“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew vi.12
Just as we need food for physical sustenance, we need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis. God’s forgiveness is freely available to us because Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world.
The word used here to describe sins is ‘debts.’ We are debtors before God. At the same time, there are several who are debtors to us. A debtor in this context is “one who owes God penalty or whom God can demand punishment as something due.” When applied to people, a debtor can be “one who has not yet made amends to whom he has injured.” If God were to hold each human being guilty until each of us paid the penalty for our sins, who will ever be able to stand before God?
The penalty for committing sins is eternal death. No human can serve time in God’s prison for eternity and then come back as a “free man.” The only way out of this difficult situation is to obtain forgiveness of sins. However, God’s justice demands that sin be punished. Without punishing sin, God cannot forgive anyone’s sins. This is why He sent Jesus, His Son, as our Saviour. Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins. Therefore, God is able to forgive the sins of anyone who accepts Jesus’ death as his own death.
Although Jesus paid in full to purchase forgiveness of sins for the whole world, people’s sins are not automatically forgiven. Each one has to confess his sins to God and beg God for forgiveness. What about those who have been forgiven? What if they sin again? The Lord’s prayer reminds us that we need forgiveness on a daily basis. Just as we pray for our “daily bread,” we need to pray daily for forgiveness for the sins we commit everyday.
The only condition for getting God’s forgiveness is that we forgive those who have sinned against us. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Then, he went on to tell a parable of a servant who was imprisoned by his master for not extending forgiveness to those indebted to him even after getting his own debt canceled. Then Jesus said, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew xviii.35) “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This prayer is a double-edged sword. If we do not forgive those who have sinned against us, this prayer would mean, ‘Do not forgive us our debts, as we have not forgiven our debtors.’
The phrase “our debts” should remind us of the need for corporate confession of sins. Although we need to confess personal sins individually to God, we need to be aware of sins that we commit as a family, community or nation. We may not be directly involved in those sins; yet, we indirectly benefit from the sinful practices or injustices perpetrated by our governments or leaders. Just as Daniel confessed his nation’s sins to God, we may have to seek God’s forgiveness for our nation’s or community’s corporate sins of commission and omission.