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Debt and Debtors

Debt is a concept that we are all too familiar with today. We have all kinds of ways to get into debt, and many of us have at least some. From car and house loans to credit card debt, we are intimately familiar with debt. The idea of debt is something that is almost entirely something that we consider negatively. We may think of it at times as necessary, but it would be rare to find someone who thought of debt as a positive thing. Financial debt is the most common type of debt we think of when we think about it, but it is not the only kind of debt. In older days, a common type of debt was a debt of honor. This could be a monetary debt, but much more often, it was a matter of respect and service. No matter what we think of when we think of debt, the inherent concept is the same. It is something that must be repaid. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask for the Lord to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. Today, we are going to dig a little deeper to understand what it is we are talking about.

Question #126

Asking for forgiveness is the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer. We are taught to pray, forgive us our debts, not forgive us our sins. The end result is the same, but in the process, we learn something important about the nature of our sin. Our sin actually ensures a debt. Not a financial debt, but still one that requires payment. Our sin requires the minimum payment of death. The catechism helps us to understand further.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. That is: For the sake of Christ's blood, do not impute to us, wretched sinners; any of our transgressions, nor the evil which still clings to us,[1] as we also find this evidence of Thy grace in us that we are fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbor.[2]

When we ask for our debts to be forgiven, we are asking that the Lord would remember the work of Christ. But here, we also notice that this is a prayer for Christians. It is not a prayer that is made by someone becoming a Christian. It talks about the evil that still clings to us and asks for forgiveness for the ongoing sin in our lives. Some will teach that once you become a Christian, you are forever forgiven and no longer have to worry about sin. In a certain sense, this is true. When we are justified and adopted as the children of God, we indeed have all of our debts, past and future, covered by the blood of Christ, but the process does not stop with justification and adoption. What follows is the process of sanctification. In sanctification, we live a life of repentance, where we continually ask the Lord to forgive us and to continue to change us.

It is not Transactional

One of the things that can be confusing about this petition is the way it seems at first to suggest that our forgiveness is dependent on whether or not we forgive the people around us. Here, I think the catechism does a beautiful job of helping us understand. It talks about how we find this evidence of grace within us. One of the pieces of evidence for our own forgiveness is our willingness and determination to forgive the people who wrong us. This is perhaps one of the most important evidences of grace in our lives. When we think of how others have wronged us, are we reminded of how much we have been forgiven, or do we, like the man in Matthew 18:21-35, turn around and demand from the people around us? If we act like that man, then we show that we have not experienced grace. We show that we have not yet humbled ourselves before the Lord. But if we turn to our brother who has wronged us and say I forgive you and pray for your good, and truly mean it, then we demonstrate that we have been changed by God's grace. That we understand how much we have been given.


Sin is not a sickness. Getting into heaven is not a matter of having enough payment to get there. Sadly, this is often how forgiveness is presented. The gift of grace is presented as something that is waiting for you to go and pick it up. Like it is a ticket to heaven that once we go and get it, we are good. But here in the prayer, we see that it is not something added but something removed. We already have the debt. We need that debt taken away. This is what Christ has done on the cross. He has taken away the debt of all those who will repent and believe. It is not a potential gift but an actual payment. He fully paid it all. It is finished on the cross. When we pray and ask for forgiveness as Christians, we are praying that the Lord will continue to work in us to change us. We are acknowledging what Christ has already done, both in forgiving our sins and changing how we view the people around us. Let us praise the Lord for his grace and mercy.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Ps. 51:1-7; 143:2; Rom. 8:1; I John 2:1, 2. [2] Matt. 6:14, 15; 18:21-35.

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