2018-11-14 / Columns

The Pastor's Pen

A Precious Request

“And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This familiar phrase is from the Lord’s Prayer – the model prayer Jesus gave his disciples (students) when asked if he would teach them how to pray. It is also called the Our Father because that is how it opens addressing God. In prayer, we tell our Heavenly Father we are sorry, and ask his forgiveness. We can be sure what God teaches us to pray, he must be happy to answer. What a precious truth for heavy consciences to know that this request will be answered if we ask it truly. So what does it mean to make this request our own?

“Sin” means missing the target. It is either to think, say, or do what, according to God, I should not, or fail to think, say, or do what, according to God, I should. “Sin” has been called “transgression”, with the idea of crossing a forbidden line, trespassing. God’s expectations are spelled out in the Bible and summarized in the Ten Commandments as well as the Two Great Commandments identified by Jesus: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. “Sin” has been called “debts”, because it puts us in debt to God’s justice. God made us, so we owe him obedience. When we don’t give him what he’s due, sin has consequences. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). This request means acknowledging I’ve done wrong and deserve to be punished.

This is why Jesus died on the Cross. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21) “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1Pe 3:18) “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) The message is clear, Jesus died in our place so that we could be forgiven and right with God. This is at the heart of the Bible’s good news.

This request means asking God to forgive you on his terms, acknowledging Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, the Lord, God’s only chosen king (Christ/Messiah), and the only Savior who will not disappoint you. You may not always feel forgiven, but you will be forgiven. But why is the phrase added: “as we forgive those who sin against us”? This reminds us of another important reality of accepting the gift of forgiveness and acknowledging Jesus as Lord of our lives: we obey his command to forgive others who sin against us. We join a group of forgiven people who forgive each other, Christ’s body, the Church.

Steven McCarthy is pastor of Walton Reformed Presbyterian Church, 607-865-6481;

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