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God’s Word for You

Luke 11:4a The Fifth Petition

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

THE LORD’S PRAYER: THE FIFTH PETITION

4 Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

In this petition, Jesus turns our hearts from our personal needs to our most important spiritual need: the forgiveness of sins. We sin all the time, countless times every day, against everyone and against God himself. Daniel confessed, “We have sinned greatly against you” (Daniel 9:11), and Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The hatred God has for all sinners (Psalm 5:5) leaves us trembling. We know that we are guilty of sins of commission and omission, and there is nothing we can do to justify our sins before God’s throne. The wicked, the unbelievers, don’t care. They don’t worry that God despises them to the extent that they don’t even hate their own sins (Psalm 36:2) or realize that they should do so. But those with faith in God are terrified by his anger, and by the sentence of eternal punishment. We cannot climb out of this pit of guilt. “In short,” Luther said in his Large Catechism, “if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.”

God’s solution to our sins was to atone for them in the only way possible. The Father sent his Son to be punished in our place. As a friend of mine likes to say in his religion classes, “If you want to know just how much God hates your sin, just look at Jesus on the cross.” The forgiveness won for us by Jesus’ sacrifice covers all of our sins.

But what about this petition’s second part? What does Jesus mean when he says, “As we forgive?”

This forgiveness is not conditional. We are not saved by things we do, but by the grace of God. “If by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Even the faith we have is not a ‘work’ we do to merit anything from God. Our faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). Therefore, our forgiveness does not depend on whether or not we forgive someone else.

In Matthew 6:12, “As we forgive” begins with the particle hos (ὡς), giving an example of the way forgiveness is done. Here in Luke 11:4, Jesus is quoted using the combination kai gar (καὶ γὰρ), “as also.” The particle gar often means “because,” but not in all contexts, and since we must compare the prayer here in Luke with the one in Matthew, we are left with a meaning that is not causal, but explanatory (sometimes called epexegetical). This would be translated “indeed,” or “for example,” or just “as.”

So the forgiveness God has given to me is something I can demonstrate in my life for others to see by forgiving the way that God forgave me. I can forgive completely, unconditionally, as my response to the way God forgives. Luther: “You are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise.”

Pray for forgiveness and know that through Christ you are forgiven. Then respond to God by showing what forgiveness is like by forgiving the people who commit sins and trespasses against you. By remembering this, you will not be tempted to be afraid of this petition, as so many people are. When you pray it, you will remember that it is not the law of condemnation, but a template for Christian living that Jesus gives to us as a blessing. For Jesus Christ is not passive-aggressive. He does not put barbed wire into the lifeline he offers us. He gives only grace, love, and forgiveness, and he guides us day by day along the path of godliness.

Luther’s simple explanation from the Small Catechism is as valuable as the Lord’s Prayer itself:

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins or because of them deny our prayers; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we ask, neither have we deserved them, but we ask that he would give them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will forgive from the heart and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

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Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.