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Forgive Us Our Debts

In our current sermon series, we are allowing different psalms from the Bible to show us how to give voice to the various petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Psalm 32 helps us to pray this petition with depth and authenticity.

In his book on the Lord’s Prayer, Terry L. Johnson reminds us of the importance of being thoughtful and genuine when we pray for forgiveness, rather than merely reciting our confession in a rote manner. He writes: “[When we seek forgiveness] we are dealing with a Person. God is not a Forgiveness Machine. We don’t merely plug in our liturgical chant, ‘Forgive me for any sins’, and out pops forgiveness. Real confession involves sorrow or it is probably not real.”

In Psalm 32, David describes the inner anguish he felt when he lived with unconfessed sin. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (vv. 3-4) Any true believer has experienced these feelings. When something is awry in our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit allows us no peace until we turn from our sin and return to the Lord.

How encouraging it is to know that God is willing to forgive. David writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (v. 5)

God is able to forgive us so readily because of what he accomplished through the death and resurrection of his Son. The opening verses of Psalm 32 describe the multi-faceted nature of God’s forgiveness. Derek Kidner writes, “In case we over-press any one metaphor for atonement, two distinct pictures occupy verse 1: lifting or removing (forgiven), and concealing from sight (covered)…. Leaving figures of speech aside, [in verse 2, we] learn of being reckoned righteous…. Romans 4:6-8 quotes this to show that the important word imputes (or ‘reckons’) implies that, when God treats us as righteous, it is His gift to us apart from our deserts….”

As a recipient of God’s forgiveness, David expressed a desire for other people to receive forgiveness, as well, as indicated by his plea for them to “pray to [the LORD] while [he] may be found” (v. 6). David’s desire for others to experience forgiveness is evidence that his own repentance was genuine and that he had truly experienced the mercy of the LORD.  

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” indicating that those who are genuinely seeking forgiveness will always desire to see others receive it, too. Terry L. Johnson writes, “The attitude which grants forgiveness is the same as that which makes it possible to receive it. Those who have been broken by and forgiven of their own sins freely extend forgiveness to others.”