Forgiveness and prayer (part 2)
While looking at the text of the model prayer that Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, we’ve found a challenging connection between God forgiving us and our willingness to forgive others:
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
The verses closely around the model prayer gave us better insight into what Christ meant when he said we should pray that, based upon our forgiveness of others, God would limit his forgiveness of us.
Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive people their wrong-doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrong-doing.
This is a challenging command for us, because we like to compartmentalize our relationships with others away from our relationship with God. With Jesus teaching that these two areas affect each other, it forces us to look at others in the same manner that God looks at us.
However, part of me wants to argue that I should be able to just talk to God and resolve my issues with him before I worry about resolving any issues with others. And a passage of Scripture comes to mind that appears to support that desire.
As Christians, we love to quote 1 John 1:9 as the remedy for when we stumble and sin:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is a verse that every believer should have memorized. There is a great assurance of forgiveness found in this verse. And all unrighteousness means ALL unrighteousness. In addition to the sins that I confess, this verse tells me that God will also clear our relationship with him of any other sin or error – even if I forgot about a particular sin or didn’t recognize something as sin.
However, nothing in 1 John 1:9 says I have to forgive anyone else before God forgives me. So it appears that we have John, a disciple of Jesus, contradicting what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. How do we deal with this?
First of all, we need to remember who the immediate audience is in both passages. Jesus’ teaching is directed toward those who view him as the Messiah. John is writing to those who have already placed their faith in Jesus as Savior. The kind of prayer that John and Jesus are teaching us about is not the “sinner’s prayer” where a person begins a relationship with God by placing their faith in Jesus…the kind of prayer that both are dealing with pertains to our on-going relationship with God as we live our day-to-day lives.
Secondly, the “cure” for this apparent discrepancy is the same skill we applied to understand Matthew 6:12 – we need to look at the surrounding context for 1 John 1:9.
1 John 1:6-7 If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” and walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
From these verses, we see again that when our faith-walk doesn’t match our faith-talk…our relationships with others AND our relationship with God is affected. And if, by some chance, we’ve convinced ourselves that we couldn’t possibly be that hypocritical, John has a warning for us:
1 John 1:8-9 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
When we go to God in prayer and expect Him to forgive our sins when we haven’t forgiven others, we deceive ourselves…and are hypocritical before God. This isn’t to say we can’t talk to God until all relationships are fully healed, rather the aim is to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light and be ready to forgive others, just as God stands ready to forgive us from ALL unrighteousness.
Our Father in Heaven…forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.