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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Christ teaches God's children to regularly pray to their Father for forgiveness
Text:LD 51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  All songs from 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 4
Psalm 85
Hymn 63:1,6
Hymn 1
Psalm 98

Readings:  Matthew 7:1-12, Ephesians 4:17-32
Text:  Lord's Day 51

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

We’ve now come to the fifth petition of the prayer taught by our Lord Jesus.  As we look at this petition, it’s important to keep in mind how this prayer begins.  Jesus said we should address God as “Our Father.”  This is important to remember because it speaks of an existing relationship between God and his people.  This is a relationship of fellowship.  This is a relationship characterized by family ties.  The people who pray in the way taught by Jesus have been brought into God’s household through Christ’s redemptive work.  They’re God’s children through Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross and his perfect obedience.

So when we come to the fifth petition, we have to recognize that this isn’t the prayer of someone alienated from God.  This isn’t the prayer of someone still lost in sins and darkness.  These words of our Lord Jesus aren’t put on the lips of people who’re dead to God.  In the fifth petition, it’s God’s children who are calling out to him for the forgiveness of their debts.  Our Lord Jesus teaches those who are justified through him to regularly confess ourselves to be sinners and to look to our Father for the forgiveness of all our sins. 

Now you might hear that and think it odd.  We’re justified through Christ.  Justification is a declaration of God that we are right with him because of what Christ has done.  Justification is a one-time event, not an ongoing, repeatable process.  So, why then do we continually pray for the forgiveness of our sins?  That’s one of the questions I’ll answer this afternoon as we see how Christ teaches God’s children to regularly pray to their Father for forgiveness.

We’ll see that:

  1. We seek forgiveness from our Father
  2. We seek forgiveness as his forgiving children

Scripture teaches that all who rest and trust in Christ are accepted by God into his family.  Our salvation rests entirely on what Christ has done for us.  The gospel announces that we have peace with God through the cross.  All our sins, past, present, and future, have been covered by Christ and so we can be confident that we’re right with God.  Through Christ, we more than measure up in God’s eyes.  It’s important to emphasize this.  Everyone who trusts in Christ can be confident of eternal salvation. 

What the fifth petition deals with isn’t our eternal salvation, but with the day to day reality of the Christian life.  The reality is that even though we are justified, we remain sinners.  We know this from experience.  Even though we have trusted in Christ, all believers know that we continue to sin every day in thought, word, and deed.  You’d have to be self-deceived to think otherwise. 

Scripture affirms what we know from experience.  There’s the well-known passage in Romans 7 where Paul speaks about his struggle with sin.  That passage has been controversial in the past and still is today.  There are those who say that Paul was writing about his pre-conversion life.  But that fails to take into account the present-tense used in Romans 7.  Paul says, “What a wretched man I am!”  Not, “What a wretched man I was back before I was converted.”  Moreover, that view of Romans 7 doesn’t line up with what Scripture says elsewhere.  For instance, there’s Galatians 5:17.  Paul writes there, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”  Notice again the present tense.  There is a conflict in believers, not there was a conflict.

This conflict is what makes us into what the Catechism says are “wretched sinners.”  Some have objected to this and said that this is overly harsh language.  They say that if we were to write the Catechism today, we might not put it this way.  But loved ones, the Catechism uses biblical language here, the language of Romans 7.  What does it mean that we are “wretched sinners”?  It means that we are poor sinners.  It means that we have nothing of our own resources to correct the fact that we’re sinners.  We come before God with empty hands.  This is just a realistic evaluation of our condition.  Though we are right with God through faith in Christ, we still have an ongoing struggle with sin in our lives.  Our hearts are still inclined to evil.  Yes, through the power of the Spirit we are being renewed and changed, but sin is still there.  It does us no good to deny it or minimize it. 

What does this reality do to our relationship with God?  There are two things that I can mention.  First of all, from God’s side, our sin still displeases him.  Our Father doesn’t want to see his children sinning.  He hates our sin.  Our sin grieves him.  When we sin, it breaks our Father’s heart.  Think here along the lines of the analogy used by Christ in Matthew 7.  He compares our heavenly Father with earthly fathers in terms of the good they might give.  But then think of how earthly fathers grieve to see their children doing the wrong thing.  Parents here know what I’m talking about.  You see your children doing what you’ve told them not to do and that can make you sad; it can also make you angry.  At that moment, you still love your child, and that child is still your child (and always will be), but the sin is a troubling thing.  It causes you distress and heartbreak.  That’s what our sin does to our Father in heaven.  It doesn’t cause him to abandon us or disown us (unless we go on unrepentantly in our sin and don’t turn to Christ).  When we sin, he is still our Father.  But our sin distresses and displeases him; Scripture teaches that the sins of believers can even make God angry.  So there is what sin does to God in our relationship with him.

But then there is also what sin does to us in our relationship with our Father.  Sin creates the feeling that we are distant from God.  We sin and we feel unworthy to be his children.  Perhaps after sinning in some particular way, we don’t even feel like we should pray and talk to him.  We know that we’re guilty and we may feel like hypocrites for having sinned and then praying again.  Our sin creates a barrier between our Father and us.  We reason it out.  “I’ve sinned.  How can I ask him for anything?  How can I honestly speak to him when I did that terrible thing?  Why would he want to hear me?  I don’t deserve to be heard by him and I’ll be a hypocrite if I pray.  I better wait until my life is in order before I pray again.”

All of this is snake-think.  It’s pious snake-think, but snake-think nonetheless.  This is what the Devil wants you to think.  This is the way of thinking associated with the father of lies.  This is how children of God question their Father’s love and may end up straying away from him.  There is that hymn of Joseph Caryl, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.  The hymn has this one verse that’s appropriate here:

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

If you wait or linger until your life is in order, you’ll never come.  You’ll never come to your Father in prayer.

Do you see what our sin does to our relationship with God from our side?  It creates a deep sense of unworthiness.  There’s a right response and wrong response to that sense, just as there’s a right response and a wrong response to the knowledge that our sin displeases our Father. 

The wrong response is to be quiet and pull away from our Father.  The wrong response is to listen to our shame and run away.  Listen to what David said in Psalm 32:3, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  And in Psalm 39:2, “But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.”  You see, the wrong response to our sin is to keep silent and stop praying to our Father. 

The right response is the one taught by our Lord Jesus in the fifth petition.  It’s to go humbly to our Father and confess our wrongdoing and ask him to forgive us.  We go to him as our Father, in the knowledge that he loves us despite our sin, that we are still his children despite our sin.  We go to him, trusting the promises in his Word, the promises that were given to us in our baptism.  You sinned, so you are unworthy of God’s love and kindness.  So am I.  Nobody is worthy to have God as their Father.  Nobody except Christ.  And that is exactly the point.  That’s the point of grace:  you are not worthy, but yet God has done it.  He has become your Father not because you never sin, but because of Christ and his work for you.  He’s your Father despite your sin.  What you need to do is get down on your knees and humbly go to your Father and confess your wrong-doing to him.  You need to acknowledge that you’ve displeased him with your thoughts and what you’ve done.  Tell him about it and tell him that you’re sorry and that you want him to forgive you.  Loved ones, the key here is to remember that he is your Father.  It’s so important that when we confess our sins and ask his forgiveness that we follow the model of our Saviour. 

Now there are those who say that we can’t ever pray to Jesus.  They argue that the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray to the Father.  So, the argument goes, we may not pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit.  Only to the Father.  That’s what the Lord’s Prayer teaches so that’s what we have to do.  But it is interesting if you listen to these same people pray, they rarely will address God as their Father.  They will say, “Lord, this,” and “Lord, that.”  But never or rarely, “Father.”  But yet that’s what our Saviour taught us to do.  If we want to be strict about following the Lord’s Prayer, then we should insist on calling God ‘Father’ whenever we pray and always when we pray.  To be clear, there is nothing sinful or wrong with addressing God as “Lord,” just as there’s nothing wrong with praying to our Lord Jesus – after all, in John 14:14 he said we could and elsewhere we hear early Christians like Paul and Stephen doing this very thing.  The point is this:  God is our Father and there is much benefit to be gained from addressing him as such, especially when it comes to our confession of sin and our asking for his forgiveness.  He is our Father and we should look to him as such, and pray to him as such.  It’s our Father in heaven who wants to hear his children humbly coming to him when they’ve done wrong.  Our Saviour taught us to use the more personal title “Father” in his prayer for a good reason.     

And based on what we read from Matthew 7, we can be confident that our Father in heaven will give us what we ask for.  Christ teaches us that our heavenly Father will give us good things, just as our earthly fathers give us good things.  Well, isn’t forgiveness a good thing?  Isn’t it a good thing to know that your Father in heaven has washed away your sins through the blood of Christ?  That’s what forgiveness involves.  Removing our sins out of the way, assuring us that they are no longer an obstacle in our relationship with our Father – not for him, and not for us either.

So how often should we pray to the Father for forgiveness?  Our Lord Jesus didn’t directly tell us.  But if we go back to Psalm 32, certainly we know that delaying doesn’t serve the health of our relationship with our Father.  David says that when he delayed, he suffered.  The message is clear:  be quick to repent and confess your sin.  Be quick to come before your Father in prayer and seek his forgiveness.  Do it often.  Do it regularly.  You don’t need to wait until bedtime.  You don’t need to wait until Sunday and our corporate prayer for forgiveness in the morning service.  Your Father wants to hear you right away.  When you realize you’ve sinned, take a moment to pray.  It doesn’t have to be a long prayer.  It can be a simple and short prayer.  Acknowledge your sin, tell your Father that you’re sorry for it, and ask him to forgive you because of Christ.

Moving on to the second part of the fifth petition, we find Christ teaching us to pray for the forgiveness of our debts, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  That has the potential to be confusing.  It could be understood to be saying that the basis for our Father’s forgiveness of his children is their forgiveness of others.  In other words, God forgives us because we forgive others. 

But that’s not what the fifth petition is saying.  Such an understanding would conflict with everything Scripture teaches us about our relationship with God.  We’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.  Then also in the Christian life, everything we receive from our Father’s hand is by grace.  He doesn’t owe us anything.  Think of Romans 11:35, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” 

So what is the fifth petition saying?  As we look to Christ in faith, our lives are transformed and changed by the grace of God.  His Holy Spirit renews us into the image of Christ.  That doesn’t happen all at once.  It’s a process that goes on throughout our lives.  This process isn’t finished until we die or until Christ returns.  But the renewal of our lives is evidence that our Father is working in us.  The changes that take place reflect the truth that we are united to Christ through faith and the Holy Spirit. 

We are our heavenly Father’s children.  As his children, we’re being renovated.  Part of that has to do with our forgiveness of others.  We recognize that great debt that our Father has forgiven us through Christ.  We’re humble and we know what great sinners we have been and what great sinners we continue to be.  We know of the planks in our eyes and the darkness in our souls.  And all of that leads us to interact in new and surprising ways with our neighbours.  We do what the world finds surprising and unnatural:  we forgive wherever we can and we always are fully determined to forgive.  We have an attitude of forgiveness, a willingness to forgive those who have offended us and hurt us. 

What does it mean to forgive another human being?  What does Paul mean in Ephesians 4:32 when he says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”?  Loved ones, forgiveness is a promise.  That’s the difference between apologies and saying ‘sorry’ and forgiveness.  Expressing sorrow (saying ‘sorry,’ apologizing) is a part of the process of asking for forgiveness, but it’s not the same thing.  When forgiveness is asked, a promise is being sought.  When forgiveness is extended, a promise is being made.  What is that promise?  The one who forgives promises three things:  first, never to bring up the offense again to the offender or to use it against him or her.  The offense is out of the way.  There may be long-lasting consequences, but yet the offense is, as much as possible, gone.  Second, forgiveness means that we won’t bring up the offense to others.  The matter is closed.  Third, forgiveness means that we don’t harbour bitterness, resentment or any other negative feelings within ourselves towards the offender.  All of this is difficult to do, which is why we need the grace of God to help us with it.  Apologies are cheap and easy, forgiveness is costly and complicated.  Forgiveness is what God has extended to us.  That’s what we’re called to extend to our neighbours. 

Generally speaking, forgiveness is something that can only be extended when it is asked for.  But yet we can also speak of forgiveness in terms of an attitude or a willingness to forgive.  That’s the way the Catechism speaks.  Being fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbour.  You might not have the opportunity to formally forgive someone who has hurt you.  Perhaps the person is dead.  Perhaps they live on the other side of the world.  There can be other factors.  But your attitude or willingness is always to be one of forgiveness, of being ready to extend the forgiveness that has been shown to you by your Father through Christ. 

There are some powerful examples of this in the history of the church.  I recently came across a prayer of Anselm.  Anselm was the archbishop of Canterbury at the beginning of the 1100s.  He wrote a book of prayers.  He has a prayer for his friends.  But then he also has a prayer for his enemies.  Anselm recognized that there were people who hated him and wished him harm.  But in his prayer for his enemies, he prays along the lines of the fifth petition.  Let me share with you some of his prayer to Christ:

“...this is the punishment that I ask for those who serve with me and hate me –

let us love you and each other

as you will and as is expedient for us,

so that we may make amends to the good Lord

for our own and for each other’s offences;

so that we may obey with one heart in love

one Lord and one Master.

This is the revenge your sinner asks

on all who wish him evil and act against him.

Most merciful Lord, prepare the same punishment for your sinner.


Do this, my good Creator and my merciful Judge,

according to your mercy that cannot be measured.

Forgive me all my debts, as I before you forgive all those indebted to me.

Perhaps this may not be so because in your sight I have not yet done this perfectly,

but my will is set to do it, and to that end I am doing all I can.

So I offer this to you here, Lord,

so that you may perfectly forgive my sins

and deal with me as gently as you can.”

Anselm had the right attitude and approach.  We are to seek the good and welfare of those around us, even of those who treat us badly.  Because we are united to Christ, we are to have a heart that’s determined to forgive, and not just half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly.  And we should express that determination also in our prayers.  We ought to pray for those who do us harm and tell our Father that as his forgiven children, we’re also prepared to extend forgiveness to our enemies.  And when the opportunity arises, we’ll do it.  We will forgive.                                                           

The reality is that if we don’t have this kind of attitude and approach, we have to wonder whether we really are God’s children.  If we don’t have a forgiving spirit, and if we hold grudges and keep records of all the wrongs done to us, we have to question and doubt whether we are in fact united to Christ.  Do we really believe in Christ if we can’t find it in our hearts to let go of offenses committed against us?  Have we really understood the grace extended to us? 

Loved ones, forgiveness gets to the heart of two things and both of those things are here in the fifth petition.  It gets to the heart of the gospel.  Our Father forgives all our sins through Christ.  Nothing is left uncovered by the blood.  Through Christ we can be at peace.  But forgiveness also gets to the heart of our response to the gospel.  Our Father expects his forgiven children to be forgiving children.  For that too, we need to pray.  For everything we depend on grace.  AMEN.                 


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

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