Foregiveness in the Lord's Prayer


On Sundays, and even at other times, when people gather for religious purposes in church buildings and at other venues, one of their corporate activities often is to recite the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’ Probably most of these people do not realize what they are praying; they are formally reciting some version of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples. Though this observation may not dictate any conclusions, it is of interest to note that of all the other prayers quoted in the Bible--legitimately, we assume--none of them are much like the prayer Jesus taught.

Our focus here will be the nature of the request spoken in Matthew 6:12 and its parallels in the other Gospels. We will be quoting from the New American Standard Bible (1995).
Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Mark 11:25: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Luke 11:4a: “And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
In our own honest soul-searching, we might prefer not to pray according to this text. We would choose not to be forgiven by the standard of forgiveness we ourselves provide. If forgiveness of sins is really predicated upon my performance in forgiving others, I may never be saved from condemnation. These verses seem to be legalistic, basing God’s blessing of us on our own works. And yet that is the request here made.

Further, we see a difficulty when we read other passages such as the two below.
Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Colossians 3:13: bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
These verse are clearly gracious and flow from God’s heart of love toward us. They encourage us to act out of what God has already done for us. And in that they appear to conflict with the Lord’s Prayer, saying something quite different and raising the question as to whether there could be more than one process of forgiveness or, worse, a contradiction in the Bible.


The search in the literature that is available to us for understanding this prayer request can be frustrating. Some Bible commentators go to great lengths in discussing sins, forgiveness, repentance, confession, etc., since the verse may be seen as suggesting those topics, but they never arrive at elucidating the verse in question. Others, especially as they comment on the second part of the verse, simply dismiss it by means of a theological statement designed to leap over the difficulty, but they, too, really do not explain the verse. So we are informed of their theological persuasions, but we are left still unable to read the verse with understanding. I decided not to name proponents of any of these interpretations, because I wish our consideration to be apart from personalities. I can provide sources if anyone so wishes.

There is one school of thought which simply accepts salvation as being an impossibility unless a person has a forgiving spirit. If you do not already have a forgiving spirit when you come to Christ for His salvation and forgiveness, you simply will not be forgiven. There then is no hope of heaven for such a person, and their hope of heaven really is denied upon their lack of a forgiving spirit. This view appears to fit Matthew 6:12 perfectly, but it does not agree with other Scriptures as we intend to eventually show, and it treats at least one item of self-righteousness as the basis for salvation. This cannot be right for a salvation by grace through faith. We will call this “the Conditional School.”

There is another school of thought which sees Matthew 6:12 together with Ephesians 4:32 addressing some similar issues. They both speak of forgiveness. They both speak of divine forgiveness and human forgiveness, vertical and horizontal respectively. So the conclusion drawn is that there exists an attitude of human forgiveness which relates to divine forgiveness. This conclusion implies that the verses are really making the same point. We have no difficulty joining these people in the appreciation and promotion of a forgiving attitude. If we are left with that, however, we should conclude that the very words of Scripture really do not matter. It is rather a muddle to draw the same conclusion from verses with apparently contrary messages. We’ll call this “the Attitude School.”

Required here is to understand some kind of psychological trick by which the verse really does not mean what it says. However, it shocks us and gets our attention in a reverse sort of way to make us realize that we need to be forgiving persons. Apparently you can just ignore that the precursor in one verse is opposite the one in the other. Some will cite Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35, but that is different as well: it teaches that genuine vertical/divine forgiveness produces horizontal/human forgiveness. It does not make divine forgiveness conditional upon human forgiveness. It agrees with Ephesians 4:32 but strengthens it in the sense that it promises judgment for failure to forgive as God has forgiven.

It should be obvious to all that there is the matter of an attitude involved, that there is a connection between divine and human forgiveness. But it should also be obvious that Matthew 6:12 presents a message contrary to Ephesians 4:32. So, many of the attempts to reconcile the two kinds of passages conclude that there must be two different kinds of forgiveness, or two different scenarios, or two different somethings. Sometimes that is an avoidance of responsibility, but sometimes it could be accurate--it all depends on what fits the evidence.

Several schools of thought see two kinds of forgiveness and solve the dilemma that way. The first is a kind of technical case in which the very instance of sin we are not willing to forgive will not be forgiven by God. Those who hold this view would say you have been forgiven by God and are saved, but now as a Christian in the specific sin you will not forgive to someone else God will not forgive to you your lack of forgiveness. That raises questions which apply to the next two views as well: When are sins committed after the moment of being saved forgiven by God? How are sins committed after the moment of being saved forgiven by God? What happens to Christians whose sins committed are not forgiven? Does committing a sin after the moment of being saved mean that a person is no longer saved? We name this “the Two-Kind Specific Sin School.”

This next school of thought is much like the above, only it does not tie the specific sin God refuses to forgive to the specific refusal of a human to forgive someone else. It rather sees in general that when a person does not forgive, neither does God. But the sins are the sins of a believer. So special emphasis often accompanies a discussion of this view encouraging the reader or listener to be faithful in confessing his sins. Now it is easily established that a believer ought to take seriously his sins, but is confessing his sins the basis for divine forgiveness? Again we return to the same issue of self-righteousness as the basis for divine forgiveness. For further exploration of some of these issues, I encourage the reader to reference my paper on 1 John 1:9 entitled “Confession: a Mark of the Believer” also on the web site. This view raises the same questions as the the Two-Kind Specific Sin School. We call this one “the Two-Kind General Sin School.”

Another school of thought which perhaps advances the discussion a bit, yet being quite similar, explains the forgiveness in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ to be a matter of fellowship. One is saved and forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ, and really this covers all sins, past, present, and future. But on the day-to-day level, there are sins that interrupt fellowship with God and others, and the joy of salvation is lost; this is not an issue of eternal salvation any more. This person has a relationship with God, but has lost fellowship with God in that relationship. This view really does seem to solve the dilemma. However, we can honestly ask whether the Bible teaches two such levels of forgiveness. Also, the questions raised regarding the Specific Sin School apply here as well. There are some large assumptions made which on the surface solve our difficulty, but are they taught in Scripture? In this case, when we have a forgiving spirit, then fellowship between us and God is restored because of our forgiving spirit, and that is maintained by confession of sin. So we essentially maintain our relationship with God by means of a self-righteous act. It is really quite amazing how we try to exalt ourselves in even very subtle ways contrary to our depravity exposed by the Bible. Jeremiah 17:9 comes readily to mind here: “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Of course, fellowship is mentioned in 1 John 1 along with the famous verse on confession (v. 9), but, again, for further discussion of that I refer you to my paper on 1 John 1:9. This is “the Two-Kind Fellowship School.”


Now let’s look at the verse itself. For the sake of comparison, we include again the two parallel verses from Mark and Luke.
Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Mark 11:25: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Luke 11:4a: “And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
You will notice that ‘debts/debtors’ are named in Matthew, while Mark has ‘transgressions,’ and Luke uses ‘sins’ as well as the verb ‘indebted.’ These terms are synonymous while having their own special shades of meaning. A debt refers to something owed, and our verse specifies that a debt can be owed to God. That is likely not a money debt, and yet it brings out the concept that we do owe God, and somehow that needs to be resolved, paid in full. Transgression describes wrongdoing in terms of falling aside and can be easily illustrated by someone in a basketball or football game stepping out of bounds. Sin means to miss the mark. So altogether it is clear that these debts are violations of God’s law, God’s will, and we are liable for them.

The Greek word for “as” is a conjunction of comparison. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon says that it “is used to present, in the form of a comparison, a motive which is urged upon one.” Only we must understand correctly what our verse says. It is providing a motive for God to forgive us, and that motive is presented as our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us.

It is clear in these parallel passages that our human/horizontal activity of forgiving our fellow man is to be the cause for which the effect is God’s forgiveness of us. Matthew presents our human-to-human forgiveness as the simple standard. Mark treats it as the activity which results in divine-to-human forgiveness. And Luke actually claims that we are forgiving those indebted to us and on that basis requests the divine forgiveness.

It is fascinating to note that Jesus gave elaboration later for only one petition of the prayer, and that was this one. So in Matthew 6:14-15 He added:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
These two verses simply strengthen what was said in verse 12. It does become clear here, if it was not before, that Jesus had in mind violations of God’s law. It is as if He was thinking: you are going to have difficulty with this request, so I will elaborate to make sure you realize that I meant what I said the first time--it was not a mistake.


One should first consider the meanings of words, and we did that above. As we look at Matthew 6:12 it is clear that it is saying something unique, at least as it speaks of the forgiveness of sins, or at least in the way it speaks of forgiveness of sins. It may be that we can find something elsewhere in the Bible that is really similar and therefore helpful.

One form of inquiry was to search the Bible for aorist active imperative verbs, of which “forgive” in our problem text is one, followed by the conjunction “as.” Another way of saying this is that the search looked for commands that were to meet some standard. That is the format that exists in Matthew 6:12. There were only six such in the New Testament in which the verb and conjunction are grammatically connected. The first, surprisingly, is in Matthew 6:10, just two verses before the focus of our study. The others are Matthew 26:39, Luke 15:19, 2 Timothy 2:3, and Revelation 18:6. Of these only two involve divine action based upon human action: Matthew 6:12 and Revelation 18:6. In our verse the divine action is mercy in the form of forgiveness; in Revelation it is judgment in the form of punishment. Babylon the Great is receiving judgment, certainly the opposite of forgiveness, and the standard is how she had treated others.

Several other passages involve divine action based upon human action, but these are not related to a command or request. Obadiah 15 and Matthew 7:2 base divine judgment upon human judgment and behavior. On the other hand, Matthew 9:29, Mark 4:24, and Luke 6:38 base divine blessing on human giving and faith. So there are some other settings in which God’s activity is determined, so to speak, by us.

Out of curiosity I searched the Septuagint as well. It is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Of course, as a translation it is not authoritative like the original manuscripts are, but sometimes it can provide clues, especially in various grammatical constructions. There I found twenty aorist active imperative verbs followed by, in a connected way, the conjunction “so.” But none of them included divine action based upon human. So while the basic grammatical construction is there, the Septuagint did not shed light on our dilemma.

I also looked for passages that refuse forgiveness to someone. I found two such, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. Deuteronomy 29:20 refused divine forgiveness to a defiant idolater in Israel. Mark 3:29 denies divine forgiveness to anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit. That blasphemy is essentially attributing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit. By default such a person could never believe in Christ unto salvation. So it is a fundamentally serious issue to be denied forgiveness.

I looked for statements including the commands “forgive us” and “forgive me.” “Forgive us” appears only in the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ which is addressed to God. “Forgive me” appears only once in what may be an ironic use by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:13. His only wrong was that he had not taken advantage of the Corinthians. These usages did not appear particularly significant for our purposes.

Then I searched the New Testament for every usage of some form of “forgive” in order to see what is associated with it. I found in three places the record that Jesus forgave people who did not even request it (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48). As far as the statement of what happened there is concerned, there is no condition of any kind.

In four places repentance is associated with forgiveness (Mark 4:12; Luke 17:3; 24:47; Acts 8:22). In one passage forgiveness is associated with repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). In still other verses forgiveness is associated with the faith of someone’s friends (Luke 5:20), the prayer of faith (Jas. 5:15), and confession (1 Jn. 1:9). Another full blown study would be required to determine just how forgiveness is related to each of the items named in these verses.

Two verses clearly state that Jesus’ blood is the provision for man’s forgiveness:
Matthew 26:28: for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 9:22: And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
The statement in Acts 10:43 about how forgiveness is accessed is crystal clear: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Further, three verses say that forgiveness is the possession of the one who has a position in Christ:
Ephesians 1:7: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Colossians 1:14: in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Christ has paid the price for forgiveness in His sacrificial death on the cross. His blood is the payment. He paid the debt. When an individual ceases trusting himself or whatever else he is trusting and transfers that trust to Jesus, then he too has forgiveness. It is his possession by virtue of being in Christ, not because of self-righteousness he has performed. Colossians 2:13 affirms that Christ forgave us at the time of raising us out of our sins: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” It’s difficult, actually impossible to do anything to gain salvation when a person is dead! And Hebrews 10:18 adds: “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” There is no provision for guilt other than the work of Jesus on the cross. Finally, 1 John 2:12 says of the believer: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.” The believer’s sins are treated as forgiven and as a settled issue because of Jesus.

These passages in their clarity should be put securely into our belief systems; nothing must infringe upon them. Yet in themselves they do not solve the dilemma of Matthew 6:12.

I did one more study; this was of the occurrences of some form of “forgive” in the Pentateuch. I could have searched the entire Old Testament, but the instruction for Israel’s worship system is there, and I thought if any help could be found, it might be there. In Numbers 30:5, 8, 12 there is a unique situation in which forgiveness is denied based on parental or spousal opposition. All the others cases of interest appear in Leviticus (4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; 19:22), Numbers (15:25, 26, 28), and Deuteronomy 21:8. For each of these the basis for forgiveness is the animal sacrifice offered. And the refrain that the person or group bringing the sacrifice will be forgiven invariably follows.


Some of the schools of thought surveyed above suggested two kinds of forgiveness. It appears that there are two kinds of forgiveness in the Bible, and Hebrews 9:13-14 holds the key:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
This passage presents us with two levels of cleansing. The cleansing of the conscience clearly corresponds to the forgiveness of sins by which one is made right with God. The second cleanses on the level of the flesh and harmonizes with the statement in Hebrews 10:4: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So what is the level on which animal sacrifice was efficacious? What effects did it have?

One major result of bringing the sin offering in Israel was a restoration to the worshipping community. This is supported by the many instructions for various special days. In Leviticus 8 peace offerings were offered, but they were preceded by sin offerings. This order continues in Leviticus 9 in the instruction given for commencement of the sacrificial worship system, in Numbers 6 in the Nazirite ritual, in the Numbers 7 ceremony for the tabernacle consecration, etc. This pattern is consistent throughout. The peace offering was eaten by a group of worshipers and the priests. But they could not enjoy that ‘community’ without first offering the sin offering.

Still, that sin offering did not make them right with God. It had effects in the community, in society, even in earthly theocratical government, but not in the God-to-man relationship. That is a matter of the heart responding to a sacrifice that only God could provide. To compare that horizontal effect to our day, it would be similar to the payment of a fine or perhaps even community service in order to continue in society.

In Matthew 5:22-25 Jesus said the following:
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.”
Here the offender is to make amends if he is to avoid being brought into court. The prayer request in the Lord’s prayer looks not at the offender but at the offended. His attitude toward the offender is important. In the kingdom to come, if his attitude is not right, he will be brought before the court, the King’s court, if you will, and there may be a ‘fine’ for him. The millennial kingdom of Christ on earth is to operate on a spiritual level, and this is one evidence of it. It is a way of encouraging a forgiving spirit throughout the entire population. Even the offended person will be in trouble with the Lord’s court if he does not forgive the one who has sinned against him. It is a legal matter, but it by virtue of focusing on attitude goes beyond. This still does not force a person to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, but it will make living somewhat difficult for the person who is intent on living in sin.

To be sure, the sin offering offered by Israel presented spoke vividly of Jesus Christ’s work for the offerer, but in itself it could only have earthly results. An Israelite could bring that sin offering without any faith in God, and it would have the same community effect as if he had faith in God. But, of course, the one who had faith in God would have forgiveness on another plane as well, and it was not secured by means of him bringing a sin offering but rather because he had a faith-relationship with God. Salvation has always been by grace through faith, and a sacrificial ritual may have consequences in addition to the spiritual lesson it vividly portrays.

David portrays this well in Psalm 51:16-17:
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
It is of note that David closes the Psalm speaking of God’s delight in altar sacrifices presented in acts of worship. Yet he knew that those sacrifices did not actually provide the forgiveness he needed. This will be true in the coming kingdom as well, since passages like Ezekiel 43:18-27 indicate that those same sacrifices will be offered again on the altar of burnt offering.

It is interesting that Gaebelein says this in his treatment of the ‘Lord’s Prayer:’ “We pass over the petition, ‘And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ This is a legal, an Old Testament petition. Our forgiveness does not depend upon our relation to each other.” One could wish that he would have taken the time and space to discuss what he understood the request to actually mean instead of skipping over it. But we do see that he understood it as fitting into a legal rather than a grace system.

Lewis Sperry Chafer gives probably the best analysis:
This being the only portion of the prayer which is taken up by Christ for special elucidation, it evidently, in His mind, called for such remarks as might keep it from misunderstanding. As it is—in spite of the clarifying comment which the Lord added—there is much disregard for all that He emphasized and a determination to bend this legal condition into some conformity with grace. His comment is as follows, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14–15). It cannot but be recognized that this one portion—meaning what Christ insists it means—is directly opposed in principle to the grace ideal as set forth in Ephesians 4:32, which declares, “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Such is also the restatement found in Colossians 3:13, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” The truth that God is “rich in mercy” even when we were “dead in sins” is one truth concerning which the child of God should be jealous with a great passion of soul. On that truth his only hope depends. Sad, indeed, is the spectacle when Christians assume that the Sermon on the Mount represents the high calling of the Church and attempt to modify the character of sovereign grace to the end that it may conform to a merit system. When it is recognized that this petition and this entire prayer is not only embedded in the kingdom manifesto but is itself a plea for the kingdom to come, difficulties are removed. Added to the conclusive character of the prayer is the fact that it is not “in the name” of Christ. Prayer for the Christian is upon a new and infinitely higher basis than any could be in any other age or relationship. In His last words to His disciples, Christ opened to them the new ground of prayer which is in His name (John 14:14), and declared that hitherto prayer had not been offered in that name (John 16:24). Again the child of God may well be jealous with a great passion respecting this new and marvelous approach to God in prayer. When the Lord said “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name,” He contemplated all previous prayers—including the “Lord’s Prayer”—as in no way to be compared with that new ground of prayer then opened unto believers.
So Chafer rejected it as being intended for the Church. (What does this say about those who recite it every week in a church service?) And he did so specifically because it fits the Israelite legal system which was framed in a theocracy. So his interpretation is that the prayer as a whole is framed with the future kingdom in view, that millennial kingdom during which the Lord Jesus Christ is personally present on earth ruling as the Lord of lords and King of kings.

But can the entire prayer actually have a kingdom orientation? In fact, it can. The first request in Matthew 6:9 to the Father in heaven is “Hallowed be Your name.” That request is certainly appropriate anywhere any time.

The second request sets the stage for the rest of the prayer: in verse 10 we read “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” This is not a personal request that in my life or that in my home God’s will would be done, but it is just what it says, namely, a request for God to establish His kingdom on earth. He will, and in that time His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For more information, you might read extensively in the Prophets as well as Revelation 19:11-20:6.

The third request is in verse 11. “Give us this day our daily bread.” That seems like a request that could fit any age. We do recall the times that Jesus multiplied bread and fed the thousands during His time on earth, a time, incidentally, before the Church was born. And we know that the LORD was described in the Old Testament as One who feeds His people in the coming kingdom as Isaiah 49:8-10 says:
Thus says the LORD, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ Along the roads they will feed, And their pasture will be on all bare heights. They will not hunger or thirst, Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them And will guide them to springs of water.”
Then in verse 12 is the request we have been considering. And the last request appears in verse 13: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This also seems like it could fit any age in the plan of God. Of interest, however, here, is that Satan is bound during the years of the future kingdom on earth. Human beings born then will still be sinners and will need to place their trust in Jesus to be saved. That they will still be able to sin and commit evil speaks to the liveliness of depravity even without Satan present. He will not lead them astray, and God surely will not, either. But God will still have an active role to play in delivering people from evil. Some think that “evil” should be rendered “the evil one” because of the specific article. That is a possible translation, but it is by no means certain. The word “evil” is either neuter or masculine. If it were absolutely masculine, we would almost have to translate it as a person, but we don’t know dogmatically whether it is. Even in that case, it still makes sense in a kingdom setting, because Satan is released at the end of the thousand years to deceive the nations. If it is neuter, it could actually simply refer to the evil nature indwelling every person from birth.

But does the future kingdom operate on the basis of grace or on the basis of law? Salvation is always by grace, but theocracies are not. For example, Zechariah 14:16-19 describes the kingdom. At the time God will send rain or not depending upon whether the nations come to Jerusalem and participate in the Festival of Booths. That is definitely a legal arrangement, and the system exactly corresponds to the request for forgiveness in Matthew 6:12. It says nothing about the personal salvation of the people of those nations.

So the prayer request for forgiveness in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is consistent with the rest of the prayer in having a kingdom orientation. At least some of the prayer is blatantly kingdom, and the rest of it certainly can be. No part of it must be described as anti-kingdom. And the millennial kingdom on earth will operate on a legal basis as any kingdom does. The blessed difference here is that that earthly king is the Lord Jesus Christ, so dealings with the King will of necessity involve God, whether they are simply matters of the heart or matters of social policy.


So the prayer request for forgiveness in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ can be and should be understood exactly as it is written. Jesus’ explanation encourages us to take it that way. We do not need to twist it or to dilute it in order to make it fit our preconceived ideas of what it should say. We can simply recognize its contribution in its context.

The request does recognize a relationship between divine and human forgiveness at least on some level. It does encourage us to have the proper attitude and be forgiving toward others. But people truly saved through faith in Christ will be forgiving because they have been forgiven, not in order that they might be forgiven. Salvation truly is by grace through faith as Ephesians 2:8-9 declares.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
But as Matthew 6:12 stands written, it seems to be a prayer with the coming kingdom of Christ in view. And this is particularly helpful. Even though an offender needs to make right his offense, then also even the attitude of the offended has attention. And the offended also must be one who forgives; if not, he will be considered having broken the law of forgiveness and be liable to the King.

For further discussion, you may contact the author at