When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them what we usually call the Lord’s prayer. This strongly suggests that Jesus expects his disciples to learn to pray by using the Lord’s prayer. This was my experience when I was first taught to use the prayer. I am confident it will be your experience too when you begin using the prayer regularly.
One reason the Lord’s prayer transforms our prayers is it forces us to put our priorities in order. When we pray the Lord’s prayer we begin with the honor of God’s name and coming of his kingdom. Only after making God’s honor and kingdom our first requests, do we begin to ask God to supply our needs.
This ordering, puts our needs in perspective. Why do we need daily bread? We need bread because we are physical beings who have physical needs that must be met in order for us to honor God as God and seek first his kingdom.
The same thing could be said about forgiveness. We need daily forgiveness of our daily sins in order to honor God as God and seek first his kingdom. However, the reason we need forgiveness is not as obvious as the reason we need bread. How does God’s forgiveness enable and equip us to honor and serve him?
That is the main question I wanted to answer in my sermon on the fourth (fifth in Matthew’s gospel) petition of the Lord’s prayer. However, I didn’t actually get to it. Before I could explain the reason we need forgiveness daily in order to daily walk in a manner worthy of our calling, I had to explain the reason we need forgiveness at all. If we have been justified, if all our sins, past, present and future, have been forgiven and we have been counted righteous in God’s sight because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed or credited to our account, why do we need to repeatedly seek God’s forgiveness?
That is the question I spent all my time on yesterday. The main thing I wanted people to see is that our daily sins have a real and detrimental effect on our relationship with our heavenly Father, and therefore must be dealt with daily if we are to fully experience the joy of our salvation. When we do not own and confess our sins, they break our communion with God.
The manuscript of my sermon is included below. The audio may be found at Trinity’s website. If you listen to the audio, you will discover that I was not able to cover the entire manuscript. I will pick up where I left off next Sunday.
Forgive Us Our Sins
Scripture Reading and Prayer
Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 11. Our Scripture reading this morning is again Luke 11:1-4, Luke’s account of Jesus teaching his disciples what we normally refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” although it might more appropriately be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.” If you are using one of the pew Bibles, you will find Luke 11 on page 869.
Luke 11:1-4. Listen to this. This is the very Word of God.
 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
 Give us each day our daily bread,
 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
That is the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray and ask God for his blessing upon our study…
I use an app called Flipboard to cull the vast recesses of the internet to find articles I might be interested in reading. One of the topics I tell it to look for is “productivity.” This week, one of the articles it pointed me to under the heading of productivity was an article espousing the importance of consciously setting your priorities in order each morning. If you want to make the most of the limited number of hours God gives you each day, then you must major on the majors, you must do first things first, you must be proactive rather than merely reactive, otherwise, you will be subject to what someone has called the tyranny of the urgent. You will stay busy, but you won’t be truly productive, because while you will get lots of things done, you won’t get the most important things done. So the experts say. And, when you think about it, it makes sense.
But, the idea of consciously setting your priorities in order each day in order to spend your best hours on your most important priorities is not a new idea. In fact, I would suggest to you that Jesus teaches us to just that when he teaches us to pray “The Lord’s Prayer.”
In the first half of this prayer, Jesus teaches us how to set our priorities in order. He teaches us to pray first for the honor of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom, because the honor of his name and the coming of his kingdom are to be our first and foremost priorities. To glorify God and enjoy him forever is our chief end, that which we are to desire and pursue and work toward above and before all else. In fact, it is not just that these are to be our first priorities. They are to be our only priorities. Our exclusive priorities. Everything we do is to be unto the Lord, for the sake of his name, to the praise of his glory, in the service of his kingdom.
It is this understanding of the exclusive priority of the first two petitions that allows us to properly understand the three petitions in the second half of the prayer. In the second half of the prayer, the focus obviously changes. In the first two petitions, we pray for God’s name and God’s kingdom. In the last three petitions, we pray for our bread, our forgiveness, and our protection. But, the two halves of the prayer are not unrelated. It is not as if, after praying for the things God wants us to pray for, we are then allowed to move on and pray for the things we really want or need. Not at all. Rather, the second half of the prayer gives voice to requests for the things we will need in order to be pursue the things we asked for in the first half of the prayer.
So, what is it that Jesus thinks we need in order to serve his honor and kingdom? He lists three things: bread, forgiveness, and protection or deliverance. If we are to be agents of God’s honor and kingdom, we need each of these.
Last Sunday, we looked at the first of these: the request for daily bread. We saw that bread represents the material provision we need in order to glorify God and serve his kingdom — whatever that provision happens to be.
This morning, our focus will be on the request for forgiveness. First, I want to look more closely at our need for forgiveness. If we have been justified in Christ, if all our sins have been pardoned, covered by his blood, and if his perfect righteousness has been credited to our account, why do we need to ask for forgiveness each day? I know we sin. But, haven’t our sins already been taken care of?
Second, I want to look at the necessity of forgiveness. It is not hard to understand why we need material provision in order to glorify and serve God. But, why do we need forgiveness? How does forgiveness enable and equip us to seek God’s honor and serve his kingdom?
Then, next week we will look at the conditionality of forgiveness. I want us to try to understand in what sense our forgiveness from God is conditioned upon our forgiveness of others. We know that we don’t earn or merit God’s grace. If we did, it wouldn’t be grace. Why then do we ask God to forgive us because we forgive others?
Our Need for Forgiveness
So, first, our need of forgiveness. It has been said, “A little theology can be dangerous.” Most of the false teachings that have plagued the church over the centuries were the result of a teacher, often a well-intentioned teacher, taking one Biblical truth and developing it in a way that seemed logical to finite human minds, but was nevertheless out of accord with the whole counsel of God. For example, an emphasis on the oneness of God led some to deny the Trinity; an emphasis on Jesus’ deity led some to deny his humanity, and an emphasis on his humanity led some to deny his deity; an emphasis on God’s sovereignty led some to deny man’s freedom, and an emphasis on man’s freedom led some to deny God’s sovereignty.
One such error, that results from a seemingly logical, but ultimately unbiblical development of a Biblical truth is known as “antinomianism.” The word “antinomian” simply means “against the law.” But, it does not properly apply to those who simply refuse to honor God as God and therefore refuse to obey his law. The Biblical term for such people is unrighteous or ungodly. An antinomian is different. An antinomian honors God as God. He knows himself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving of his holy wrath and condemnation. He knows he is without hope except in his sovereign mercy. He knows Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God and savior of sinners and he receives and rests upon him alone for his salvation. He knows he justified in God’s sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to his account and received by faith alone.
All this is true. And the antinomian knows all this and believes all this. But, the antinomian takes the Biblical truth of justification by faith alone, justification on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed or credited to the sinner and received by faith alone–the antinomian takes that glorious Biblical truth and develops it in an unbiblical way.
The antinomian says that because the sinner is justified in God’s sight on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness, from that moment forward when God looks at the sinner all he sees is Christ’s righteousness. God never sees the justified sinner’s sins again. They have been blotted out, covered over, removed as far as the east is from the west, forgotten forever. Therefore, God is never angry with his child, he is never displeased, never grieved. He never has anything but joy and delight in him, because when he sees him he sees only the perfect righteousness of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The justified sinner’s sins have no effect on his relationship with God because they have already been taken care of.
I am sure you have heard this sort of thing. It is common teaching, especially in Reformed circles. I won’t name names this morning, but there are those in our own denomination who come perilously close to teaching this sort of thing.
And, I must admit, it seems logical to our finite human minds. What’s more, those who teach this sort of thing are often well-intentioned; they intend to magnify the glory of God’s grace in Christ. But, despite their good intentions, it is false teaching. It is unbiblical. It is not in accord with the whole counsel of God.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly than right here. Jesus teaches his disciples, those who had believed in him and been given the right to be called children of God–Jesus teaches them to pray daily for the forgiveness of their sins.
Now, admittedly, the word daily is not in the fourth petition. But, that this petition is part of a prayer in which we ask for our daily bread, it is generally understood that this is a prayer Jesus intended his disciples to pray daily. So, Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray daily for the forgiveness of their sins. Obviously, Jesus thinks his disciples sins need to be dealt with each new day. They are justified, yes; but each new day they need to ask for forgiveness.
How are we to make sense of this? If all our sins, past, present and future, were forgiven when we believed in Christ, such that Paul can say in Romans 8, there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ, why do we need to ask for forgiveness again and again each new day?
One possible answer to this question is to say that justification, God’s declaration that we are righteous in his sight when we believed in Christ, only took care of our past sins, the sins we had committed up to that point. But, that any sins we commit after our justification need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches something like this. But, this teaching has been repeatedly rejected by Reformed theologians as decidedly out of accord with the Biblical teaching regarding justification. Justification is not simply a clean slate, or a fresh start, that we might mess up after the fact with future sins.
Think about what Paul says in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For, if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Notice the phrase “much more.” Paul sees justification as something that guarantees and secures our final salvation. If we have been justified, much more shall we be finally saved.
He says something similar in Ephesians 1, when he calls the Holy Spirit, whom we received in union with Christ, the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
So, it will not do to say that justification dealt only with our past sins. When we were justified, all our sins, past, present and future, were dealt with decisively, once and for all time.
But, how then do we explain our need to ask daily for the forgiveness of our sins? I think a number of illustrations can help us at this point.
Think about a young man who marries his college sweetheart. The moment he says, “I do,” he is married. At that moment he becomes his wife’s husband, till death do us part. But, I promise you, there will be times when he doesn’t act like a husband to his wife. There will be times when he puts his own interests before hers. There will be times when responds to her with anger or bitterness. There will be times when he does not love her well. When he sins against her in these ways, he doesn’t have to get married again. He is married. He is her husband. But he does need to seek her forgiveness. Because his sins have harmed the relationship. His union with his wife is set, but his communion with her has been broken.
We could say something similar about a child’s relationship with his father… When a child sins against his father, he doesn’t need to be adopted again. He is already his father’s son. That relationship has not been undone. But, he does need to seek his father’s forgiveness.
The parallel is not exact, of course. No illustration is perfect. But, I think these examples help us understand why we need to ask for forgiveness again and again, each new day. Simply put, we need to deal with our sin on a daily basis because our sin has a real and detrimental impact on our relationship with our heavenly Father. Let me say that again. We need to deal with our sin daily because our sin has a real and detrimental impact on our relationship with God.
If we have believed on Jesus Christ, if we have received and rested upon him alone for salvation, then we have been justified. We have been declared righteous in God’s sight. There is therefore now no condemnation for us, nor can there ever be. As Paul says in Romans 8, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”
You need to understand this. If you have believed in Jesus, you have peace with God, you have an inheritance in his coming kingdom, you have a sure and certain hope of glory, because the perfect righteousness of Christ has been imputed, or credited to your account. He who knew no sin became sin so that you might become the righteousness of God. That is the glorious truth of the gospel.
But, while we have been justified, our salvation is not yet complete. Luther used the phrase, “Simul iustus et peccator.” That is, simultaneously justified and sinner. We are justified. But we are still sinners. And our daily sins grieve our heavenly Father and incur his fatherly displeasure. Our sins cut us off from the joy of his salvation, the joy of our fellowship with him, the joy of his blessing.
Our union with Christ, which is the ground of our eternal hope, is not undone by our sins. But our communion with God is affected. Our union is unchanged. Our communion is harmed.
Many of you feel cold and empty, you feel dry and weary, your hearts are not filled with love, you know nothing of true and solid joy, peace is elusive. God seems to you distant. You are afraid to admit it, but your relationship with him seems anything but persona, anything but intimate. Your Christianity seems rote, perfunctory, external.
I do not want to suggest that if this is the case, it must be because of unconfessed sin. However, I do want to say that it is possible. I think many, many Christians fail to experience the joy of their salvation and the sweetness of communion with God because of personal sin left unconfessed.
This may mean an obvious sin like sexual immorality in the form of pornography or an illicit relationship. If you are living in obvious, unconfessed, high-handed sin, you cannot be living in true fellowship with God.
But, the sin that separates us from God isn’t always so obvious. it also may be something more subtle.
Think about what sin is. Jesus teaches us to say, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” We will talk about the significance of this condition next Sunday. For now, I simply want you to see the parallel Jesus draws between sin and debt. Whatever else sin is, sin is a debt.
Sin is a debt we owe to God. Sin is a failure to give to God what we owe him, what is rightfully his. Yes, we sin when we violate one of his explicit commands. But, we also sin any time we fail to honor him as God. When we fail to devote ourselves to him without reservation or qualification… When we fail to offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices… When we make someone or something else our ultimate ambition, our chief end… Whenever we fail to honor God as God in any of these ways, we sin. And, when we sin in these ways, we sabotage our communion with him. When we sin in these ways, we break our fellowship, we cut ourselves off from grace and we forfeit blessing.
We see this in Psalm 66, when the psalmist writes, “If I have cherished iniquity in my heart, you would not have listened.” Or when Peter instructs husbands to love their wives for the sake of their prayers.
It is simply not the case that our justification in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone means that our sins have no bearing on our relationship with God. There is an illustration that many Reformed pastors use. They ask their people to imagine two senarios. The first is a good day… The second is a bad day… They then ask their people on which day they would be more confident of God’s blessing. They say the people are more expectant of God’s blessing when they have a good day, less when they have a bad day. This, they say, is moralism, or worse. Because we are justified by faith alone apart from works, our obedience has no bearing on our relationship. I have heard the illustration more times than I can count. I suspect you have too. It is a powerful illustration. But it simply isn’t true.
Our sins can and do have an impact on our relationship with God. That is why they must be dealt with day after day after day.
So, let’s think about what this means for us. If your Christian experience is cold, dry, lifeless… If you know little to nothing of true joy and peace… If your love for God is a smoldering wick… then I challenge you to consider if you have been daily bringing your debts to God and asking his forgiveness.
I suspect most of you are pretty good about asking forgiveness for your big sins, your obvious sins. But I think most of us are oblivious to our more subtle debts, to our profound failure to honor God as God by failing to offer ourselves to him as whole burnt offerings. And, I think most of us are unaware of the effect this has on our communion with him.
I am wont to complain — usually privately, to myself; I would dare say it outloud — but I am wont to complain about my lack of experience, about my cold fellowship and dry communion. And, when I complain, I tend to think God is the problem, that he is holding back, that he is keeping his distance, that it’s his fault. I would never say it that way of course; I know better. But I think it and feel it.
But, it’s not his fault. Most of the time, my experience is lacking because my devotion is lacking. I have been living for myself, I have been seeking my own kingdom, I have been absorbed with my own interests, and I wonder why God isn’t with me. Did not God say, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” Did not Jesus say, “Go forth in obedience, and I will be with you.” Is it any wonder that when we walk away from God to do our own thing, we feel his absence?
We daily need to bring our sins before God and ask for his forgiveness, not because our ongoing sins cut us off from Christ and salvation, but because they cut us off from the blessing of his presence and favor. Just as a man must keep short accounts with his wife in order to fully experience and enjoy the relationship, so too must we keep short accounts with God.
The Necessity of Forgiveness
Seeing this helps us also see the necessity of forgiveness. I said, Jesus is teaching us to pray for what we need in order to seek his honor and serve his kingdom. The first thing we need is bread, material provision. We are physical beings and we need physical provision in order to walk in a manner worthy of our callings.
But, we also need forgiveness. We need forgiveness in order to honor God in our daily lives by seeking his kingdom because we need a vibrant communion with God, we need his empowering presence, in order to live such lives.
Speaking of his own calling, Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for such work?” Now, he was talking about preaching the gospel. But, I think we could ask the same question of any one of our callings.
- If you are a husband, you are called to love your wife as Christ loved the church.
- If you are a wife, you are called to submit to your husband as unto the Lord.
- If you are a parent, you are called to raise your children…
- If you are a child, you are called to honor and obey…
You are called to love your neighbor as yourself. You are called to do good for others at every opportunity. You are called to put the interests of others before your own. You are called to confess Christ before men. You are called to do justice and love mercy. You are called to be an agent of shalom, especially for those most marginalized and at risk.
You could rightfully ask, who is sufficient for such work. The truth is, you’re not. You need God’s presence and favor. You need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only in his power are you able to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.
And, that is why you need forgiveness. You need to daily tend to your relationship with God because it is your communion with him, your fellowship with him, that enables and empowers you to live the Christian life.
Does that make sense to you? I hope it does, because this is important. I think a lot of Christians feel powerless to renounce certain sins or to put on certain virtues. They think they’ve tried. But, for whatever reason, God has not given them the immeasurable power they need to put the sin to death or to put on virtue.
This leaves many Christians confused. Why hasn’t God empowered them? They honestly want to put off this or that sin, they honestly want to put on love or peace or patience, but they can’t. And they don’t understand.
I think one of the reasons, not the only reason, but one of the reasons we fail to experience God’s power is that we have unforgiven debt. Yes, we want to be done with this or that sin, because we clearly see the consequences of this or that sin in our lives, we see the damage it is doing. But, we are not willing to devote our entire lives to him, we are not willing to offer ourselves to him as whole burnt offerings. Truth be told, we want him to help us put to death this sin so that we can more easily and effectively go on living for ourselves.
If we would know God’s power to live lives worthy of our calling, we must own our debt and we must bring it to God for forgiveness. We must confess our self-interest, our self-concern, our self-absorption, our self-promotion. And we must turn from it to God with the full purpose of new obedience.
Now, I want to be careful at this point. I know some of you just heard me say you must obey God in order to earn his blessing. That’s not what I said.
I said, you must deal with your sin daily. You must repent and believe the gospel daily. That’s a big difference.
Repentance involves turning from sin to God with the full purpose of new obedience. Believing means acknowledging Jesus as your rightful Lord. When you ask for forgiveness, that is what you are doing. You cannot ask for forgiveness without acknowledging your sin as sin. And you cannot acknowledge your sin and sin without desiring and purposing to turn from it.
What God demands of us is that we daily own our sins, our failures to honor him as God. And that we daily turn from those sins to him–for grace. God demands that we ask his forgiveness so that we may receive his power to walk in a new direction.
Jesus is not teaching us to bring our obedience to God in order to buy his blessing. Not at all. On the contrary, he is teaching us to bring our sins to heavenly Father in order to receive his grace.
You see, our sins have been paid for. Our salvation is bought and paid for. We don’t have to buy it again. We don’t have to earn his blessing. But, we must walk in faith to experience it. And walking in faith means acknowledging that we are still sinners in need of grace.
When we fail to do that, we cut ourselves off from true fellowship, we break our communion. Is it any wonder we then feel alone and powerless? May God teach us to daily ask forgiveness for our sins, so that we may daily experience the full joy of our salvation.