The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12) It may seem obvious, but this petition isn’t going to make a lick of sense unless you know what in the world a “debt” and a “debtor” is, so let’s take a quick moment to explain.
Imagine you wanted to buy a gigantic stuffed sloth, but you didn’t have any money. So you borrowed $100 from your sister to pay for it. After buying the sloth, you would now owe your sister $100 and have to eventually pay it back. You would have a debt of $100. So a debt is something that you owe to someone else, usually money. A debtor, then, is a person who has a debt they need to pay back.
In the Bible, Jesus used the idea of owing a debt as a picture to help explain what sin is like. In Matthew 18, he told a story about a servant who owed a fortune to his king. The man’s debt was so enormous, there was no chance he could ever pay it back in a thousand lifetimes! The servant begged his king to show him mercy. Incredibly, the king took pity on his servant and forgave the mountain of money the man owed. He forgave his debt. That means the servant would never have to pay a single penny back.
Jesus’ story was a picture of us and God. Like the servant, law-breaking sinners (including you and me) owe a debt to God: the debt of death because of our sin! And like the king, God has kindly forgiven our debt. Instead of us paying for our sin, Jesus paid for it in our place. We never have to pay any of it back!
When you pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors,” understand that you are asking God to forgive your sins. And you can be sure that God will absolutely forgive your debt (sin). Why? Because Jesus has already paid the price of our sin in full. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Now, from the moment we first believe, all of our sins are immediately forgiven; they are wiped away and God promises to remember them no more. He forgives all the wrong things we’ve ever done and all the wrong things we ever will do. So why does Jesus tell us to pray that God would forgive our sins/debts if they are already forgiven? There are a couple of reasons why he would do this.
When we ask God to forgive our sins, it forces us to think about how we’ve displeased our Father in heaven. It should make us think twice about doing these things again in the future. It also gives us a chance to remember his gracious promise to forgive us. And best of all, it’s an opportunity to be thankful for the amazing thing Jesus did so we can be forgiven!
To use this petition like a checklist, confess and tell the truth about your sins to God. Then ask him to forgive you. As you do, keep in mind the promise we just read: when you confess, God will forgive you every single time!
But the fifth petition also has a second part to it: “as we have also forgiven our debtors (those who sinned against us).” After asking God to forgive our sins, Jesus wants us to think about people who have sinned against us: our “debtors.” As human beings, our instinct usually is to be angry with people who’ve sinned against us, to think about ways we might get revenge! But what does Jesus want us to do with our “debtors?” He wants us to be just as forgiving to them as God has been to us!