In Matthew 8:12 of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
But can we truly forgive as God has forgiven us?
In Hebrews 8:12 God says, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Forgive and forget? It sounds impossible. Can a God who is all-knowing really forget my sins? When I stand before Him, will His mind be blank? What if I commit a sin just before dying and never ask for forgiveness? Will He remember that one and hold it against me?
These are the questions I wrestled with as I grew in Christ. My Christian culture highlighted the idea of forgiving and forgetting. I heard sermon after sermon about keeping short accounts of my sin because if I came to God without confessing each and every one of them, I would have to answer to Him one day. I feared standing before God. What if I forgot something and failed to repent? I envisioned standing before Him with my head hung in shame, void of joy.
As I have grown in Christ and studied the Scriptures more closely, I realized that the things I was led to believe were not good theology.
First, let’s take a closer look at the word “remember” in Hebrews 8:12. According to HELPS Word-studies, the Greek word used here, mnaomai, means to recall or bring to mind. The idea is that once we are forgiven God chooses to not bring to His mind our past offenses. He still knows that our nature is to sin, but by accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, all of our sins are forgiven. We are in right relationship with God. Jesus Christ has paid our debt so that we can one day stand before God with the righteousness of Jesus Christ as our very own.
I asked a friend once, “If when you stand before God He asks, ‘Why do you deserve to come into My presence?’ what would say?” She answered just as I had anticipated. “I don’t deserve to come into Your presence.”
“I disagree,” I said, and her eyes grew as big as saucers. But I had finally grasped this concept that the person and work of Jesus Christ are all that could possibly bring me to a place of restoration with God.
Now let’s consider the next part of the statement, “As we forgive our debtors.” At some time or another, each of us has experienced an offense from another person. As others sin against us, they now find themselves in our debt. What will we choose to do?
We. Must. Forgive.
There are three people in my life who have utterly betrayed me. Their actions cut deeply into my heart and left me with scars that will only be removed when this life is over. I struggled to forgive them. Countless times I prayed that God would help me to forgive, and just when I thought that I had forgiven, something would trigger my memory and I was reliving the offense again.
I was trapped in a cycle of shame longing to “forgive and forget.” The bad theology of my youth crept back in telling me that I was a failure at forgiveness. But the truth brought me back to the idea that forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean ignoring. Forgiveness is making a conscious choice to not bring up the offense again. When your spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. hurts your feelings for the hundredth time, do not bring up the other 99 already forgiven. Forgive again, and don’t bring that up either.
You may ask, “What if the person is not repentant? How can I have closure?” Not one of the three people in my life has ever even acknowledged the hurt inflicted much less repented for it. I cannot do anything about that. I cannot force them to see things my way. I cannot insist that they repent. Only the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts to bring them to that place.
All I can do is allow the Holy Spirit to change my heart and forgive, because I have been forgiven. I can choose not to bring up the offense again. I can choose put the things of the past behind me and press on to the things that God has put before me.
Forgiveness is a choice, and it is much easier to make the choice to forgive others when we remember how God has forgiven us. And we are reminded of this when we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”