The Audacity of Asking God to Forgive You
by Curtis Knapp
Forgiveness is described in Scripture as the cancellation of debt.
Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Matthew 18:27: “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”
To be indebted is to owe God. What do we owe Him? Perfect obedience, allegiance and submission. And we have not paid that bill. Therefore, we are in debt -- deep debt.
We owe ten thousand talents (that’s the astronomical amount Jesus gave us in the Matthew 18 parable on forgiveness), and when we ask for forgiveness, we are asking God to lay it aside and not require it of us.
Think of the audacity of that! “Dear God, I’ve racked up an enormous, uncountable, immeasurable amount of debt to you. Would you just write it off?” How does one muster up the audacity to ask for such a thing?
Consider it from a personal vantage point. Suppose a man owes you $5 and asks you to forgive it because he is so poor and swamped in debts to others that he truly can’t pay it. Suppose he got to be that poor because of his own stupidity and sin? Could you forgive the $5 debt? I’m sure you could.
How about $100? Could you forgive him that much? What about $1,000? It’s getting hard now. What about $10,000? That’s serious money for most of us and forgiveness would be costly. What about $100,000? No way. That’s too much money to just write off. We all have a price and a point at which it’s too much to forgive.
The same is true for sins. We might feel that we can forgive certain sins committed against us, but not others -- that there is a limit to the kinds of offenses we can forgive. But when we ask God to forgive our debts, each day, we’re asking Him to forgive all our debts, all our transgressions, no matter how egregious and no matter how many. And it’s an outrageous thing to ask when you think about it.
Forgiveness is always difficult, but it is especially so when the sin committed against us is habitual and repetitious. Even if the offense is, of itself, a small matter in the grand scheme of things, it can nevertheless prove difficult to forgive when it is repeated over and over again. Peter asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother? “Up to seven?” No, Jesus said, 70 x 7.
That’s what we’re asking God to do when we pray daily, “Forgive us our debts.” It’s outrageous to keep coming back and asking, when we know full well that God could justifiably say to us, “Here’s an idea: how about stop sinning against me? How about, instead of repeatedly breaking My law and coming back time and again to ask for forgiveness, you just quit breaking my law?”
But our request is even more audacious yet, for God does not merely cancel debts. He accepts vicarious payment for them. If our debt was monetary, then perhaps God could just let it go, but money is the metaphor. Our debts are sin debts. And sin must be punished, not set aside, or God is not just.
God cannot merely forgive sin by saying, “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. We’ll let it slide.” No, justice hangs in the balance. A righteous judge cannot say to a murderer, “I know you have committed a terrible crime, but I forgive you.” He would be a wicked judge if he said that. What about the victim’s right to justice? What about the victim’s family? What about society’s vested interest in safety and the deterrence of murder? No judge has the authority to forgive a murderer.
God does have authority to forgive murder and all sin, but He does it in only one way, and it is a way that is consistent with divine justice. He accepts payment for your sins from Jesus. That is how you can escape without paying. It’s not that the debt isn’t paid. It’s that it isn’t paid by you. It’s paid by Christ.
On the cross, Jesus suffered all the punishment required by divine justice for our sins. He paid every last cent for every sin of every believer who ever lived in the ages before the cross and of those who would live in the ages after the cross.
Forgiveness is very costly. When God grants it, He is only doing so by the anguish of His Son. Every decision God has made to forgive any sin of any sinner was a decision to punish His beloved in order to pay for it.
Picture yourself before the bar of divine justice. At this moment, you will only be dealing with one sin that you have committed. Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that this particular sin deserves 40 lashes with a whip. You don’t want to be whipped 40 times, so you ask for forgiveness of the sin, and God says to you, “Then what shall be done about your sin?”
And you look over at Christ, standing to the right, the Father’s beloved Son, and you say, “I want you to whip Him instead.” Really! Are you really going to ask that? Yes, you are, and that’s the audacity of forgiveness.
Now, a word of clarification. Christ does not continually suffer every time we ask for forgiveness. Christ isn’t crucified daily. Christ was crucified once and His work of atonement on the cross was finished. I employ these illustrations to help explain the depth of what has occurred to obtain our forgiveness and to show that every forgiven debt was costly to forgive.
So, how can we muster the nerve to ask God for forgiveness, knowing what it cost His Son?
First, we consider the alternative. The alternative is hell. Either Christ pays for our sins on the cross, or we pay for them in hell. The dreadfulness of hell is a powerful inducement to bold pleading.
Second, we consider who it was who told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts.” It was the very One who would pay our debt. Jesus told us to ask for forgiveness repeatedly, knowing how costly it would be to Him personally.
Third, consider that God knows all things, including every sin we would ever commit and He still pledged to forgive all our sins. God can never be surprised by our depravity. Finally, consider how ready God is to forgive. The Father waits on the porch for his prodigal son, and when the son is seen on the horizon, the Father runs to embrace him and kiss him. He welcomes him home and gladly forgives all his son’s transgressions.
“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Ps. 86:5)
Praise God for His glorious mercy and grace.