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Luke 11:4 reads,
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us….
A debt is an unfulfilled obligation. Sin is an immoral way to incur such an obligation. The economic way to incur debt is to borrow, and such debt is not a sin unless it cannot be paid when the debt is due. In Matt. 18:21-35 Jesus told a Parable about a debtor who owed ten thousand “talents.” A talent was over a hundred pounds of silver or gold. In the course of time, the debt came due, but the debtor did not have the ability to repay. It was then treated as a sin, an offense against the lender who had been damaged.
All sin is reckoned as a debt in the law. In fact, since Jesus spoke Aramaic, he probably used the Aramaic word khoba, which means both “sin and debt.” Forgiveness is not merely a moral term but also an economic one.
In the course of life, it is impossible to avoid offending others from time to time. If the offense is real (by the standard of God’s law), a thief should seek forgiveness through double restitution to “pay the debt.” For accidental destruction or loss of property, the victim should be compensated 100%. This is divine justice.
In the Law of Victims Rights, the victim of such sin (offense) has the right to receive full compensation for his loss, and he also retains the right to forgive a portion of it, or even the whole debt. The law itself (that is, the judge) does not have the right to forgive sin, but the victims do have that right. Further, it is not their duty to forgive, but their right.
Forgiveness only becomes a duty when restitution or compensation has been made, fully satisfying the law. But those who forgive only out of duty (when they are required to forgive by law) will find themselves required to be treated by their standard of measure.
In Matthew’s account, when Jesus finished the model prayer, He immediately explained this principle of forgiveness as if to emphasize it and give it increased importance. Matt. 6:14, 15 says,
14 For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
This is well illustrated in the parable of the debtor who owed ten thousand talents. He was forgiven, but then, because he refused to forgive the small debt that his neighbor could not repay, he lost his forgiveness. The whole ten thousand talent debt descended upon his head once again until he paid the full debt (Matt. 18:34). The parable concludes in the next verse,
35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
In the background we see the “eye for eye” law in Exodus 21:24 and the law of equal weights and measures (Lev. 36). In the first case, the judgment must fit the crime, and in the second the law is applied equally to all, and so we are judged according to the standard of measure by which we judge others. Jesus taught this in Matt. 7:2,
2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
The Lord’s prayer reflects this principle of law. We have the right to appeal to God for forgiveness because we ourselves have forgiven others. Our sin made Jesus the ultimate Victim, giving Him the right to forgive not only us but also the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Jesus rights as the Victim of all sin ever committed means that He has the right to forgive whatever sin He desires. And, indeed, He chose to pay the penalty for all sin on the cross, ensuring that His love for the world would be fulfilled (John 3:16).
To forgive the sin of the world did not violate His Holiness. It was His legal right to forgive, because He was the Victim. The only question is whether He loves the world enough to extend forgiveness of sin to the whole world. In my view, that is indeed His motivation and the main purpose of His coming to earth. But as we will see, His wisdom as Abba also brings discipline in order to train His children to become worthy sons.
The law of God establishes the rights of both sinners and victims. For example, double restitution limits the liability of the sinner, while also establishing the right of the victim to receive compensation. The sinner is not allowed to be judged beyond the seriousness of his crime. At the same time, the victim has a right to receive recompense for his losses.
When the law has had its say, then the victim may exact full restitution or not, as he may wish.
So what was Jesus teaching His disciples in His model prayer? The most important thing is to have a forgiving mindset, based on a heart of love. The carnal mind seeks its own welfare or advantage, for it is selfish and self-seeking. The spiritual mind sees the big picture and has a Kingdom mindset. It has the mind of Christ and seeks opportunity to bless others. It is not about calculating how much money we can make off the sinner’s labor as he works to pay off his debt to us. It is about the desire to bless the sinner by making a permanent change in his life so that he will desire to serve God.
I have talked to many inmates in our nation’s prisons who would dearly love to get out and work to pay their victims restitution. However, the laws of men will not allow them to do this. Men’s laws prevent true justice because they do not know the mind of God.
The opportunity to bless comes when men treat us unjustly, for only then do we have the right to forgive. No one has the right to forgive sin committed against someone else, but we all have the divine right to forgive sin against ourselves. As I said, it is not a duty but a right. We must ask ourselves if the sinner would be blessed by forgiveness or by paying the debt. There are times when a sinner may need to experience the consequences of his sin as a disciplinary measure so that he might learn not to sin. But if he is already broken and repentant, it may be good to forgive the debt partially or fully.
As parents, we must make similar decisions with our children. If we continually impose the full penalty of law upon them without forgiveness, even after they have repented, we will surely discourage our children and make them angry and resentful. We must find that balance between discipline and forgiveness, which can come only out of a heart of agape-love.
What parents learn from situations with their children can then be applied outside the family to the world at large. There are times when it may be best to make people pay their debts. At other times it may be best to forgive. The point is that we seek to bless them and cause them to turn from their iniquities, for that is the definition of “bless” in Acts 3:25, 26.
The Lord’s prayer appeals to God for divine forgiveness on the grounds that we have forgiven everyone. This does not specify the manner of forgiveness, which must be determined by the wisdom of God. Sometimes it is better to exact restitution in order to teach a thief to work instead of to steal. Yet if we have a heart of love, we will be able to forgive the offender in our hearts even before he has repaid the debt. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Forgiveness, and as a consequence, forgiveness becomes an unceasing way of life.
This, I believe, is the essence of this prayer. It really does come down to a heart of love. Love does not exclude disciplinary action (as we learn with our children). But loveless discipline is counter-productive. Fortunately, we have the divine example of love. However, most people (including Christians) do not hold a proper perspective of divine judgment. They know Him as a “holy God” whose reaction to sin compels Him to judge without love. Such people do not understand that the law itself is saturated in love, because it is a revelation of the God of Love. Hence, the two Great Commandments are all about Love, and these summarize the entire law.
The judgments of the law express phileo love, or “brotherly love.” It is the level of love that seeks equality, even as siblings demand equal treatment. It is a 50/50 relationship. If both children want the last piece of pie, the only way to satisfy them will be to have one child cut it in half, and let the other child choose which piece he wants. But mature love (agape) defers to others and gives grace. This is the kind of love that parents need in raising children, for they must often absorb and forgive injustice, inconvenience, and hardship brought about by children who are still too immature to understand.
So also is it with God and His children. The God of discipline finds it necessary to express phileo love at times, according to the law of equal weights and measures. But in no way does He give up His agape character. God forgives all, but yet He also judges all as a Father (Abba). Judgment and forgiveness are not incompatible, but in the end, they merge together in the Law of Grace, which is the Law of Jubilee. Judgment has its limit, because no debt is so great that it exceeds the grace demanded by the Law of Jubilee.
The victim’s right to forgive ends also with the Jubilee, because at that point, our right of forgiveness is swallowed up by something greater—God’s right to forgive. He has decreed in His Law all the parameters of divine judgment. His Law prophesies the full judgment against all sin. No sin is judged eternally, but in direct measure according to the amount of debt that is incurred. Even if a sin should be worthy of eternal judgment, the debt could not continue past the Jubilee trumpet, for that would be a violation of the will of God.
This is the mind of Christ that is in us, if we have truly received the revelation of His love and purpose. The mind of Christ is expressed in the Lord’s prayer, especially in the presumption, “we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Because of the law of equal weights and measures, we have the right to ask for forgiveness ahead of the Creation Jubilee, because we have put on the mind of Christ in that we have His heart of love and have forgiven others who are indebted to us through sin. Hence, forgivers are forgiven. Those who show grace are given grace. Overcomers are characterized chiefly by their love, which is expressed in their ability to forgive.
When one seeks to change a sinner’s behavior, the power of forgiveness greatly exceeds the power of condemnation. In fact, those who have felt condemned all their lives find themselves locked in sin with no way to escape. The reason they sin is because they are acting out who they believe they are—that is, condemned sinners. To change their behavior, men usually apply more condemnation, not realizing that this only reinforces the lock on their inner dungeon.
The divine solution is to apply the power of forgiveness, for this alone can set them free from themselves. Only forgiveness can open their eyes to their New Creation Man within them, their new identity in Christ. Only forgivers possess the divine key that can transform men’s lives and set them free from themselves, that is, from the “old man” of human nature that is our Adamic identity.