“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Although often recited by rote as part of “the Lord’s Prayer,” this verse holds immense weight and is not to be prayed lightly. The Greek conjunction “as” (hōs) used here can also be translated “like” or “similar to.” This verse might thus be better read: “Forgive us our debts, in the same manner that we have forgiven our debtors.” We ought to tremble at the thought of this request. What would our fate be if God forgave us in the same manner that we forgave those who have wronged us? Yet in instructing his disciples to pray in this way, Jesus communicates two vital truths regarding Christian forgiveness.
First, Jesus makes clear that the manner in which one forgives is a crucial indication of one’s standing before God. In following verses, Jesus warns, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). God’s forgiveness of the believer is inextricably tied to the believer’s forgiveness of others; those who have experienced the forgiveness of God are expected to reciprocate this forgiveness unto others. Conversely, an unforgiving heart is a mark of an unrepentant, and therefore unforgiven soul.
Second, Jesus sets a higher standard of forgiveness for his disciples. Christians are to forgive others not on human terms, but after God’s model of constant, unconditional forgiveness upon the believer. Jesus reiterates this point in Matthew 18:21-22, as he exposes Peter’s inadequate understanding of forgiveness. Paul also emphasizes this idea, writing “as (kathōs, ‘in the degree that’) the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive [one another]” (Colossians 3:13).
Even as believers, we constantly struggle with the sin of unforgiveness, and even when we manage to forgive, we fall vastly short of God’s perfect standard. However, genuine believers can pray the Lord’s Prayer in confidence, as God has promised to sanctify his children such that they may learn to forgive as Christ forgave. Let us who have been forgiven exemplify His forgiveness to the world, to His glory and honor.