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What It Really Means to Pray ‘Forgive Us Our Trespasses’

Why grace is such an important aspect of your relationship with God.
Praying for forgiveness
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It’s a beautiful, but sometimes confusing, part of the prayer commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. Some pray it every day. Some several times a day. Some in church. Some in private.

When Jesus showed His first followers how to pray, He included a plea for forgiveness: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4, NIV). In some versions, the prayer is, “Forgive us our debts.” In others, it’s “Forgive us our trespasses.”

Regardless of the exact words, the thought is the same. But what are we really saying when we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us?”

First, we’re saying, “I’ve sinned. I’ve done wrong. I’ve crossed the line.” It’s an admission, a confession, a mea culpa (to use the old Latin phrase). That’s key, because the Bible says, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).

We’re also saying that we want and need forgiveness. In fact, when Jesus modeled this for His followers, He linked the petition for daily bread with the petition for forgiveness. “Forgive us” comes right after “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s a hint that we need both, every day—food and forgiveness. We should pray for both on a daily basis.

But notice also that Jesus linked our forgiveness from God with our forgiveness of others. “Forgive us,” He told us to pray, “as we forgive.” As. It’s a tiny word, both in English and in Greek. When we say, “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we’re acknowledging the truth that Jesus taught, that being forgiven is tied to our forgiveness of others.

The phrase can be taken to mean, “Forgive us in the same way we forgive others;” it can be understood as a suggestion that our forgiveness of others will set the tone for the Father’s forgiveness of us. So when I pray, “Forgive us as we forgive others,” I am saying I want my mercy to be expanded.

I want to forgive willingly, because that’s the kind of reception I want from God. I don’t want God to measure out my forgiveness in measly human ways; I want to measure out forgiveness to others in big ol’ God ways. I want to be willing to forgive. I want to be quick to forgive. I want to forgive fully. I want to forgive repeatedly. Because all of those things are how I want—how I needGod to forgive me.

And just as my plea to be forgiven is a daily need, so my forgiveness of others can be a daily decision. “Forgive us as we forgive.” In other words, “forgive us today as we are forgiving today.”

No matter how deeply I feel someone has hurt me, I can choose—today—in realization of the grace God has shown me, to extend mercy to other. I don’t have to feel like it. I don’t have to drag up any warm feelings for those people. But I can refuse to retaliate. I can wipe the slate clean. I can forgive that debt. I can pray, “Forgive us today as we are forgiving others today.”

And as I do that, day by day, I will be forgiven…and I will experience the healing and wholeness that comes from releasing others’ sins against me. And, day by day, be released of sin’s hold on me as well.

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