The Folly of Earned Forgiveness

Joshua Torrey comments
| Faith

This past Sunday my pastor, Eric Landry, preached on Matthew 6:12. This particular petition of the Lord's Prayer instructs our hearts on forgiveness. To avoid hypocrisy or self-righteousness, Christians need to be reminded that all forgiveness is unmerited. This is true with regards to God's forgiveness of our sins, but it also includes the forgiveness we extend to others.

That Christ instructs us to repeatedly pray "Forgive us our debts" should not be a concern to Protestants — forgiveness is found once and for all in the cross. Still, the petition must saturate our hearts so that we "forgive our debtors." The following is an excerpt from The Lord's Prayer: A Family Devotion,

I am fascinated watching children interact. Their movements, speech, and general body language are a subtle study of human sinfulness—sometimes not so subtle. All parents know the battle of “mine.” Anyone who has watched a child for any period will have to discipline a child and referee childish scuffles. In the Torrey home, we do not shy away from conflict and discipline. Conflict naturally arises from people living in a home together. We do not walk around on eggshells, but occasionally someone goes too far. We sin against one another and discipline is required. This is a great way to teach Christian forgiveness and reconciliation.

In our home, we stress the active role we as parents take in reconciliation. Immediately after disciplining Judah or Kenzie, I reconcile them to those they hurt. This step exemplifies the way God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. Even when the children could not speak I would echo the words of requesting forgiveness and ensure the pronouncement (“I forgive you”) was made. I laugh now watching my children eagerly (except when they are really mad) request and grant forgiveness to one another. They are eager for the relationship to continue and fun to ensue. They understand at some primal level the importance of reconciliation. And they understand the general steps of asking for undeserved forgiveness. Ultimately, the Christian experience with God is the same. God speaks for us while we cannot. We find this forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

All #forgiveness is unmerited, whether from #God or given to others.—@bennuwn

Christ’s death initiates forgiveness and His death while we were rebelling against Him (Rom. 5:6-8). We wage war against God until He justifies us (Eph. 2:1-4). He “first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). This means that God reconciles and forgives us before we even know to request it. We are the little children without the slightest understanding of what sin is. We are barely aware of who we have sinned against. God choose to reconcile us while we were in that state. Jesus’ petition for forgiveness reminds us of that. We grow in our understanding of forgiveness when we pray it. We learn daily just how unmerited our forgiveness was. We realize just how ignorant we were of God’s active work to reconcile with us.

The truth of the Scripture is that all forgiveness is unearned. We cannot deserve it by any later good deeds since God already deserved those (Lk. 17:10). We pray for this gracious forgiveness then because it has been promised to us (1 Jn. 1:9). We pray for it because it has already been accomplished. As Luther says, “It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer” (The Large Catechism). This is how we should pray.


Joshua Torrey

Joshua is a computer engineer by day and reader/blogger by night. He has written a couple books no one has read and is indoctrinating his children to cheer for Pittsburgh sports teams.

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