Why “Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors?”

Have you ever wondered why God places such a high priority upon our ability to forgive everyone? I recently did an in-depth study on this question and the results changed my life.

The Lord’s Prayer and many other Bible verses teach that if you don’t forgive others, then God won’t forgive you. Why is our ability to forgive so important to God? There are three reasons:

  1. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to God of our true repentance
  2. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to mankind of a
    transformed life with supernatural quality
  3. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to celestial principalities and powers of God’s victory through Christ in us.

It’s easy to look at the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) and conclude that my ability to forgive my debtors is important to God because God won’t tolerate someone who doesn’t show mercy after themselves being shown mercy. While that answer is correct, it feels somehow incomplete, so I dug deeper and discovered how our ability to forgive is also prerequisite to our spiritual victory and the Devil’s kingdom being replaced by God’s kingdom on the earth.

1. Our Ability to Forgive is Evidence to God of True Repentance

Forgiveness Emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord's Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is found only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive others” is part of the Lord’s Prayer in both gospels.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus told His disciples,

“This is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.

Matthew 6:9-15

In Luke’s gospel Jesus told them,

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Luke 11:2-4

Please notice that in both gospels Jesus links your forgiveness from God to your ability to forgive men. But in Matthew’s version Jesus also reinforces and emphasizes this fact by adding:

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.”

The Lord’s Prayer is Primarily About Advancing God’s Kingdom

In the Lord’s Prayer, immediately after hallowing (make holy, regard as special, consecrate, sanctify) God’s name, the first priority is “Thy kingdom come.” I believe the Lord’s prayer is primarily about advancing God’s kingdom, and the things that follow (our daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance) contribute toward this goal of advancing God’s kingdom. But how does our ability to forgive contribute toward advancing God’s kingdom?

What is Forgiveness in the New Testament?

You may have noticed some slight variations in the terms Matthew and Luke used in the Lord’s Prayer. In this section you’ll learn the specific meaning of words used for forgiveness in the New Testament.

This summary list of definitions is explained in detail in following paragraphs:

  • Forgiveness means to send away, loose or unload a burden
  • Debts are things owed
  • Debtors are people who owe
  • ‘Others’ and ‘everyone’ include all mankind
  • Transgressions are a falling away, crossing a moral boundary, or deviating from truth
  • Sin means ‘loss of inheritance’ because of ‘missing the mark’

If you’re not interested in the details of the Greek words for forgiveness in Matthew, Luke, and Mark’s gospels, feel free to scroll down to the next section entitled, “What Biblical Forgiveness Is.”

Matthew’s Gospel

Forgive us (aphes, send away) our debts (opheilemata, that which is owed) as we also have forgiven (aphekamen, to send away) our debtors (opheiletais) Mt 6:12

For if you forgive (aphete, send away) others (anthropois, mankind) for their transgressions (paraptomata, to fall away after being close-beside, to deviate from truth), your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive (aphete) others (anthropois, mankind), then your Father will not forgive (aphesei) your transgressions (paraptomata). Mt 6:14-15

Luke’s Gospel

Forgive us (aphes, send away) our sins (amartias, ‘no share of’ because of missing the mark), for we ourselves also forgive (aphiomen) everyone (panti) who is indebted (opheilonti, to owe) to us.

Mark’s Gospel

Mark’s gospel doesn’t include the Lord’s Prayer, but it does teach the same lesson that our forgiveness from God depends on our ability to forgive others.

Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive (aphiete, send away), if you anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive (aphe, send away) you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions (paraptomata, fall away after being close-beside, to deviate from truth).

Mark 11:24-26

What Biblical Forgiveness Is

Based on the details above, Biblical forgiveness is when you ‘send away, loose or unload’ the debts someone owes you, in your heart, because of someone’s transgressions or sins against you.

What Biblical Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgiveness isn’t sticky-sweet. It doesn’t mean you cannot disagree, rebuke, correct, or confront someone with sin. For example, see Stephen’s railing condemnation of the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:51-53, just before they stoned him to death. But then his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
  • Forgiveness is not ignoring sins, as if they didn’t happen.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you shouldn’t act wisely to protect yourself from experiencing similar victimization in the future.
  • Your forgiveness cannot always remove the natural consequences of sins; i.e., legal conviction and incarceration, paralysis, job loss, divorce, etc.

Who Are We to Forgive?

As the verses below prove, we are to forgive others of mankind, everyone, and anyone.

  • For if you forgive others (anthropo, mankind) for their transgressions (Matthew 6:14)
  • Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone (panti) who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4)
  • Mark 11:25 says, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you anything against anyone (tinos, anyone).

The People God Does Not Forgive

While He was dying on the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I believe Jesus’ dying prayer for God’s forgiveness will be answered to include all mankind, even the Romans, Herod, and the Jewish Sanhedrin religious leaders who had Jesus crucified. It will also include Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and all rebel sinners since Adam. Jesus’ prayer will be fulfilled when they humble themselves to sincerely plead for God’s forgiveness, which will happen in an age to come.

(Defending ‘universal redemption’ is beyond the scope of this article, so to investigate this topic in more detail get The Overcomers’ Treasure Map, which is available as a free PDF download.)

But in this age, both in the parable of the ‘Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ and in Chapter 9 of John’s gospel, Jesus said that God does not forgive those who proudly refuse to humble themselves in true repentance.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who trusted in their own righteousness and viewed others with contempt, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like the other men—swindlers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I receive.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance, unwilling even to lift up his eyes to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

John 9: Jesus said, “Your Guilt Remains”

In John 9, after Jesus healed a man who was born blind, the Pharisees ‘threw the healed man out of the temple,’ which means they excommunicated him from the Jewish religion.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found the man and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is He, Sir?” he replied. “Tell me so that I may believe in Him. “You have already seen Him,” Jesus answered. “He is the One speaking with you. “Lord, I believe,” he said. And he worshiped Jesus.

Then Jesus declared, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind may see and those who see may become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard this, and they asked Him, “Are we blind too?” “If you were blind,” Jesus replied, “you would not be guilty of sin. But since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

John 9:35-41

So, neither in this age or in future ages will God forgive anyone who doesn’t humble himself in repentance. Eventually, however, everyone ever created will bow their knee and confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8-11

Forgiveness As Evidence to God of Repentance

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant below, Jesus plainly teaches us that our forgiveness toward our debtors is a very small thing compared to how much God has forgiven us.

(FYI: In this parable 10,000 talents is worth millions of dollars, while 100 denarii is about $20.)

Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!

Because of this, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlements, a debtor was brought to him owing 10,000 talents. Since the man was unable to pay, the master ordered that he be sold to pay his debt, along with his wife and children and everything he owned.

Then the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Have patience with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’
His master had compassion on him, forgave his debt, and released him.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me.’
So his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused. Instead, he went and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay his debt.

When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and recounted all of this to their master.
Then the master summoned him and declared, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave all your debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should repay all that he owed.

That is how My Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

Therefore, if we don’t freely and endlessly forgive our debtors, we’re like the unforgiving servant, demonstrating that we don’t really understand or appreciate the magnitude of the forgiveness we’ve received from God.

True Repentance

Godly Repentance

Unforgiveness shows that a person hasn’t truly repented. They’re acting like the Pharisee instead of the Tax Collector.

The tax collector went home justified. He demonstrated these qualities of true repentance. He:

  • Recognized his sinfulness and helplessness.
  • Looked only toward God, not comparing himself to others.
  • Humbly depended only on God’s mercy for forgiveness.

After receiving God’s forgiveness by faith, how would you expect this tax collector to treat someone who sinned against him? Would he hold a grudge, or would he freely forgive the person?

What about the blind man who was healed? Wouldn’t he have sympathy for people who are still blind?

Jesus applies the same logic in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. God expects the repentant person who received forgiveness of his huge debts to forgive all others of their small debts.

Results of True Repentance

Everyone who knows they’re a forgiven sinner, saved only by God’s mercy and grace, has these qualities:

  • Gratefulness, because his forgiveness is a free gift from God, though it was at God’s great expense.
  • Humility, because we’re all still frail and prone to temptation.
  • Love, because of God’s infinite love toward us.
  • Forgiveness toward others, because our forgiveness toward others is nothing compared to the forgiveness we’ve received from God. (10,000 talents vs 100 denarii)

Therefore, our ability to forgive others is evidence to God of our true repentance.

2. Our Ability to Forgive is Evidence to Mankind of a Transformed Life with Supernatural Quality

It’s Natural to Hold a Grudge

In the sinful world we’re born into it is natural to seek punishment and retribution against those who offend us. It’s not natural for us to forgive. In fact, to be able to freely and endlessly forgive our debtors requires a supernatural change in our nature.

Forgiveness is Supernatural

The ability to freely and endlessly forgive our debtors is not humanly possible. Only God has this ability. Freely and endlessly forgiving our debtors requires the supernatural empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit in our heart.

A New Spirit

When we truly repent and believe in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for our sins, God literally begets (Greek gennao, procreates) a new spirit within our heart. We literally become a newborn child of God.

…according to His great mercy having begotten us again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ out from the dead

1 Peter 1:3

When Jesus was resurrected out from the dead He became a life-giving Spirit.

The first man Adam became a living being;” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:45

Since then, disciples of Jesus are ‘begotten-again,’ fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

As a result of being begotten-again by God:

  • We may become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)
  • To as many as received Him, He gave to them authority to be children of God (John 1:12)

Notice that the above are potential promises:

  • We must do our part in order to become partakers of His divine nature. A big part of this is exercising forgiveness.
  • We must exercise our authority to grow into maturity as a child of God. This includes our authority to forgive our debtors freely and endlessly.

Forgiveness is Evidence of a Transformed Life with Supernatural Quality

Forgiveness Demonstrates the Sacrificial and Supernatural Nature of God’s Love

Jesus was perfect and committed no sins. As He was dying on the cross He asked God to forgive those who crucified Him.

As sinners we have much less of a right to be unforgiving toward our debtors than Jesus did. No matter what anyone has done to us, we don’t have as much to forgive as Jesus did. Therefore, He is our example of how we must forgive.

Like Jesus, when we freely and endlessly forgive those who don’t deserve it we demonstrate the sacrificial, supernatural nature of God’s love.

Our forgiveness toward our debtors shows our deep appreciation for the free gift of grace given to redeem us.

Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God

Now I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

1 Corinthians 15:50

No naturally-carnal, unforgiving people will inherit the kingdom of God. Only those who have been begotten-again by God’s Spirit, and learned to walk in the Spirit (Romans 8) will inherit God’s kingdom.

Our Ability to Forgive is Prerequisite to Our Spiritual Victory

No good thing resides in our flesh (Rom 7:18). It must die, replaced by the maturing, spiritual nature of God in our heart.

Since it’s impossible for carnal men to do, our ability to freely and endlessly forgive our debtors is a certain sign to all men that we’re walking in the supernatural love and power of God’s Spirit.

Our ability to forgive is prerequisite to spiritual victory. Every disciple who walks in spiritual victory is freely and endlessly forgiving his debtors.

Stephen Forgives | The First Christian Martyr

Stephen was a disciple in the early Church of Jerusalem, just after Jesus’ resurrection.

Now Stephen, who was full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But resistance arose from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and men from the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. They began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up to his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.

Acts 6:8-10

Stephen was brought to the Sanhedrin for trial.

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Acts 6:15

Stephen boldly concluded his eloquent speech to the Sanhedrin, saying,

You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did. Which of the prophets did your fathers fail to persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One. And now you are His betrayers and murderers— you who have received the law ordained by angels, yet have not kept it.”

On hearing this, the members of the Sanhedrin were enraged, and they gnashed their teeth at him.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears, cried out in a loud voice, and rushed together at him.

Acts 7:51-57

Notice Stephen’s boldness in the underlined words above. Stephen listed the Sanhedrin’s sins to their face. Not very forgiving, was it?

Stephen was brutally direct and honest with the Sanhedrin. If any of them had looked objectively at the truth, they would have repented and sought forgiveness from God for their sins. But instead…

They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen appealed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Falling on his knees, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:58-60

Stephen’s last words were to forgive those Sanhedrin sinners who were stoning him to death.

Stephen’s act of forgiveness with his dying breath was supernatural evidence to Saul of God’s Spirit in Stephen. I believe Stephen’s prophetic words and supernatural act of forgiveness penetrated and remained in Saul’s conscience. Later, as the Apostle Paul he wrote,

I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy.

1 Timothy 1:13

3. Our Ability to Forgive Others is Evidence to Celestial Principalities and Powers of God’s Victory through Christ in Us

Who are these Celestial Principalities and Powers?

Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel

I think of the principalities and powers as strong, ruling angels over the nations of the earth. According to Deuteronomy 32:8, after the Tower of Babel God appointed 70 of them to rule over the 70 nations of Genesis chapter 10.

As you can see in the following verses, they are responsible for crucifying the Lord of Glory.

Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom—but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it. For if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8

Here are two solid New Testament references to the existence and role of principalities and powers in our world today:

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord

Ephesians 3:9-11

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12

For a deeper understanding of the principalities and powers and the Divine Council, read The Overcomers’ Treasure Map which is available as a free PDF download. This book details their origin, fall, current status, and ultimate defeat. It also describes how God’s disciples will overcome them.

Another excellent reference is Dr. Michael Heiser’s Divine Council web page.

Our ability to forgive is prerequisite to the Devil’s kingdom being replaced by God’s kingdom on the earth. (Divine Council)

How We Win the War in Heaven

A war is now raging in heaven. God’s celestial forces of light are fighting the Devil’s army of darkness. The outcome will be determined by the faith, testimony, and courage of God’s saints on earth, as it says in the final verse of this passage:

Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels.

And the great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God.

They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. And they did not love their lives so as to shy away from death.

Revelation 12:7-11
Michael defeating Satan

A big part of “the word of their testimony” is being spiritually mature enough to freely and endlessly forgive our debtors–those who persecute and even kill us. This is one way we enable Michael and his angels to win the war in heaven, resulting in the Devil and his angels being cast down to earth forever.

When will this happen? John reported,

And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had upheld. And they cried out in a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?”
Then each of them was given a white robe and told to rest a little while longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers, were killed, just as they had been killed

Revelation 6:9-11

So, God has a certain number of martyrs (144,000?) who will be “slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had upheld.” When that number is full, God will judge and avenge their blood.

Until then, we are to freely and endlessly forgive our debtors, just as Stephen did. Our ability to forgive others is supernatural evidence to celestial principalities and powers of God’s victory through Christ in us.

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer and many other Bible verses teach that if you don’t forgive others, then God won’t forgive you. Why is our ability to forgive so important to God? There are three reasons:

  1. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to God of our true repentance
  2. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to mankind of a
    transformed life with supernatural quality
  3. Our ability to forgive others is evidence to celestial principalities and powers of God’s victory through Christ in us.

What Do You Think?

Did this article answer all your questions on this topic? Please leave a comment below and tell me:

  • Were you satisfied by the information in this article?
  • Or, did it leave you wanting more?

Related Questions

Q: Must we forgive only our brothers or all men?

A: According to Mt 6:14, Lk 11:4, and Mk 11:25, we are to forgive mankind (anthropo), everyone (panti), and anyone (tinos).

Q: Is there a difference between forgiving our debtors and forgiving those who sin against us?

A: In Matthew and Luke different Greek words are used for debt and sin, but our end result is the same; we must freely forgive everyone endlessly. So, there’s no difference between our debtors and those who sin against us regarding how we must act toward them in response.

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