As this series explores the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer line by line, we consider what each petition means and how to apply it to our own lives. A powerful tool for shaping how we think about God, ourselves, and the world, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray and leads us into a deeply meaningful way of talking to and hearing from the Lord.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”
The fourth movement in the Lord’s Prayer leads us into confession and forgiveness. Different traditions use different words here—trespasses, debts, sins—but no matter how we say it, we are saying to God that we have done wrong and that we need forgiveness. We also recognize that we are a people called and empowered to forgive others. We must both receive and offer forgiveness.
Forgive us our sins
All people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). If we believe that we have not sinned, then we are only deceiving ourselves. Have you ever lied? Lost your temper? Insulted someone? These are things we have all done. We can’t escape the fact that we don’t always do and say the right things. In confessing our sins to God, we acknowledge this truth with the confidence of those who are assured of God’s gracious forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9). Jesus regularly called people to repent, which means turning away from sin. This is what we are doing in asking forgiveness for our sins; we are turning away from the ways we have wronged God, people, and the world, and aligning ourselves with the way of Christ. We are admitting to having made mistakes and making an effort to live according to God’s commands.
As with the previous post in this series, we should pay special attention to the use of “us” in this petition. While we consider our personal, individual sins and ask for forgiveness, we are also asking God to forgive all of humanity. We are asking that God forgive us for our societal, communal sins and the ways we are implicated in and influenced by those corporate or systemic sins. We are also asking God to forgive others for their sins. We don’t ask for forgiveness only for ourselves, but we petition God to forgive humanity collectively.
As we forgive those who sin against us
As we ask God to forgive “us,” collectively asking for the forgiveness of the sin of all people, we confess that we are called to forgive those who sin against us as well. As Christians, we regularly sin against God, and we sin against other people as well. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us that the greatest command is to love God, and “a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In this verse, we are called to lives of love and forgiveness. As God has forgiven us, so are we to forgive others (Colossians 3:13).
Each of us can think of a time when someone did us wrong. We can all recall a truly hurtful act that another person carried out against us. Can we really be expected to forgive those who have offended, maligned, and even hurt us or our loved ones? The answer is yes. In Psalm 103, God is described this way:
God will not always accuse,
nor will God keep God’s anger forever.
God does not deal with us according to our sins,
Nor repay us according to our iniquities.
This is how God loves us; God does not give us what we deserve according to our actions, but forgives us out of an abundance of grace—God’s undeserved favor. As followers of Christ, we pray this prayer as a reminder and a call to action: Lord, help us to forgive those who have sinned against us.
As you pray the Lord’s Prayer, take time to think specifically about your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. Think about and pray for forgiveness for the corporate sins of humanity and our society. Who do you need to forgive? Ask for God’s help to forgive those who have sinned against you.
Read the rest of the Lord’s Prayer series
- Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer
- First petition: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”
- Second petition: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”
- Third petition: “Give us this day our daily bread”
- Fourth petition: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”
- Fifth petition: “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil”
- Sixth petition: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.”
Stephanie Soderstrom is coordinator for Short-term Mission for the Reformed Church in America. You can connect with her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terry DeYoung serves the Reformed Church in America as coordinator for Disability Concerns. The AIM of Disability Concerns is to create accessible, inclusive, and missional churches where everybody belongs and everybody serves. If you’d like to support this kingdom-focused work, contact him at email@example.com.