As we look at the words, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” notice that this phrase comes after the sentence, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The order is important. It would be just like us to think that we must first be clean before God in order to receive what we need. By placing a request for needs before our need to be forgiven, Jesus is saying something so gracious about the nature of God. God cares for us even as we are not fully sanctified.
Despite the order of the phrases, the need to be clean before God is essential. To live in freedom from guilt and shame is absolutely vital to our life in Christ, both for personal joy and also in terms of what we convey to the world around us about how good life in Christ can be. We receive forgiveness as we acknowledge Jesus’ work on the cross. Yet, as is the case when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Peter learns that while he was “already clean” he still needs additional cleansing.
There’s something so important about our posture of honesty before God regarding our failings and our openness to God searching our hearts (Psalm 139). We all have blind spots and are not always self-aware. Show us, God! While we can be aware of things we have done, the Spirit can also convict us of things that we have not done. As I get older, there seem to be more sins of omission than commission.
Personally, I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer daily at noon for several years now. It gives me intentional time and space to reflect on my heart. When I get to this phrase, I consider the morning that has just passed and the afternoon that is coming up. Regularly addressing our need for forgiveness cultivates a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and humility that we walk out in our life with God and others.
Note that this language is corporate. “Forgive us as we….” It’s likely that our tendency is to read this individually. And yet, there is a reality of corporate life in the body of Christ, honesty and vulnerability with each other, receiving and extending forgiveness with each other. The intense individualism promoted by our culture leaves lots of room for us to grow in this area. Show us, God!
Lastly, the request in the prayer is that we be forgiven as we forgive others. (This reminds me of “love your neighbor as yourself.”) There is a presumption in Jesus’s teaching here that the experience and enormity of being forgiven by God is something that so transforms us that we will then naturally extend that to others in the same way.
As in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18), to be forgiven by God and not be forgiving of others makes absolutely no sense in the kingdom of God. To have ongoing bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts toward another or God is inconceivable for the follower of Jesus. We can remind ourselves of Jesus’ posture on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Show us, God!
Stephen Humber serves as mission mobilizer with Multiply’s Midwest U.S. team. He lives in Denver, Colorado wiith his wife, Mary K.