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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Forgive Each Other Just as God in Christ Forgave You
Text:LD 51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 65:1,2                                                                                            

Hy 1

Reading – Isaiah 43:22 - 44:5; Romans 12:9-21

Ps 51:1,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 51

Hy 63:1,6,8

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is about forgiveness. It’s about letting go of sins, not holding onto wrongs, and overlooking past offenses. And you’ll notice that the fifth petition deals with two kinds of forgiveness: God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of one another.

The first kind of forgiveness is easy to talk about. For who has sinned against God? We all have. Who needs the release from guilt that can only come through Christ? We all do. We need forgiving, and we have been, by the Father of all mercies! If you believe in Christ, you no longer have your sins counted against you, but you’re justified freely through God’s grace!

What about the second kind of forgiveness in this petition, our forgiveness of one another? It’s not so easy. For who has been sinned against and needs to forgive? Who needs to show grace to his brother or sister or neighbor? Certainly we all do. For whenever we have contact with others, there’s a potential that we’ll hurt and be hurt, we’ll sin and be sinned against.

Which means it’s good to consider what it means to truly forgive. And to find wisdom, we return to where we started: God’s forgiveness of us. For He gives a standard and guide for all our personal relations. It’s included right in the Lord’s prayer, at the fifth petition: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” As we’ve been forgiven by God, so we must forgive others. This makes forgiveness very hard, but also beautiful and liberating and, best of all, God-honouring. I preach God’s Word summarized in Lord’s Day 51 under this theme,

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors:

  1. with free forgiveness
  2. with complete forgiveness
  3. with active forgiveness


1) free forgiveness: The most important thing we can say about God’s forgiveness is that it is free. Because if it wasn’t free, we’d be lost forever. If God’s character wasn’t wholly kind and compassionate, we’d be without hope. Yet God grants the indescribable gift of his grace.

And grace doesn’t just mean that God is patient, or that He is friendly. For even the most patient person will eventually snap at someone who is so dreadfully slow in learning and doing the truth. And even the friendliest person will eventually reject someone who repeatedly breaks their trust. But God gives grace, which means that He freely forgives. He cancels the charges: forgetting past wrongs, laying aside present sins, and washing away any future rebellion. We need that, for there’s a vast pile of sin that we’ve committed.

Sometimes you read in the local paper about some guys who go on a crime spree: first they steal a car, then they rob a liquor store, they pull off a few home invasions, and then a hold up a service station. For hours they race around the city trying to dodge the police, breaking multiple traffic laws and endangering lives. By the end of a really exciting day, they’ve racked up dozens of criminal charges, and they face years in prison.

This is our life, even if it doesn’t look quite so dramatic as a crime spree. For our entire lives we’ve been racking up charges and offenses wherever we’ve turned: sins, shortcomings, transgressions, unbelief. We deserve an eternity of condemnation, yet it’s not held against us. Even if we pray this petition every day, God’s forgiveness still comes to us free.

Now, we’re usually wary of freebies. If our neighbours put something out on the front lawn with a little sign “FREE,” we figure that it’s probably poor quality, or it’s broken, or it’s badly out of date. So we keep driving. God’s forgiveness is free, but this in no way reflects its quality. For on what basis does God forgive us? The Catechism announces the good news in the first six words of the answer: “For the sake of Christ’s blood…” (Q&A 126).

God doesn’t have to forgive us, but He does, through Jesus Christ. What Jesus did for us was nothing small or inadequate. For during his life He kept every commandment of the LORD. During his life, and especially at the end, He drank every bitter drop from the cup of God’s wrath. He did what we could not: He perfectly obeyed, and then paid the penalty for our crimes. It wasn’t cheap, for it cost him his heavenly glory, his earthly life, his blood, even his blessed communion with the Father. It wasn’t cheap, but for us it is free. “For the sake of Christ’s blood,” God forgives.

If we believe, God forgives without a moment’s hesitation. He patiently forgives us, even though we’re so slow in learning and doing the truth. He forgives us and He calls us his friends, even though we’ve broken faith with him time and again.

And because God forgives us in this way, we’re called to forgive one another. That’s the obligation which is built right into our daily prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Now that we’ve looked for a couple minutes at the beauty God’s forgiveness, I trust that you’re starting to see how that’s quite a thing to say, quite a thing to pray: “Father, forgive me in your grace, as I have forgiven others.”

Let’s understand this in the right way. Does it mean God first needs us to do something, that He requires some good work on our part before He shows grace? Does God forgive only according to the measure that we forgive others? Certainly not, for then his forgiveness would no longer be free—salvation would not be by grace, but by works.

Rather, the Lord is teaching us to be humble, instilling an attitude in our hearts by which we learn to say: “God has freely forgiven me, the greatest of all sinners, though I didn’t do a thing to deserve it. Whom am I, that I should receive such grace, for Jesus’ sake alone?” Christ says there’s a deep humility that must spring up from the well of forgiveness, when we realize that we’re not any better. We’re no better than that fellow saint whom we avoid talking to after church on the carpark. We’re no better than that difficult person at work. We’re no better, because we too, like them, stand naked and empty-handed before the throne of God.

This petition teaches humility, and it is also teaches gratitude. “God has freely forgiven me. Once a condemned sinner, I have peace with God, now and forever. My Father has clothed me, a beggar, with the shining robes of Christ’s righteousness and He has granted me eternal treasure. What can I say in response? What can I do to repay the Lord for all his kindness toward me?” We can’t repay him, but in the thankfulness that is nurtured by grace, we want to serve God with all that we are, every day of our lives.

And one powerful way—perhaps even the most powerful way—of showing your gratitude to God is by the act of freely forgiving. If God’s love has truly been poured into your heart, then you want to share it with others. His grace in you will expand and multiply and spread. That’s how the Catechism puts it, “We… find this evidence of [your] grace in us, that we are fully determined… to forgive our neighbor” (Q&A 126).

Those who have been forgiven by God gain profound wisdom for how to deal with the people in our life. For in humility before God, we confess that we’re no better. In thankfulness to God, we desire to copy his brand of grace and mercy in dealing with others.

This is the clear teaching of Scripture. Remember how in Ephesians 4 the Holy Spirit says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you” (v 32). Notice the comparison: just as God has forgiven us in Christ, we must forgive each other. Just as. It means forgiving as God forgives, without a moment’s hesitation, with an abundance of patience and kindness. Freely forgiven, we must freely forgive.

Like we said before, forgiveness is an easy thing to receive but a hard thing to give. When we are called to forgive someone else, we often worry about how they might be taking advantage of us, or how they might walk all over us. “God tells me to forgive, but He doesn’t expect me to be a doormat, does He?” Or we set certain conditions for forgiveness: “He first has to come to me on his hands and knees.” “He has to prove that he won’t do it again.”

Now, it is important—it’s Biblical—that a person repents before we forgive them. To forgive someone who has not repented can deter them from really seeing what they’ve done wrong. Because they’ve got a “free pass,” they might just carry on in their sin. Repentance is essential, just like God demands that we truly repent before He will forgive our sins. Still, this shouldn’t be what we immediately resort to when talking about forgiving someone, that we rush to mention what the other person has to do first.

It’s so much better to emphasize our willingness, even our desire, to forgive! Consider God’s willingness. What if God had waited for us to come to him? What if we sinners first needed to fully grasp everything we’d done against him? If God had waited, we’d be forever lost, unforgiven. But God looked for us, and He showed mercy, even without being asked.

As the Scripture says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In making preparations to forgive us, God didn’t say, “They have to come half-way first. They’ve first got to put things right, or make themselves a little more respectable.” We too should be willing to freely forgive, even if we think it’s undeserved.

And when He forgives, God no longer lets our sins get in the way. Forgiveness means that our relationship isn’t burdened by any evil thing we’ve done, or any good work that we’ve neglected. God considers our sins gone, entirely, because Christ’s work was so complete. Once and for all, He took away our guilt.

And so Jesus once said, “Be merciful, as your Father in heaven in merciful.” Having God’s spirit of mercy means that we’re willing to reach out, willing to try, and to try again. It means we don’t let the relationship be dragged down by what they’ve done. We don’t keep reviving the painful memories but we strive to leave them well and truly behind us. No question, this is hard. We can do this only when we fix eyes on the perfect model of God’s love in Christ, in whom we have complete forgiveness.


2) complete forgiveness: Every day, we said, we need to pray this kind of prayer: “Lord God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And his forgiveness can’t be lacking in any way. If it covered only our evil actions, we’d still be lost. If it covered only our nasty words or perverse thoughts, we’d still be ruined. In fact, we’d be hopeless if this forgiveness covered only those bad things we did, for we also need forgiveness of all the good that we failed to do.

But God’s forgiveness is complete. The Catechism expresses this with a simple word, so small you might miss it: “Do not impute to us… any of our transgressions” (Q&A 126). God doesn’t count any of our sins against us. For him there’s no such thing as partial forgiveness.

Comprehensive forgiveness is the Bible’s clear teaching. Think of Isaiah 38:17, where Hezekiah prays to God, “You have put all my sins behind your back.” Notice how the LORD placed all the wickedness of Hezekiah far behind him, where God can’t see it, or dwell on it any longer. He has completely forgiven.

Or consider Isaiah 43:25, where God declares to his people, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.” In our household, we’re often running short on “white-out,” because there’s always a lot of homework mistakes to cover up and messy hand-writing to conceal. But in his grace, God never runs out of the ability to “blot out” our transgressions. He’s got an infinite ability to cover them over as if they never were, which is how He can say, “I will not remember your sins” (v 25).

Again in Isaiah 44:22, the LORD announces this good news: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (NIV). And there’s a similar teaching in Micah 7:19, “You have compassion on us; you tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” God takes away every bit of our sin, all of them: the intent, the deed, even the remembrance—complete forgiveness.

When we confess our sins and repent, every single sin is forgiven: the so-called “big” sins, the small, the public and the private, the ones we know about and the ones we don’t even realize we’ve committed. Though we quietly continue our crime spree every day, they’re all forgiven. God doesn’t let any of our sins get in the way of his relationship with us. They’re gone, because Christ’s work is complete. Once and for all, He took them away.

This complete forgiveness is (again) both the model and motivation for our forgiveness of one another. The model we must imitate is perfect, for God doesn’t let one sin deflate the love that He has for us. This perfect forgiveness should motivate us to do the same, not to let anything derail the love that we’re commanded to show!

For us this is another hard teaching, for even after we say that we’ve forgiven, we might still be smouldering in anger at the person, our co-worker, our parents, our former friend. Even long after the sin was dealt with, we still resent whoever did us wrong. We think of a brother or sister in the church with a mind that simply can’t let go.

Yet our forgiveness must be complete. This is what the Catechism says: “[We must be] fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbor” (Q&A 126). Underline those three emphatic words, driving home the point. We mustn’t simply forgive, but must be fullydeterminedwholeheartedly… to forgive those who have sinned against us.

If we will pray the fifth petition—and pray it sincerely—it requires us to examine our hearts. “Are there old sins that I love to remember? Do I still hold things against my spouse, or do I hold things against my fellow saint? Do I resent him for any reason, or do I live in bitterness?” And so we must again return to that perfect model of forgiveness. God holds no grudges and is not bitter. For this we must strive.

Now, sometimes people say we have to “forgive and forget.” This isn’t always possible, for the human mind isn’t like a computer from which you can permanently delete files. We can’t just forget the ugly events of the past. Think again about God’s forgiveness of us, and how in one sense, He too, doesn’t forget—He cannot forget, because He is God.

And yet God does say in Isaiah 43:25, “I will not remember your sins.” God speaks of himself in a human way so He can express how complete is his forgiveness: it is as if He forgets, as if they’re not on his mind anymore. For He simply will not let past sins get in the way of our relationship with him. He puts them to rest, once and for all. For Christ’s sake, our sins have been taken out of the discussion; they’re irrelevant; they’re dead and buried, so that God and we can carry on in true peace and loving fellowship. May we strive with all our might to do the same: to forgive the wickedness of others and to remember their sins no more.


3) active forgiveness: Actions speak louder than words. That’s true for forgiveness too. It’s one thing to say, “I forgive you,” but we also need to show it. Consider how when we humbly call on God to forgive us, God forgives us actively!

Just what do we mean by active forgiveness? When we’re forgiven by God, we don’t hear a declaration ringing from the sky. The LORD doesn’t send us a monthly account statement. But through the sure testimony of the Holy Spirit, God lets us know. He tells our guilty hearts that we are cleansed; He relieves our worried minds with his peace and joy.

And then in his goodness God shows us that we’re forgiven. He opens our eyes to his Word, so that we read and understand that this good Word is for us. God also shows us we’re forgiven by working in our hearts, helping us to flee from sin and to do what is right. His forgiveness of us is active and dynamic.

So how do you turn forgiveness from words into actions? How does the fifth petition take shape in your life? Let’s begin negatively, and then go to the positive. Forgiveness means, negatively, we don’t slander our difficult brother anymore, or gossip about the offending sister. Don’t avoid your old foe on the church parking lot, or ignore them, or chew on his old sins when you’ve got nothing else to think about.

Rather, positively, reach out with love. We reach out to the parent with whom we’ve always clashed. We show kindness to the co-worker who once tarnished our name. We show kindness and friendliness to a person who has long tried our patience, even if it’s the last thing that we want to do.

And even if a great physical distance now separates us from the person who’s done us wrong, we show that our forgiveness is real by resisting every thought against him or her. Instead, we pray for those who have wronged us, those who have hurt us in the past. We pray for their repentance, and with the very same breath we pray for our own repentance, too.

Just as God showed his love so actively in Christ, so we must show it with a determined effort to love and to give and to put others first. Maybe your best efforts will be scorned. Maybe your outstretched hand will be slapped away. Yet that doesn’t take away the command, does it? The command is to live a life of love.

This is what the Holy Spirit says in Romans 12 about living such a life of love: “Repay no one evil for evil… If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Do not avenge yourselves… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv 17-18, 21).

Sometimes relationships have been so strained, it’s next to impossible to restore them. Sometimes another person resists every attempt to be reconciled. And it’s true, the clock can’t be turned back, in families or in the church. The hurts can run very deep, and the consequences can be so painful, even for a lifetime. Yet out of love for Christ, “as much as it depends on us,” we must aim for real forgiveness. These efforts bring glory to our forgiving God, and they show that we truly are children of our loving Father.

In his amazing grace, God forgives us. And in his grace, God helps us to live at peace, and to leave the sins of others in the past. So we pray: “Father, in your mercy forgive us. And in your mercy help us to forgive!”  For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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