WSC 105 Fifth request


We’re working our way through the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer which the Lord Jesus taught his disciples after they asked him how to pray. And so far, we’ve seen that the words ‘Our Father in heaven’ teach us that we’re to pray with and for others; and we can pray with confidence because we’re coming to our Heavenly Father who cares for us; and we can pray with confidence because our Father rules and reigns in heaven and is mighty and powerful and able to help us.

In the first request, which is ‘Hallowed be your name’, we learn that we ought to ask God to enable us and all others to give him the glory and the honour and the praise that he deserves.

And then, in the second request, which is ‘Your kingdom come’, we learn that we ought to pray that Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed and that the Lord’s kingdom of grace will advance through the world through the preaching of the gospel until the Lord our King comes again when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And in the third request, which is ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, we pray that God will help us and all others to know and to obey his revealed will which is his law and all of his commandments; and that he will help us and all others to submit ourselves to his secret will by which we mean his plans and purposes for us and for the world. None of us knows what God has planned for us for tomorrow. He might have something good in store for us. He might have some trial or trouble for us. But whatever he sends, we’re asking God to help us to accept his will for us, trusting that his will is always good and perfect and wise. And whatever he sends, we’re still duty-bound to keep his commandments and to obey his laws.

Last week we noted that the first three requests are concerned with God: his glory; his kingdom; and his will. It’s all about God. And so, we learn from the Lord’s Prayer to put God first in our prayers. However, we mustn’t think that God is not concerned with the details of our lives and the things we need, because the second half of the Lord’s Prayer is about us and our needs. So, in the fourth request, we pray for daily food, or for God to provide us and all others with what we need everyday. And in the fifth request, which we come to today, we pray for forgiveness. And in the sixth request, we pray for protection against evil. So, the first half is all about God. The second half is all about us: daily food; daily forgiveness; daily protection. And so, we’re encouraged not only to pray about God’s glory and kingdom and will, but to pray also for the things we need. So, remember what Peter wrote in his first letter? We’re to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us. And then Paul also wrote in his letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

And so, knowing that God cares about the ordinary things we need, we turn to him and ask him to provide us with what we need everyday. The Lord Jesus said:

[W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

We’re able to turn to our loving Heavenly Father and ask him to give us every good thing we need each day. And as well as asking him to give us what we need, we should also ask for his blessing so that we’re able to enjoy his good gifts because without his blessing no one is able to enjoy the good things they possess.

So, that’s where we got to last week. Today we come to the fifth request which is:

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

By the word ‘debts’ the Lord means sins. In fact, in the version of the Lord’s Prayer which appears in Luke 11, the word ‘sins’ is used instead of debts. Why are sins also known as debts? Because we all owe obedience to God and when we sin against him, we fail to give to him what we ought to give to him — our perfect obedience. And that debt which owe him remains until payment is made.

How can we pay the debt we owe to God? There’s nothing we ourselves can do. Even if we spent the rest of our lives obeying God perfectly, we wouldn’t be able to make up for our past sins. So, we need someone else to pay the debt we owe to God. And that someone is the Lord Jesus — and by his life and death and resurrection, he has fully paid for our sins.

So, when we pray ‘forgive us our debts’, we’re not thinking about financial debts. We’re thinking about the debt we owe to God because we have not given him the perfect obedience he demands from us.

Incidentally, this has a bearing on our evangelism. Often when we have an opportunity to speak to someone about the gospel, we begin by talking about God’s love. ‘God loves you’, we say. ‘And he sent his Son to die for you.’ ‘I want to tell you about the love of God.’ And, of course, it’s true that God is love and because of the greatness of his love, he sent his Son to die for sinners. However, the love of God is meaningless to people, or irrelevant to them until they understand the duty we owe to obey God. You see, God made us. And because God made us, we’re duty-bound to obey him as our Creator. We owe him our obedience. But then, none of us has obeyed him as we should; and therefore we’re all in debt to him. And in the end, he will condemn us for our disobedience which we cannot pay for by ourselves.

However, then comes the good news: Because God is love, he sent his Son to pay for our sins by his death on the cross; and God promises that all who believe in his Son will be pardoned for all that we have done wrong and will receive the hope of everlasting life. People will not appreciate the love of God until they first realise who God is and how we all owe him our obedience.

That’s an aside about the debt we owe to God and how it bears on our evangelism. Back now to the Lord’s Prayer. And in the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord refers to our sins as debts. And in the fifth request we’re asking God to forgive us our debts. Notice that he says ‘us’. We’re not only to pray for our own forgiveness, we’re also to pray that God will forgive others, as well. And, in fact, in the first chapter of the book of Job we have an example of a father interceding for his children:

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.

Parents can learn from Job’s example, and while we don’t offer sacrifices now, we can pray for God to forgive our children for the sake of Jesus Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And as well as praying for our children, we can pray for one another, asking that God will forgive us our debts.


Last week I mentioned the distinction which theologians draw between common grace and special, or particular, grace. God’s common grace refers to his kindness towards all that he has made. Even though we have all sinned and are under God’s wrath and curse until we believe in the Lord Jesus, even though we deserve nothing from God but his condemnation, nevertheless, the Lord is good to all and he fills our lives with good things to enjoy. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the wicked as well as on the good, on the unrighteous as well as the righteous. And therefore, since God is good to all that he has made, we can turn to him in prayer and seek his help for us and for all others, even on those who don’t believe, because God is good to all. That’s God’s common grace: his kindness to all that he has made.

However, as well as God’s common grace, there’s also God’s special grace, or his particular grace. And his special grace is his kindness towards his people which leads to salvation. Because of God’s grace to sinners, we receive the forgiveness of sins as well as the hope of everlasting life. So, whereas the fourth request of the Lord’s Prayer (give us today our daily bread) relates to God’s common grace to all that he has made, the fifth request (forgive us our debts) relates to God’s special sinners to his believing people. Because God is gracious, he promises to forgive our sins; and therefore, the Lord Jesus taught us to pray to him and to ask for his forgiveness.


The forgiveness of our sins is connected to the doctrine of justification which we looked at together some time ago when we were studying question and answer 33 of the Catechism:

What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace in which he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ alone, which is credited to us and received by faith alone.

First of all, justification is an act and not a process. Growing plants in a garden is a process which takes time. But planting a seed is an act that happens in an instant. And justification is an act which happens in an instant so that the moment a sinner believes in the Lord Jesus, in that moment, God justifies that sinner so that he/she has passed from death to life. He/she is no longer under condemnation, but has been pardoned and accepted by God.

And in this act of justification God pardons all our sins and he accepts us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ alone, which is credited to us. So, when he justifies us, he performs a swap. Something of mine is swapped with something which belongs to the Lord Jesus. My sin and guilt is no longer regarded as belonging to me. Instead it’s regarded as belonging to the Lord Jesus, who, on the cross, was pierced for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities. By his death he has paid for our sins, so that we can be forgiven by God. And then, as part of this swap, the Lord’s perfect perfect obedience and righteousness is now regarded as belonging to me and to all who trust in him. It’s as if he gave us a perfect coat which covers over our own shabby clothes so that now, covered by the perfect goodness of the Lord Jesus, we’re fit to come before God in prayer and worship and one day we’ll come into his presence in heaven.

So, when God justifies us, we’re pardoned for all that we have done wrong. And even though we may have done everything wrong, we’re now regarded as having done everything right because of Christ’s perfect righteousness has become ours. And so the Psalmist writes:

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

And Paul wrote:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

How do we receive this righteousness from Christ so that God regards us as those who have done everything right? The Catechism says what the Bible says: we receive it by faith alone. And so, in Philippians the Apostle Paul refers to the righteousness which is not his own, but which comes through faith in Jesus Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

But here’s the thing: Why does God justify any of us? Why does he forgive and accept sinners like us? Is it because he saw something good in me? Was there something in me which commended me to God and made me stand out? Did I do something to earn or to win salvation? No, there is nothing good in me and there is nothing I could do to make up for my past sins or to win God’s approval. Salvation is God’s free gift to me and to all his people. So, Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said:

[I]t is by grace you have been saved, though faith — and this [the whole thing: salvation and faith] are not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Justification — forgiveness from God for our sins and acceptance with him — is by grace. Because of God’s special grace, his particular grace, his kindness to sinners like us, he forgives us and accepts us. And so, in the Lord’s Prayer we’re taught to go to him in prayer and to ask him to give us the forgiveness we need. And we know that he will hear us and answer us and give us the forgiveness we need because of Jesus Christ our Saviour who by his death on the cross, has paid all our debt.

Why daily forgiveness?

A question might arise in your minds at this point. When God justifies us, he pardons all our sins forever. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have peace with God forever. We have passed from death to life in that moment when we first believed. Now, if that’s the case (and it is), then why do we need to ask God for forgiveness more than once. Why do we, every Sunday, confess our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness when he forgave all our sins the moment we first believed? Why should we confess our sins to God in our daily, private prayers, when he has already justified us and pardoned all our sins — past, present and future? Why? Our church’s Confession of Faith helps us here. Listen to what it says in Chapter 11 which deals with Justification:

God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified: and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may by their sins fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

This is saying the following: Those who are justified — that is, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus — continue to sin. Everyday we sin against God in thought and word and deed. And, though we are being sanctified by his Spirit, so that we become, over time, more obedient to God, nevertheless none of us will be perfectly sanctified in this life. We all sin. Nevertheless, though we sin, true believers will never fall from the state of justification. The moment we trusted in Christ, God declared us ‘not guilty and accepted’. And he will never, ever change his mind and declare us guilty again.

However, as his children, we can fall under our Father’s displeasure. Not his wrath and curse. But his fatherly displeasure. So, think of a boy who disobeys his earthly father. His father is cross, because his son has disobeyed him. And, because his father is cross, he might withhold some treat from his son. Or he might send him to bed early. He’ll do something to show that he’s displeased and to teach his son not to do it again. But he will never, ever give his child up. And he will always love his son and be willing to forgive him.

Every day we sin against our Heavenly Father, we disobey his laws and we disregard his word. And when that happens, we may fall under his fatherly displeasure because we’ve disobeyed our Father in heaven. But he will never, ever take his love away from us.

Or think of it this way: Whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus, we’re taken out of the courtroom where God is our Judge, and we’re brought into the living room where God is our Father. No longer do we face the Judge’s condemnation. But we may still face our loving Heavenly Father’s displeasure. And when we do wrong, we must go to our Father and ask him, once again, to forgive us. So, think of David who wrote Psalm 32:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

And then he wrote Psalm 51:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Do you see what he’s describing? The sorrow and sadness and misery that he experienced because of his sins. But then, the relief and the joy he felt once he had confessed his sins to the Lord.

Or, think of Peter who broke down and wept because he let the Lord down and denied knowing him those three times. And so, he wept over his sins. But then, the Lord did not hold his sins against him, but he pardoned Peter and sent him out to preach the good news and to look after the Lord’s sheep.

Zechariah, who was to become the father of John the Baptiser, refused to believe the angel’s message and so, because of his unbelief, he was struck dumb. But the Lord did not hold his sin against him, but gave him back the power of speech.

Paul refers to some believers in the church in Corinth who because ill and weak because they were abusing the Lord’s Table. And so he warned the church to repent and come to the Table in a worthy manner.

And listen now to some verses from Psalm 89:

If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.

And that’s it. God is referring to his children — his believing people. They have forsaken their Father’s law. And so, as a Father, and not as a Judge, he will punish them. But he will never, ever remove his steadfast love from them.

Those of us who believe are God’s children. But everyday we offend our Father in heaven by our sins and shortcomings. We rejoice in the good news that all our sins have been paid for by Jesus Christ and we are bound for glory. However, we’re ashamed because we have disobeyed our loving, heavenly Father whose law is good. Therefore, we ought to confess our sins to him daily, and every day repent, trusting that our loving, heavenly Father will always be faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

A husband offends his wife by something he says. And she’s upset with him. And perhaps she won’t speak to him because she’s so angry. And so, what should he do? Go to her and say sorry. And so, the Lord Jesus teaches us, when we pray, to go to our Heavenly Father and to say sorry to him for all the ways we have offended him. And we know that our Heavenly Father will not hold our sins against us, but he will pardon us.

Our forgiveness

There’s one last point to make this evening. When we pray, we say: ‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.‘ The word ‘as’ here doesn’t mean that the forgiveness God grants to us is dependent on our willingness to forgive those who offend us. He’s not saying that. The word ‘as’ means there’s a resemblance between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. God forgives us and therefore we’re reconciled to him. And when we forgive others, they’re reconciled to us. So, just as God forgives us and reconciles us, so we’re to be willing to forgive those who offend us and we’re to be ready to live at peace with them. In other words, the church of Jesus Christ, and Christian homes, ought to be the most forgiving places in the world. Other people will hold our sins against us. They will bear a grudge. They will keep reminding us of our faults and shortcomings. And they will take pleasure in bringing up our sins. But because we know the joy of sins forgiven, we’re to be ready to forgive whoever sins against us.

Do you remember Peter’s question? ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Can we put a limit on the number of times we’ll forgive? The Jews at the time thought we should forgive someone up to three times. After that, don’t forgive him. So, Peter was prepared to do more than double what everyone else did. But he still he thought there should be a limit. But the Lord doesn’t place a limit on the number of times he’ll forgive us. And he doesn’t expect us to limit our own willingness to forgive. And so, he answered Peter: ‘Not seven times. But seventy-seven times.’ Forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive. Never stop. Always be willing to pardon others, because God has forgiven us.

And so, when we pray, we ask God to forgive us. And we ask him to help us to be willing to forgive whoever offends us. And so, the church, and the Christian home, will be the most forgiving places in the world. And though we know we’re sinners, who sin against God and our neighbour all the time, we rejoice in the good news that, for the sake of Christ our Saviour, we are forgiven.