Forgive us our trespasses…
Questions for Reflection
- How is sin a trespass against God?
- What does it mean that God invites us to pray for His forgiveness?
- How well do you forgive others?
- How might God’s forgiveness help you offer forgiveness?
- Why is forgiveness key to God’s kingdom?
We Are Trespassing
When I learned this prayer as a child, I learned it as trespasses; forgive us our trespasses. Maybe that’s a strange way to put it in prayer, but you know how that word is used elsewhere.
We trespass when we wander onto places we aren’t supposed to be; when we cross lines and boundaries, we know we aren’t meant to.
Sometimes, this portion of Jesus’s prayer is also translated as debt or sin. Forgive us our debts; forgive us our sins. What Jesus was describing was the way in which we wander off the path, the way in which we break things, in which we cross lines and make a mess of our lives and the world around us. We sin. We do as we please and rebel against God’s intended way of living.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to his own way.”
Jesus’s prayer recognizes that things in this world are broken. Sin has corrupted the human experience. We are harmed by it, suffer under it, and we are a part of it. We are trespassed against, and we trespass against others. We are sinned against, and we sin against others.
Asking for Forgiveness
It feels natural to pray about how we are wronged, but Jesus’s prayer does something more; it forces us to face the way in which we do wrong ourselves. That does not always come as naturally.
To ask for forgiveness of your sins is to acknowledge you do sin. You have trespassed. You owe a debt you can’t afford to pay. Jesus forces us to face the reality of our own condition. This world is broken, and we are a participant in it.
Jesus asks us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness.
For many people, that realization comes in an initial moment of salvation in which we repent, turn from our ways, and dedicate ourselves to following Christ. But, though we receive His salvation the moment we trust and believe, we continue to struggle with sin and this fallen world.
The risk is that forgiveness becomes some past decision you made and now goes pretty much unconsidered. God’s forgiveness is not a membership card you keep in your back pocket. To follow Christ is to continually submit your life to Him, to grow more obedient to Him.
We can’t do that on our own. We need His help identifying those places in our life where we need to grow. We need His help working that forgiveness into all of our life. So we do as He taught; we continually search our hearts and ask for His continued forgiveness.
Giving as We Have Receiving
But there is more to this prayer than just that request…
When I was a kid, we used to play a version of hide and seek at night. You had to make it down the big hill behind our house and to the driveway without being tagged. Once, we talked my dad into playing it with us. He hadn’t been with us earlier in the day when we had tied a think rope between two trees. And it also never crossed our minds to tell him about it.
You can guess what happened. My dad came barreling down the hill at full speed and caught the rope right about his waist. He didn’t make it to the driveway. He was tripped by a rope he didn’t see coming.
This prayer does something like that, for just as we learn to ask that God would forgive our trespasses, Jesus adds the line, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The forgiveness Jesus teaches us to seek is not a transaction by which we shrug off sin. His forgiveness is a new way of seeing the world and living in it. We need forgiveness, and we must offer it to others as well.
We are forgiven as we too forgive. There is no cheap or easy forgiveness when you’re the one forgiving. So we are taught the real cost of God’s forgiveness as well.
We are taught to recognize the cost God was willing to pay, to give His own son that our sins might be forgiven.
And so we abandon the way of this world, seeking revenge and living in bitterness. We see what God was willing to give to forgive us, and we embrace that forgiveness by living out our own.
Never easy or naive, but leaning into His gospel as a better way to live.
Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Teach us to live in Your kingdom of forgiveness, save us from our sins and the enslavement of unforgiveness toward others.