Sermon: Forgiveness Guaranteed
Scripture: Matthew 6:12
In this week’s lessons, we see the connection between the Christian’s continuing need of forgiveness from God, and our need to forgive others who wrong us.
Theme: Our Need for Forgiveness
The second area of requests for themselves that Jesus Christ urges upon His followers in the Lord’s Prayer concerns forgiveness. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and it introduces us to a most important subject.
Not long ago I was talking to a Christian psychiatrist. In the course of our conversation I touched on the problem of forgiveness and the need men have for it. The psychiatrist said, “As far as I am concerned, most of what a psychiatrist does is directly related to forgiveness. People come to him with problems, and they feel guilty about their part in these problems. They are seeking forgiveness. In effect, they confess their sins to the counselor and find that he forgives them. And then a pattern is set up in which they can show their change of heart in tangible ways toward the other person or persons.” The psychiatrist concluded by observing that the great need to be forgiven by men that many persons feel is only a shadow of a far greater need that all men have to be forgiven by God.
It is true. In one of his most recent books, Dr. John R. W. Stott, minister of All Souls Church in London, quotes the head of a large English mental hospital as having said, “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness.” He cites the Scottish churchman George MacLeod as having written, “We live in a world where literally thousands of church members (not to mention others) are in need of… release… We live… in a vacuum where men simply are not freed.”1 None of these statements is in the least exaggerated. For in our day, as in all ages of man, people are crying out for real forgiveness and an assurance of it. It is this that the Christian Gospel brings.
The second area of requests for our own needs that occurs in the Lord’s Prayer concerns forgiveness, as I have said. But if we are to understand this request accurately, we must realize that it is speaking of forgiveness in only one sense—the forgiveness that is given to a disobedient child of God after his justification. We must realize that before this forgiveness is possible it must be preceded by another type of forgiveness by which one becomes a member of God’s family in the first place.
The request given here is certainly not a prayer for forgiveness in the same sense that we ask for forgiveness when we first believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. That request involves the acceptance of Christ’s death as the one sufficient sacrifice for our sin—past, present, and future—and it is something that is done once for all. If the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer is referring to this initial forgiveness, then we can have no real security before God. We cannot say, as Paul does, that “he who hath begun a good work in you will keep on performing it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). We cannot say with Jeremiah that God will “remember our sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). We cannot say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). All of these verses would be meaningless if that forgiveness is meant.
No, the Lord is not speaking of the forgiveness we receive in the first moment of our salvation. He is speaking of a forgiveness that comes later, that comes repeatedly, and that restores a broken relationship with God.
1John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1964), 73.
Why is forgiveness so important?
What are the two types of forgiveness? Which one is Jesus referring to in this part of the Lord’s Prayer? Why is he not talking about the other type?
Reflection: What problems in the world can you think of where forgiveness is perhaps the fundamental issue?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to David Garner’s message, “The Power and Practice of Forgiveness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)