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August 10, 2011 / Daniel

The Lord’s Prayer, God’s forgiveness

The Lord’s Prayer is at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.  The rest of the sermon revolves around this prayer.   So, it is not surprising that the Lord’s Prayer summarizes several themes found in the sermon.

  • “Our Father in Heaven…”   Our Heavenly Father is good to his children.  He gives only good gifts (7:7-11).
  • “Hallowed be Your name…”   Since God’s name is sacred, He alone deserves the glory for our righteous actions (5:16; 6:1).
  • “Your kingdom come…”    The gospel of the kingdom is Jesus’ primary message (Matt. 4:17).   The Beatitudes are kingdom blessings (5:3-12).
  • “Your will be done…”   This short statement reminds us of the better righteousness that Jesus requires of his disciples (5:20-48).
  • “Give us today our daily bread…”  The sermon teaches us to store up treasure in heaven and to not be worried about tomorrow (6:19-34).
  • “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…”   Good trees produce good fruit (7:15-20).  A person who has truly experienced God’s forgiveness will forgive others.

Jesus’ words on forgiveness found in the Prayer and vv. 14-15 are troubling for many Christians.   Jesus says,

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Is God’s forgiveness really contingent upon our forgiveness?   I don’t think so.  Forgiveness can’t be earned.  Not in the OT.  Not in the NT.  So, I seriously doubt that Jesus is teaching that our forgiveness earns or merits God’s forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not work that way.   I think that Jesus uses the “if” clause for rhetorical effort.  It’s hyperbole.  The point is that forgiven people forgive.

Jesus illustrates this with a parable in Matthew 18:23-35.  There’s a king who has a servant who owes him millions and millions of dollars.  The king forgives the servant.  But the servant turns around and does not forgive his fellow servant who owes him just a few dollars.   When the king hears of it, he throws the man back in prison.  It’s obvious that the servant never truly understood the nature of the king’s forgiveness.   So, if we don’t forgive others, could it be that we don’t really understand the greatness of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

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  1. Teri Johnson / Aug 11 2011 1:24 am

    Thank YOU for linking to my post on The Lord’s Prayer. I love your insight on forgiveness — we are unpacking that NEXT week. I agree with what you said, “The point is that forgiven people forgive.” I too believe that God’s grace and mercy is available to use as it relates to forgiveness. Of course He desires for us to live a life in the “promised land” — a life of freedom — this the emphasis on forgiveness.

    I would answer your question at the end with YES. As we learn and grow spiritually and as we draw near to God, gain wisdom, we gain understanding — as He transforms us from within and renews our minds…He will expose areas of our lives that need to be “weeded” — forgiveness is just one area of many that we can all become better at. Just like Christ’s other characteristics.

    I’m going to share this link on our Facebook Page for the study — I believe others will appreciate it just as I did. Thank you!! =)

    Keeping it Personal,
    Teri Johnson

  2. Daniel / Aug 11 2011 3:09 am

    Sure thing, Teri.

    Are you studying the Lord’s Prayer for a Bible study at church? Or is it an online study?

  3. Phil Wengerd / Sep 22 2012 11:34 pm

    Thanks for your insight. I’m preparing a message on The Lord’s Prayer and ran across this blog post. I find it interesting the way you stated your position on forgiveness.

    “Is God’s forgiveness really contingent upon our forgiveness? I don’t think so. Forgiveness can’t be earned. Not in the OT. Not in the NT. So, I seriously doubt that Jesus is teaching that our forgiveness earns or merits God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness does not work that way. I think that Jesus uses the “if” clause for rhetorical effort. It’s hyperbole. The point is that forgiven people forgive.”

    Perhaps I’m simply misinterpreting what you’re saying. While I agree that forgiveness can’t be earned, and that forgiven people forgive. I also believe that Jesus is making it quite clear that unforgiveness towards others is a sure indication that we haven’t/aren’t experiencing the forgiveness of God. If that isn’t the case than why did Jesus end the Matthew 18 parable with verse 35, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother this trespasses”?

    Hopefully I’m not coming across as trying to start an argument because that’s not my intent 🙂 But, I also don’t understand why you said “It’s hyperbole”? A hyperbole is, a) an obvious and intentional exaggeration, or b) an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, neither of which is what I believe Jesus was doing.

    Of all the points Jesus was trying to make as He taught the people how to pray, He chooses to follow up the prayer with verses 14 & 15 emphasizing the importance of forgiveness.

    Love to hear your thoughts.

  4. Daniel / Sep 27 2012 3:58 pm


    Thanks for sharing. May God bless your sermon preparation.

    I think that the big point of vv. 14-15 is that forgiven people forgive others. If you don’t forgive others, then you don’t understand the forgiveness of God. Or as you put it, “Unforgiveness towards others is a sure indication that we haven’t/aren’t experiencing the forgiveness of God.”

    The logical structure of vv. 14-15 is an “if/then” relationship. “If you forgive others, then God forgives you. If you don’t forgive others, then God doesn’t forgive you.” This logical structure suggests that God’s forgiveness is contingent upon our forgiveness of others. But I don’t think that this is what Jesus actually means. Our forgiveness of others is not the basis for God’s forgiveness of us. It’s the other way around. God’s forgiveness of us is the basis for our forgiveness of others (cf. Eph. 4:32). In other words, God doesn’t forgive us, because we forgive others. God forgives us, because of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross. We forgive others, because we have been forgiven by God.

    So, I think that Jesus uses the “if/then” relationship to force us to understand how serious unforgiveness is. It’s indication that we have not experience the forgiveness of God.

    Does that make sense?


    • Brian Midmore / Sep 22 2013 6:21 pm

      For simple folk like me Matt 6.14,15 means that if i dont forgive someone their sins God wont forgive mine. That is ultimately what it means. Now you can suggest that for saved people that this wont happen because they appreciate Gods forgiveness for them, but that is not an explanation of what the verses mean. Now we don’t know for sure that all saved people will automatically forgive and if they don’t they have surely denied to some extent the covenant of grace. They have made a step towards the exit door. God loves them too much to let this happen and will discipline them by handing them over to the torturers.


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