“Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins…Luke 11:2-4 NLT
Forgiveness lies at the very centre of the message of Jesus. It presupposes that we need forgiveness, something that human beings often struggle to accept or acknowledge. When we are confronted with our own failure, or worse, our own evil, we are quick to defend ourselves: it is not my fault, it is not that bad, I have not done or said or thought anything bad, at least not any worse than anyone else, it’s only natural, it doesn’t hurt anyone therefore it can’t be that bad, etc etc, our excuses are endless.
But Jesus implies by his teaching that actually we are that bad. Deep down we suspect he is right, that we are indeed bad. We may use different words, like failure – religious people call it sin – but it is the same thing. We feel guilt and shame because we don’t measure up, we are not good enough, we make mistakes, or even worse, we are mistakes. To address this last thing first: in Jesus’ eyes we are never mistakes. That is a lie from the devil, a deception that can destroy us if we choose to believe it. Every one of us is God’s intentional creation, made by him for his pleasure and our joy, and he loves us enough to die for us. But Jesus clearly and openly says that we make mistakes, that we do wrong, and that our sin, as well as burdening us with guilt and shame, separates us from God. But he has a simple solution: he says we should ask God to forgive us… every day!
Why is this so important? For Jesus it was important because he knew that our sin is the thing that stands between us and God, and Jesus’ whole mission in life was to break down that barrier. This reflects the heart of God to know his children, to have a relationship with those he created. Any one of us who is a parent knows this longing, this intense desire to have a rich and meaningful relationship with our children. Our Heavenly Father is the same, but more so. He is hurt by our sin, he grieves over our sin, he gets angry about our sin. But he has also made a way to nullify our sin and it’s consequences, and to bridge the gap between us and him.
The way, of course, is Jesus, his death on the cross to pay the price of our sin. But the death of Jesus does nothing for us until we come to the Father in humility, acknowledging our sin, and asking for forgiveness. It is true that Jesus died to save every one of us from our sin, but that does not mean every one of us will be saved. Only those who acknowledge their sin, and actually ask for forgiveness, will be forgiven. It might sound like a very small requirement, but it is surprising how hard we find it sometimes to acknowledge there is anything wrong with us and that we need forgiveness. We would rather justify ourselves than be forgiven. We are too proud to accept help freely given. We would rather be self made men than the recipients of undeserved favor.
But we can’t do it ourselves. We can never be good enough. If we are going to have a relationship with God, the only way it will work is through his forgiveness. Praying this prayer every day, “forgive us our sins,” is the first step toward reconciliation with God, and thus the first step toward an ongoing relationship with the creator of the universe that will bring deep joy to our existence on this planet.