By Stephanie Englehart, Crosswalk.com
"Forgive us our tresspasses." Pain is something every human being experiences on earth. Our own sin nature and the fallen nature of our world leaves us in a world hurt, separated from God. Left to our own devices, there is no possible way we could crawl out from under our sin and the pain of those who have sinned against us. We need forgiveness to bridge the gap between God and man, just as we need forgiveness to flow out of us, as we seek to be in relationship with those around us. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” in Matthew 6:12.
What Is the Biblical Context of 'Forgive Us Our Trespasses' and the 'Forgive Us Our Tresspasses' Prayer?
Have you ever heard of the 'forgive us our tresspasses' prayer? The phrase “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”, comes out of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. In Matthew 5:1-7:29, we find what is called The Sermon on the Mount. It includes five major discourses in which Jesus is speaking to His disciples on the realities of discipleship as they are lived out in the presence and power of the kingdom of God. Specifically in Mathew 6:9-15, we see The Lord’s Prayer provide an example for us to follow when we pray and ask God for forgiveness.
The first half of Jesus’ teaching and example of prayer focuses on who God is, and how His holiness affects us—invoking praise and a heart posture of humility before Him. The second half of Jesus’ prayer focuses on personal need within the context of community. This example of prayer helps us to set our priorities in line with the kingdom of God, and reveals the heart of God in the forgiveness of sins. When we narrow in on Matthew 6:12 and Matthew 6:14-15, it becomes evident that all forgiveness flows out from the Father, and fuels our forgiveness of others.
What Does 'Forgive Us Our Trespasses' and 'Forgive Us Our Tresspasses' Prayer Mean?
There is a sense in which we must initially ask God for forgiveness upon recognizing our own depravity, and putting our faith in the person and work of Jesus (1 John 1:9-2:1). This initial act of repentance and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings about justification—salvation from the guilt of sin. This means that the Christian, through faith in the gospel, has been justified—or declared righteous—by God once for all. Justification produces a life where we no longer live under the fear of judgment and wrath of God, but instead are at complete peace with God through the poured out blood of Christ.
‘Forgive us our trespasses’ does not mean we have to daily ask for forgiveness for the justification of our sins, as Christians are justified forever from the initial moment of saving faith. Rather, as Jesus teaches us to pray, He is displaying a prayer for the restoration of personal communion with God that has been hindered by sin. Asking God for forgiveness through repentance and faith moves us towards holiness, and deepens our relationship with Him. This is also part of sanctification, which is the continual salvation from the power of sin (1 Corinthians 1:18). We continue to pour out our soul to the Father, asking for forgiveness from our sins, as we move deeper into the grace of the gospel and are transformed by it.
What Does 'Forgive Us Our Tresspasses' Prayer Look Like?
As we receive forgiveness by the grace of Jesus, we become so moved with gratitude toward God, that we are eager and able to forgive those who have sinned against us (Ephesians 4:32). Matthew 6:14-15 emphasizes this, as Jesus tells us that there is a direct relationship between having been forgiven by God, and the extension of forgiveness towards others that we have first found in Christ.
This means that the extent to which we are repenting of our sin, and understand the depths of forgiveness that we are offered in the gospel, will directly impact our ability to forgive those who have hurt us, and our ability to relinquish resentment towards others. It is only because of the grace and continual forgiveness of Jesus that we can lay down our hurt and pride and forgive others when they have sinned against us. When we see the depths of our own sin, whether that be in our selfishness, harshness of tongue, gossip, sexual sin, or deceit, and realize the lavish grace that has been bestowed on us by Jesus—who gave up his own rights, endured physical assault, verbal abuse, abandonment, and ultimately death on a cross—in order to forgive us. It is out of that love and grace, that we are empowered to forgive others (Mark 11:25). We can love, because Jesus first loved us. We can forgive because Jesus first forgave us. We realize we are not any better than those who have sinned against us. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. As believers, we have simply received the grace of God, are covered by His love and righteousness, and that empowers us to obey and forgive. God is the initiator of forgiveness from beginning to end, and the empowering work of forgiveness as we live life with those around us.
God’s grace is transformative. As we look to His ongoing forgiveness in repentance and faith, let’s examine three postures to take as we ask God to ‘forgive us our trespasses’:
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1. Forgiveness Follows Remorse
Asking for forgiveness is not a flippant or fast process. As we go to God with our sins, our apology should not mirror a rushed ‘excuse me’ as if we just simply needed to step around someone at the grocery store. There is a seriousness to sin that requires a broken and contrite heart. God treated our salvation from sin with such care that He sent His son, Jesus, to take the penalty for our sin through death on a cross. Understanding God’s unwarranted grace should move us towards guilt or remorse over our wrongdoing. The Old Testament King, David, provides an example of a contrite heart through his prayer in Psalm 51:1-2:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”
And in Psalm 51:9-10:
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
As David asks for forgiveness, he recognizes and praises God’s mercy and steadfast love. He confesses his sin, and asks God to cleanse his heart and renew his spirit. This, in turn with repentance, is the start of asking God for forgiveness from sin.
2. Honest Repentance Flows out of Humility
Coming before the Lord in prayer and repentance should invoke a sense of humility within us. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus teaches that asking for forgiveness should be done in humility, without even a hint of self-righteousness.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
3. Forgiveness Is Found at the Heart of the Gospel
Asking God for forgiveness entails keeping the gospel in mind. Without the blood of Christ, we would not be justified, sanctified, or have the hope of glorification—where we will be saved from the presence of all sin for eternity. Romans 3:22-25 tells us that there is no distinction among men, but we have all fallen short of God’s glory. Because of this, we are “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”.
Ultimately the grace that has been lavished upon us provides the means to ask for forgiveness, humble ourselves, and run towards holiness and away from sin. It is in this consistent pattern of faith and repentance, that the shame of sin subsides, and we become even more deeply rooted in the truth that our new identity is a child of God and heir to the kingdom. For who is a God like our God—who is “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18).
When we center our faith on His steadfast love that does not hold back the forgiveness of our sins, we too can forgive those who have trespassed against us, and rest in the freedom from sin that only faith in the gospel provides.
Photo Credit: Jack Sharp/Unsplash
Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.