12th December 2022

Forgiveness and freedom

Part eight of a series of studies on the Lord’s Prayer

“ ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ ”
Matthew 6:12(NIV)

This second part of the Lord’s Prayer could almost be preceded by ‘in the meantime’ – in the meantime feed us or we’ll die, forgive us as we’re not yet perfect, protect us because we are weak. This second part of the prayer tells us a lot about how Jesus saw his role on earth, away from the heavenly realm. He was ‘about his Father’s business’, of feeding people as well as being fed and knowing hunger; he was forgiving people because he had the power to do that despite the Pharisees objections (Luke 5:20-21); and he was confronted by evil, by Satan, and subjected to temptation (Luke 4:1-13). And we are expected to take on this same work, including that of forgiving.

What is it that we ask to be forgiven of and what is it that we are to forgive others of? The two accounts we have of the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6 and Luke 11, include three different Greek words which are sometimes translated as ‘trespasses’, sometimes as ‘debts’, and sometimes as ‘sins’. They all converge around the concept of offending someone or going against what is seen as right, each adding an extra nuance to what it is to do something that requires forgiveness. ‘Trespass’ invokes the concept of invading forbidden territory – something that Adam and Eve did when they took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ‘Debt’ is a financial metaphor and suggests something that is owed, something we have failed to give or provide or have wrongly taken, and developed by Christ in the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13). ‘Sin’ is a more direct approach, suggesting the violation of prescribed laws. The message we get is that whatever we want to call it – trespass, debt, or sin – going against God’s will happens in every aspect of our lives, whether it is done to us or by us.

Forgiving someone is not easy if they have offended us, hurt us, neglected us, whether unintentionally or deliberately and maybe with malice. How does a Ukrainian mother forgive the soldiers who fired the missile that destroyed a maternity ward and killed her two-day-old baby? A lot is expected of those who follow Christ. If forgiving is hard, forgetting is impossible for most of us, and the memories of hurts include emotions that can be re-lived, time and time again. Sometimes we have to keep on forgiving the same thing. It’s not always a one-off event. It’s hard. But it’s what God does all the time for each one of us.

Christ’s perfect sacrifice provides us with forgiveness, but we have to recognise that we need it; we have to ask for it. Pride is sometimes a barrier to admitting our weaknesses, our mistakes and our wrong thoughts – in other words, our sins. It is a barrier to finding forgiveness and also to granting forgiveness. And being forgiven and forgiving are for our own benefit. The word that is translated as ‘forgiven’ also can be translated as being let free, being let go – exactly what Christ did to the woman caught in adultery. He said, ‘Go and sin no more’ (John 8:11). He set her free, and forgiveness sets us free. 

Heavenly Father, we know that through Jesus Christ we have been forgiven each and every sin we are guilty of, but we know that, having been forgiven, we are expected to forgive others. Help us to do what is sometimes so difficult. In Jesus’ name, who forgave those who crucified Him. Amen.

Study by Maggie Mitchell


About the writer:
Maggie Mitchell attends the Northampton congregation of Grace Communion International and is Chair of the Pastoral Council

Local congregation:
GCI Northampton
Ecton Village Hall
78A High Street

Local congregational contact:
Maggie Mitchell
Email:  maggie.mitchell@btinternet.com

Word of Life contact: