Who forgives whom first?
- On the one hand, Jesus says, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)
- On the other hand, Paul says, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
When Jesus teaches us to pray that God would forgive us, “for we ourselves forgive,” he is not saying that the first move in forgiveness was our move. Rather, it goes like this: God forgave us when we believed in Christ (Acts 10:43). Then, from this broken, joyful, grateful, hopeful experience of being forgiven, we offer forgiveness to others.
This forgiving spirit signifies that we have been savingly forgiven. That is, our forgiving others shows that we have faith; we are united to Christ; we are indwelt by the gracious, humbling Holy Spirit.
But we still sin (1 John 1:8, 10). So we still turn to God for fresh applications of the work of Christ on our behalf — fresh applications of forgiveness. We cannot do this with any confidence if we are harboring an unforgiving spirit. (Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23–35. He refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed him ten dollars, though he claimed to be forgiven ten million. He showed by his unforgiving spirit that the king’s mercy had not changed him.)
Jesus protects us from this folly by teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). That’s why Jesus says we ask for forgiveness because we are forgiving. This is like saying, “Father, continue to extend to me the mercies purchased by Christ, because by these mercies I have been forgiven, and I forsake vengeance and extend to others what you have extended to me.”
May you know God’s forgiveness afresh today, and may that grace overflow in your heart in forgiveness toward others. And may that sweet experience of grace in your life give you added assurance that, when you go to God to experience fresh, blood-bought forgiveness, you will know that he sees you as his forgiven and forgiving child.
Devotional by John Piper