The Lord's Day Morning
June 6, 2010
“How to Pray (4): Forgive Us”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. Let us worship God.
Thank you, Derek. As we continue to prepare to worship let me invite you to take your hymnals in hand and turn to number 7. Our opening song of praise is, “From All That Dwell below the Skies.” It's an Isaac Watts paraphrase of Psalm 117. It's very short but it's a good psalm paraphrase and you may want to use those words as we prepare to worship today. For those of you who are not with us regularly, we are reading through the letters of the New Testament. We started in 1 Corinthians; we're in 2 Corinthians now, so when Dr. Thomas reads from 2 Corinthians 4 this morning just know that we're working consecutively through each chapter of that book and on our way through the rest of the letters of the New Testament.
During the sermon we’ll be again in Luke 11:1-4. We've stopped and parked on the Lord's Prayer and the five petitions that Luke gives in his rendition of Jesus’ prayer, the prayer that He taught the disciples to pray. And we're on a very important petition. It's the petition for the Lord to forgive us as we forgive those who have sinned against us. And that's a vitally significant petition. There's no petition that's more clearly related to the Gospel than that petition and so we’ll study that together. We've been taking a very simple approach to this — we're allowing the language of Scripture to guide us in the praying of these particular petitions and even practicing a little bit during the sermon so that we can improve our own practice of prayer.
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 11 as we look again at the Lord's Prayer as recorded by Luke. We’re looking specifically today at the petition, “Forgive us our sins,” although we’ll read the entire prayer, and we're reminded in our study so far that in answer to the question, “Teach us to pray,” the Lord Jesus took His disciples to the Bible. In answer to that prayer He said, “Go to the Scriptures.” Then He gave them a set of petitions that are drawn right out of the Bible. We also have emphasized that Jesus gave them a pattern for prayer. Sometimes we think that a spontaneous, unplanned prayer is more spiritual than a planned prayer, but Jesus gave His disciples a pattern for prayer — not just words to repeat in rote, not just a mantra to say over and over again, but a structure, a pattern for prayer that starts somewhere and is going somewhere. And He's taught us that that will in fact help us to pray more Biblically, more effectively, and so He takes us to the Bible and He gives us a pattern for prayer.
One of the things that's going to become apparent as well today, especially as we look at this petition, is that He related prayer to the Gospel. There's no petition that is more closely related to the Gospel than the petition we're going to study today. In fact, I suggest to you that we could almost call it “The Gospel Petition” because you can't talk about forgiveness without talking about the Gospel, and you can't pray for forgiveness without understanding the Gospel, and you can't do what the Gospel intends in you if you don't understand what the Gospel is to produce by way of your becoming a forgiving person. And so this petition could very well be called “The Gospel Petition.” And so before we study God's Word together, let's look to Him in prayer and ask Him to help us to pray.
Our Lord and our God, we, like the disciples, want to know how to pray, so teach us to pray by Your Word. We recognize, O Lord, that we are not great in prayer. We can think of our spiritual forbearers and some of them had nicknames like, “Camel-knees” because they were down on their knees in prayer before You all the time and we have a sneaking suspicion that no one would ever think to give that nickname to us, for though we have many prayer warriors in our midst, we don't think of ourselves as great in prayer and indeed we are not. In fact, some of us sadly fail to pray more than short little prayers thrown up to You from time to time during the week. We fail to pray deeply from week to week, from Lord's Day to Lord's Day, from worship service to worship service. So teach us to pray. Make us to become great in prayer because we want to know Your blessings. We want to commune with You in prayer. We want to talk with You and we want You to do business with our souls in prayer. So teach us to pray. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's Word in Luke 11:
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And He said to 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 ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Jesus teaches us to acknowledge our continuing sin as a regular part of our practice of prayer. In answer to the question, “Lord, teach us to pray,” in one of the five or six central things that Jesus tells us to pray when we pray, in one of the five or six central things that He tells us to do in response to the request to teach us how to pray, He tells us to confess our sins. He tells us to ask for forgiveness. In other words, according to Jesus, confessing our sin is a standing part of believing prayer.
Now that is hugely important. It's important by what you see Jesus connect it to. Notice first of all, He connects it to your prayer for daily bread. As far as Jesus is concerned, praying for forgiveness is as important as eating. If you don't eat, you die. Without forgiveness, you die. This is a vitally important thing. It's a standing part of believing prayer. And today I want us to look at what is entailed in praying this petition. Jesus specifically connects our prayer for forgiveness with our being forgiving. And we learn several things from His petition.
First of all we learn that the prayer of confession is a genuinely Christian prayer. It's not just the prayer that you pray at the beginning of the Christian life and then you’re done with that and you move on to something else. It's a prayer that's continuously prayed for the whole of the Christian life because the whole of the Christian life is repentance, because when you become a Christian you do not become instantaneously, sinlessly perfected. You continue to struggle with sin. You engage in a lifelong warfare against sin in your own heart and so repentance is a part of growth in grace. And so Jesus makes this clear by plopping this petition down right in the middle of the basic prayer that He tells His disciples to pray.
But notice how He also connects it to their becoming forgiving people. Look at what He says. He says, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” In other words, He says the forgiven become forgiving people and we're never ever to forget that when we pray for our own forgiveness. When we pray that the Lord would forgive us our sins, we cannot simply stop there. As urgently as we recognize the need for our own forgiveness of sin and as good as it is to recognize the need for our own forgiveness of sin and as wonderful as it is to meditate upon the assurance that we have that God has dealt with that sin that we have by the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot stop there because Jesus connects to our own prayer for forgiveness a prayer that we would be forgiving. That is, that as God shows His grace to us, we become gracious. As God shows His mercy to us, we become merciful. As God forgives us, we become forgiving. And so He says, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” And so Jesus connects our forgiveness with our becoming forgiving and our show of forgiveness is an evidence of our having been saved and forgiven by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And so this is a vitally important petition. It's a Gospel petition.
And I want to suggest to you today that to pray it rightly we need to be able to do five things and then I want to just pray these things with you for a moment by way of example. It's very simple. No rocket science here. It's very basic. When we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those indebted to us,” we have to do five things.
First of all, we have to acknowledge our sin. Now that can be an extraordinarily hard thing to do because sometimes our sin pains us so deeply we don't want to think about it. And many Christians, many Christians misunderstand the Gospel at this point. Many Christians will say, “Look, if we've already been forgiven by Jesus Christ, if Christ has already died for us on the cross, why should Christians continue to dwell on sin and ask for forgiveness of sin?” Well, there’re lots of answers to that question. One really basic answer is, “Well, Jesus said for us to.” I mean, in answer to the prayer, “Teach us to pray,” He says, “Pray this disciples, ‘Forgive us our sins.’” He's not talking to as yet unconverted pagans, He's talking to the central core of His disciples. And He's saying, “My disciples pray this prayer, ‘Forgive us our sins.’” And so that's one answer.
Another answer is simply this — As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we continue to sin. We continue to struggle with sin. In order to be realistic about ourselves, unless we want to live in denial, we have to acknowledge that we're sinners. We do that in our prayers. What does John tell us in 1 John chapter 1? That that one who says he has no sin is a liar — “If we say that we have no sin the truth's not in us,” so that's one reason we have to confess our sin in prayer.
But another reason is our confession of sin, the Bible teaches, is connected to our sense of assurance. If you’re a Christian that struggles with assurance it may be that you have not adequately incorporated a full confession of sin into your habit of prayer and thus you may not have been ministered the deep assurance that God wants to give you because you've tried to deal with your sin by just hoping that it won't pop up, putting it in the back of your mind, not thinking about it, instead of putting it right out in front of your own eyes and before the throne of God and confessing it. It's one of the great ways that God ministers assurance. Read Psalm 51 and look at David talk about this. So it's important for assurance.
It's also important because the older you grow in Christian maturity, the “tireder” you get of your sins. The older you grow in Christian maturity, the “tireder” you get of your sins. You know that it's not God's ultimate goal just to pardon you of those sins. God wants to change you so that you don't live that way anymore, so that you aren't that way, so that you don't do those things, so that you don't fall back into the habits of the old man, of the flesh. As we grow in grace we get to the point where we say, “Lord, I'm tired of having to ask forgiveness for this sin. Help me kill this sin by Your grace. Mortify this sin in me. I don't want to be this way anymore. I don't want to hurt the people I love the most with this sin.” And that practice of confession helps us to grow tired of sin and to learn to hate that sin as much or more as we hate getting caught, to hate that sin more than we hate the embarrassment of people knowing that we're that way, to hate the sin itself and by God's grace to be changed by the Holy Spirit. That's another reason.
So there's all sorts of reasons why a confession of sin is a part of our practice of prayer. So the very first thing we do is we acknowledge our sin, but secondly we confess that sin specifically. Moms, have you ever had to referee a dispute between two young ones, perhaps they were both members of your family, and when the culprit was caught red-handed and was instructed to apologize or to ask forgiveness of the person who the culprit had offended, have you ever gotten a poignant, heart-felt expression of repentance that went something like this, “I'm sorry”? And the eyes are averting in different directions so as never to catch either the eyes of the mother or of the person who has been offended, and of course you’re perfectly satisfied with that confession, aren't you moms? No. You go on to do something like this, you go on to say something like, “You’re sorry for what?” And again, heart-felt and poignant expressions of deep, personal, and abiding sorrow are expressed and it goes on like that until a full confession has sort of been wrenched out of the mouth of that particular person, if not out of the heart.
Well my friends, when we go before the Lord in confession, the full confession of sin He's looking for is not, “I'm sorry.” We confess our specific sins specifically. If we don't, guess what? We’ll think that people out there are a lot worse than we are. We’ll be self-righteous, we’ll be unforgiving, and we won't reckon with what we really are. And so we need to confess our specific sins specifically.
Then, thirdly, we need in praying this prayer, “Forgive us our sins,” we need to immediately relate that sin to the cross because that's where our relief comes from. Until we relate that sin to the cross, we haven't prayed this prayer as a Gospel petition.
And then, after we've related it to the cross, we need to ask God for assurance. The Lord tells us to pray for assurance. I think one of the proofs that the Bible is true is how much is says about assurance. How could people who lived thousands of years ago know that I was going to struggle with feeling forgiven, that I was going to struggle with really believing that grace has pardoned all my sins and that there has been a crimson tide of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that is availed for pardon and forgiveness for all my sins? How could they have known that? Well, because the God who made me wrote that Book, and through them He prepared words thousands of years before I was born and you were born, to minister to that wonder, to that worry — Could this possibly be true that I'm actually forgiven? So ask for forgiveness.
So we're going to acknowledge our sin, we're going to confess it specifically, we're going to relate it to the cross, we're going to ask for assurance, and then finally you can't pray this petition without doing what? Linking our forgiveness to our being forgiving. The forgiven are forgiving and Jesus says it in such a striking way here, even more strikingly in the verse that Matthew records to say this – all those who have truly received God's grace of forgiveness will be in some measure more forgiving than they could be apart from the grace of Christ. Now none of us are as forgiving as we ought to be and if Jesus is saying that God's forgiveness of us is absolutely based on and contingent upon our being forgiven, bad news folks — we are all going to hell! But that's not what He's saying. What He is saying is, all those who are truly forgiven will be, in some measure, forgiving. But we all want to grow in being forgiving. We want to be more forgiving than we are. We want to be able to forgive some people that we've really been struggling with forgiving.
And let me say, I'm not sure, I'm not sure that the hardest people to forgive aren't fellow Christians. I'm not sure I'd go to the mat on that, but I wonder whether the hardest people to forgive are fellow Christians that have wounded us and betrayed us and let us down. Well whether that's the case or not it can be very hard to forgive fellow Christians in some things and we want to become more forgiving, so we can't pray this prayer for our own forgiveness without also praying that we would become more forgiving.
So let's just simply walk through each of those five aspects of this petition and pray them together. You can join along quietly and I’ll lead us in prayer as we do each of these things. First of all let's acknowledge our sin.
Lord, as duly as we pray every day for our daily bread, we need to pray for the forgiveness of sins. We need to do this because we sin. We've all sinned and come short of the glory of God and even those of us who trust in Jesus Christ and have had our sins forgiven, we continue to sin. We hate it. We don't do what we want to do and we do what we don't want to do, and we're miserable when we're doing it and the burden of the guilt bothers our conscience in the depths of our soul but we still do it. In many things we offend You every day and we don't even know how many times we offend You. And Lord if You would sit down and take a count and mark down our iniquities none of us would stand. So we acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge that there is forgiveness with You so that You may be feared. So God, be merciful to us, sinners. In Jesus' name. Amen.
So we acknowledge our sin. Then we confess our sin specifically. Now obviously I can't confess your sin specifically unless we're here for a long time and you’re prepared to be very embarrassed and I can start looking into your hearts. Okay, I can't look into your hearts so you confess your sin specifically along with me and I’ll try and guide you in the language of Scripture to help you to do that. Let's pray.
Lord, we come to You now not to just acknowledge that we are sinners generically, but we are sinners specifically. We have wasted Your goods. We've buried the talents that You've entrusted to us. We haven't rendered You a benefit in accordance with all the things that You have done for us. We’re indebted to You, literally. Furthermore, we're under sin. We've done things that are worthy of death. We've done things that deserve the wrath of God on the children of disobedience. Our debt is a great debt and we have nothing to pay it with. We don't even have good grounds to say to You, “Please be patient” with You and we’ll pay it to You later. Our adversary could very justly deliver us to You as Judge and we could very justly be cast into prison. We've sinned in thought and word and deed. We've done things that we shouldn't do and we haven't done things that we ought to have done. We have loved other things and other people more than we've loved You. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We've been selfish. We've put ourselves first and others second and frankly we've worship ourselves. We've fallen prey to the lusts of the flesh. We've fallen prey to the lust of the eyes. The grass is greener on the other side. We've fallen prey to the pride of life. We’re arrogant. We've lifted up “whys” to You, not “whys” that recognize that You’re sovereign, but the “whys” of unbelief. We've become bitter because we think You've given us a hard deal. You know our sins better than we know them. Show them to us. We confess them. And we confess that in and of ourselves there is no hope, but we thank You that there is an Advocate with the Father. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Now having confessed our sins that exactly where we go, we go to the Advocate. And the only place we can go to the Advocate is at the cross. We go to the cross. We relate our sins to the cross. So let's relate our sins to the cross right now in prayer. Let's pray.
O Lord, You have said in Your Word, and so we believe it, that if any person sins he or she has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins. So we come to You in Him, we come to You in His name, we come to You believing the Gospel, we come to You clinging to the cross, praying that You would blot out our transgressions and that You would not enter into judgment with us, not because there is anything in us that deserves forgiving, but because He is our surety. He is our day's Man. He is the One through whom we have been reconciled to You. Let the handwriting which was against us, which was contrary to us, be blotted out and taken away, having been nailed to the cross of Christ. You have forgiven our trespasses in Jesus Christ. Be merciful to us in our own righteousness, in our sin, in our iniquity, because He is righteous, He is without sin, and because of His obedience. Remember our sins no more. Separate us from them as far as the east is from the west. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now if you've really felt your sin it's hard to believe that and so you need to pray for assurance. So let's go and ask the Lord for assurance in prayer. Let's pray.
O Lord, give us we pray the grace to receive the assurance of the atonement of Christ, to know that our sins are forgiven us. Speak peace to us. Make us to hear joy and gladness in Your voice. Let the blood of Christ, Your Son, cleanse us from all sin and make us to know that we have been cleansed from all sin. Purge our consciences from dead works to serve the Living God. Give us an assurance that we could not give ourselves, that comes only from You, which is only sealed by Your Spirit. Give us that assurance we pray and change our lives because of it, in Jesus' name. Amen.
But if we've prayed all those things, if we've acknowledged our sins, if we've confessed them specifically, if we've related it to the cross, and we've sought His assurance, we've still not prayed this petition the way that Jesus said it needed to be prayed. Don't pray this without praying that God's grace would also make you forgiving. Don't pray that God's grace would forgive you without becoming a forgiving person. So let's pray that God would move us from being forgiven to forgiving. Let's pray.
O Lord, all those who are forgiven by the Gospel become forgiving people, so as an evidence that You have forgiven our sins, we pray that You would give us the grace to forgive our enemies, to love those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to forgive friends who have wronged us and deeply wounded us. For we acknowledge that if we do not forgive others their trespasses, that if we do not live lives of forgiving love, then we are not showing a heart of mercy, the kind of heart of mercy and forgiveness that our Father shows to all those who trust in Him. So Lord, give us a hearty desire to forgive. If we have a quarrel against someone, even as Christ forgave us, enable us to forgive him. Lord, take away a desire to avenge ourselves. We pray that all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking would be put away from us, with all malice, and that we would be kind to one another, and tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us. Lord, make us merciful as You our Father in heaven is merciful. You've promised that with the merciful You will show mercy, so make us the merciful to whom You have shown mercy. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
So Jesus teaches us to confess our sins, acknowledging them, we confess them specifically and Biblically, we relate it to the cross, we seek God's assurance, and then we pray to become forgiving people. If we were to become a forgiving people, there is no telling, there is not telling what the witness to this community would be. If just the reconciliations that need to happen in this room were to happen, there is no telling what a Gospel witness it would be to this city.
Well let's take our hymnals out. Turn with me to number 691. Let's sing the third stanza of, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
For it to be well with your soul, you need something only God can give — grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.