to one issue, and it's this issue.

Notice Matthew 6:14, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." God here, threatens to withhold from us the daily forgiveness and cleansing from our Father [He's not talking about taking back our justification.]. He's saying I'm not going to forgive you as your Father unless you forgive others. Now notice that He makes debtors here plural, "as we forgive our debtors". Jesus is stressing the fact that there will be a multitude of people who, on numerous occasions, sin against us, and just as we become a debtor to God by failing to obey Him, others become our debtors when they sin against us. And Scripture says that we owe two things to everyone who sins against us. And it happens all the time. You can make a list from this week. You owe those people who have sinned against you two things. First of all, you owe them a spirit, an attitude, of forgiveness.

In Mark:11:25, Jesus says, when "you stand praying," [so here you are in the presence of God praying]. He says when "you stand praying" and you remember that you have someone that you have something against "forgive" them. He is saying have an attitude of forgiveness. Let it go. It is the spirit of our Lord, who on the cross said, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." It is the spirit of Stephen, who as he was stoned said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." The spirit of forgiveness means that we must bear no malice, no hatred, and we must abstain from both the desire and the acting out of revenge. Paul says in Romans 12,

Never take your own vengeance, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written "VENGEANCE IS MINE. I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "… IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM." "IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM" [something to] "DRINK". [We are to have an attitude or a spirit of forgiveness.]

But there is a second thing we owe everybody who sins against us and that is full and complete restoration when there is repentance. Jesus makes this clear over in Luke:17. In Luke 17:3, Jesus says this, "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." You're to have an attitude of forgiveness all the time, but the full complete reconciliation and restoration can only occur where there is repentance. You say well, "How do I know if he is repentant?" Well, Jesus answers that question. Look at the next verse, verse 4. "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent', forgive him." Now let's be honest, if somebody sins against us seven times in the same day, do we really believe that repentance is genuine? … no. You know what Jesus is saying? Be generous with your forgiveness. If they come and ask you, if they say they are repentant, forgive them from the heart, and if they aren't, God is big enough to deal with that.

Be generous in your forgiveness. What Paul says in Ephesians 4:32, where he says, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Forgive in the same way you have been forgiven. The unforgiving, listen to this carefully, the unforgiving cannot and will not be forgiven. In fact, there is a solemn warning here. Leon Morris writes, "Jesus is saying that to fail to forgive others is to demonstrate that one has not felt the saving touch of God," Or listen to Lloyd Jones.

"The proof that you and I are forgiven is that we forgive others. If we think that our sins are forgiven by God, and we refuse to forgive somebody else, we're making a mistake. We have never been forgiven. The man who knows he has been forgiven only in and through the shed blood of Christ is a man who must forgive others. He cannot help himself. If we really know Christ as our Savior, our hearts are broken and cannot be hard, and we cannot refuse forgiveness. If you are refusing forgiveness to anybody, I suggest that you have never been forgiven."

The kind of forgiveness Jesus is teaching here is more than a one-time event. It is to be a pattern of our lives. In Luke it is recorded this way, "Forgive us our sins for we are forgiving [present tense] our debtors." In other words, it is our pattern; it is our practice; it is our habit; and we've got a bunch of debtors. A lot of different people have sinned against us, and it is our habit to forgive them.

Let me ask you a question this morning. Is there anyone that you can think of with whom you want to get even? Is there somebody in your life who has so sinned against you that you just want to punish them; you want to hurt them; you want to get back at them; you want to make them pay? Is there somebody that you have refused to forgive when they've come and asked and said they were repentant? Jesus says if you want the forgiveness of God, you've got to be willing to let it go.

Now, I know I am out of time, I am sorry that I have gone long this morning, but as we finish our study this morning, let me show you practically how to confess our sins. In conclusion, turn with me to 1 John, you knew I was going to get there eventually. 1 John 1, stay with me just a few moments. This is so important, so much a part of our lives as believers. How is it that we are to do this? Well, in 1 John 1:9 there are several very practical directives.

Number 1: confess specific sins. John writes, "if we confess our sins." He doesn't say sin, singular, that I'm a sinner. He says confess our sins, plural. In other words, name them; all known sins. Tell God what they are and ask His forgiveness. Confess them, acknowledge them.

Number 2: accept full responsibility. The word "confess" is a Greek word that means "to say the same thing". It means you are agreeing with God. You are saying, "God, yes this is a despicable sin. This is a violation of Your character, and I didn't do it because it's unusual. I did it like David said because it is part of who I am. I take full responsibility. It is not somebody else's problem, it's mine.

Number 3: plead the character of God. He says, "He is faithful." Plead the character of God like David in Psalm 51 who says, God, You're gracious, be gracious to me; You're merciful, be merciful to me. Say, God, You're faithful to Your Word, and You promise to forgive. Forgive me. That's your only plea. You don't have anything else nor do I. Just God, just His character. He made a promise to forgive, and He will be faithful to that promise.

Number 4: always remember that Christ and His death earned the forgiveness you ask for. Notice what John says in 1 John 1:9, "He is faithful and righteous." He's just. How can a holy God be just to forgive my true guilt and my sin? It is a reminder, isn't it, of Romans 3:26? He is both just, and, yet, still the justifier of those who have faith in Christ. This is a reminder of what Christ accomplished for us.

Number 5: and finally, expect complete forgiveness. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God is a forgiver. I love the biblical images of God. "As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us," Psalm 103 says. Listen folks, the east and west never meet; in other words, an infinite distance. Isaiah 38, he says, "You… cast … my sins behind Your back." They are out of God's sight, and He put them there. In Micah 7, as we saw, "He casts" our "sins into the depths of the sea". Listen, we still don't know what goes on at the bottom of the ocean. That's where God has put our sins. And then in Isaiah 43, he says, "I, even I, am the one who wipes out [who erases] your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins." God erases them, He expunges them from my record, and He remembers them no more. In Hebrews "to remember" is "to choose to think about something". God says I will never choose to bring up to My mind what you have done against Me. I'll never hold it against you again.

Philip Reichen writes these magnificent words. Listen to this.

"God, the Father, offers forgiveness as a free gift of His grace when you go to Him weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin. He will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan. He will not scheme to charge you more interest. He will not send you to purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts. On the contrary, God is a loving Father, who offers forgiveness full and free." Part of our prayers every day must be the confession of sin. Jesus says, "Pray like this, 'Father, forgive us our debts.'"

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for these words. Scribe them within our hearts. Help us as Your people to deal honestly with our sin. Lord, there are people here this morning who are believers, who are. I pray that you would encourage them with these words.

Lord, there are believers here this morning who are covering their sin, hiding their sin. But the darkness and the light are alike to You. Lord, You see them. Help them to see that it's only as they confess and forsake they'll have mercy. May they turn to You even today.

And Father, there are others here who are not even believers who live under the debt that they are accumulating day by day, and they'll spend eternity separated from You. Under Your wrath. Lord, may today be the day they cry out for Your forgiveness and justification.

We pray it to the glory of Your Son's name. Amen.