Forgiven and Forgiving — Part One
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Forgiven and Forgiving — Part One

Luke 11:4  (ID: 2150)

Is forgiveness something we must request of God daily? Alistair Begg reminds us that while we are no longer ruled by sin, it still remains in our lives. Our sin cannot destroy our relationship with God, but it can damage our enjoyment of that relationship. Daily repentance is therefore essential. As God faithfully forgives us, so we must forgive others—not so that we might win our salvation but so that we may understand the vastness of God’s redemptive grace.

Series Containing This Sermon

Encore 2020

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25911

A Study in Luke, Volume 7

When You Pray, Say… Luke 11:1–13 Series ID: 14207

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now to the eleventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel we turn—page 735 in the books before you. For those of you who are visiting this morning, we’re in the course of study in Luke’s Gospel, and we have paused purposefully in the Lord’s Prayer, as we often refer to it.

And last time, we began to consider this matter of forgiveness, and particularly the petition which reads there in the fourth verse, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” We said last time that in the space of just a couple of phrases, Jesus reminds us how important it is to seek from God not only our most basic physical requirements as represented in food, but also to cry out to God for our primary spiritual necessity—namely, forgiveness. And we labored last time to make clear to one another that this matter of forgiveness is a matter of pressing urgency—that all of the Old Testament prophets were moving towards the day when the one who was “the Lamb of God, who [would take] away the sin of the world”[1] would walk upon the stage of history.

Jesus comes and makes clear to his followers that “he must go up to Jerusalem and there suffer at the hands of cruel men, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”[2] They are not particularly keen on picking up on this news; it seems to them like such a dreadful end to a life crammed full of such potential. Jesus then goes to the cross, and the disciples run into hiding, not really having listened carefully to what he’d been saying to them at all. He meets a couple of them on the road to Emmaus on the evening following his resurrection; they know there has been an empty tomb, they can’t quite make sense of what is going on, and on that occasion, as Jesus draws near to these individuals in Luke 24:46, he reminds them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached.” That was what Jesus said would happen.

And when the truth dawned on them, the apostles then went out onto the Jerusalem streets to bring the word that was in the Old Testament so clearly presented to bear upon the lives of their listeners. And so they would have preached, for example, from Isaiah 55: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, [and call] upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake [their] way[s], and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return [to] the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”[3] And they go out onto the streets to say, “Now, the mercy of God is such that he calls you to seek him, to call upon him, to forsake your sin, and to turn to him.” Indeed, Peter puts it very succinctly, recorded in Acts 3:19, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.”

Christianity is a message for the unworthy, for the lost, for the beleaguered, and for the sinful.

And last time, we endeavored to make much of the fact that the message of forgiveness is a wonderful message—that while other religions may offer merely moralism, or an attempt to try and clean ourselves up or to do our best, Christianity is a message for the unworthy, for the lost, for the beleaguered, and for the sinful.  Indeed, no one will ever come to embrace the gospel in all of the good news that is made available to us until first we realize that we are those kinds of people. Those who want to use Christianity as merely a leg up through the journey of their days will never understand the nature of who Jesus is and why he came. And if we are to know the reality of forgiveness, as we said last time, we must come to him in repentance and in faith. It is not that by our repentance we earn our pardon, but rather it is that God has determined to show us mercy as a means of inducing within us a repentant heart.

And we ended last time by thinking of the young man in the story of the prodigal sons making his way back to his father; and we said, in the words of the Scottish theologian, “The prodigal returned to his father not primarily because he was driven by a guilty conscience, but because he was drawn by the hope of mercy.”[4] It was the hope of mercy, it was the prospect of forgiveness, that enabled the man to face his predicament and say, “I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and I’m no longer worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.”[5] And when, having “arisen and come to his father,”[6] then he discovered that all of the benefits and blessings, if you like, of the gospel were showered upon him freely as a result of God’s grace.

Now, that’s where we left it last time. The issue, if you like, that we stopped on—stalled on—is the big issue of forgiveness. Actually, I don’t think it is the big issue of forgiveness that is primarily addressed here in the Lord’s Prayer, as I’ll say to you in a moment. But nevertheless, I couldn’t get to this other matter of forgiveness without recognizing the fact that many who sit in worship routinely on the Lord’s Day have no notion of ever having been forgiven by God. That’s why we started there. And for those of you who have still not dealt with that, then you just really need to stay there, although I invite you to listen to the remainder of what follows.

“Forgive Us Our Sins”

Now, the question that is almost inevitably raised in the mind of a thoughtful person is this: Given, then, all that we labored to say last time, if we have been forgiven once and for all by faith in Jesus Christ, why then is there any need for forgiveness afterwards? If we have been forgiven all of our sins, then why do we even need to take this phrase and pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive those who sin against us”?

Well, I want to begin by endeavoring to answer that question this morning. And the answer is straightforward. And it is this: When a man or a woman comes to trust in Christ, repent of their sins, and accept freely the offer of the gospel that is given to us in Jesus, sin is not eradicated from our lives. It no longer reigns or rules in our lives, but it remains in our lives. When we turn to Christ in repentance and faith—and we say this all the time, and I hope that it’s becoming a point of reference for many of us—we are able to look back and say we have been saved from the penalty of sin. All that was against us in our debit account, all that kept us from knowing God, all that kept us from the discovery of his love and his goodness, all of that penalty that we deserved has been annulled, has been eradicated as we’ve come in repentance and in faith to trust in Christ. Therefore, we have been saved from sin’s penalty. One day, we look forward to being taken to heaven. And when we are in heaven, we will be saved from sin’s presence, for there will be no sin in heaven, nor no possibility of sin. It will be a radically different experience. But now, living in the present, we are being saved from sin’s power. Because despite the fact that sin’s power is broken in our lives, we still sin, and we still miss the mark. Anybody prepared to stand up and say that we don’t? No, any thoughtful person who reads their Bible and reviews their lives—if a man doubts it, he needs only a wife to put him in rights concerning it. If you doubt the fact that you still sin, then check with your wife. And as a parent, if you have forgotten that you sin, then check with your teenager daughter; she will point a number out to you that happened already this morning on your way here.

Well, then that inevitably raises the question in the minds of individuals: Does it mean, then, that when we sin, we somehow lose our salvation, lose our relationship with God, and therefore have to start the whole process all over again by coming back, and starting, that the penalty may be removed, and so on?

When you and I are tempted to harbor sin, then there is no surprise that we would fail to enjoy all of the blessing that God intends for us by means of cleansing and forgiveness.

The answer to that is no. When sin happens in the lives of those who have trusted in Christ, our relationship with God as our Father is intact, but what is affected is our enjoyment of our relationship with God as our Father—in the same way that if you allow your teenage child to take the car out on the Friday evening, and you give them very clear instructions about where they’re supposed to go and at what time they’re supposed to return, and they ignore all of them and they return at some dreadful hour the following morning, when you sit together at breakfast, the relationship is intact, but a cloud has descended over the breakfast table. As a result of sin, as a result of disobedience, the child has not sinned herself or himself out of a relationship with you as the father, but has sinned themselves into a situation where all of the blessing and all of the enjoyment and all of the fragrance of that relationship has been marred. And what needs to happen? There needs to be a “sorry.” There needs to be consequences. There needs to be forgiveness. And there needs to be moving on.

Now, in the same way, in our journey through our lives with God as our Father, this is exactly what takes place. When you and I are tempted to harbor sin, then there is no surprise that we would fail to enjoy all of the blessing that God intends for us by means of cleansing and forgiveness.  When we harbor sin within our lives as Christians, one, we will not know the blessing of God as he desires us to have it, and two, we will not know an experience of assurance in our living the Christian life. Because walking through the world each day, we get our feet dirty. You may polish your shoes in the morning. It happened to me today; I actually polished them last night. And then this morning, before I even got into my car, I spilled something all over the left shoe, enough to annoy me intensely. So last evening’s cleansing was immediately affected by this morning’s disturbance. That’s the experience of the Christian life.

I’ll just give you Calvin one more time, and then I won’t give you any more of him. This is what he says concerning this:

Accordingly, so long as we dwell in the prison house of our body, we must continually contend with the defects of our corrupt nature—indeed, with our own natural soul. Plato sometimes says that the life of a philosopher is a meditation upon death. But we may more truly say that the life of a Christian man is a continual effort and exercise in the mortification of the flesh till it is utterly slain and God’s Spirit reigns in us. Therefore, I think, he has profited greatly who has learned to be very much displeased with himself, not so as to stick fast in this mire and progress no further, but rather to hasten to God and yearn for him, in order that, having been engrafted into the life and death of Christ, he may give attention to continual repentance.[7]

“He may give attention to continual repentance.”

Now, that is the very principle that Jesus is underscoring—and we won’t take time to turn to it—in John chapter 13, in the encounter where he washes the disciples’ feet. And you remember, when he comes to Peter, Peter protests the fact; he says, “Oh, Jesus, you should not be washing my feet.” And Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” And then, of course, Peter, blowing hot and cold as usual, says, “Well, in that case, don’t simply wash my feet, but wash my hands and wash my face as well.”[8] What is Jesus pointing out there? He’s pointing out that unless we are washed by means of coming to him in repentance and in faith, we have no part in Christ. Unless we have come to Christ, we have no part in him. Having been washed by him, going out into the thoroughfare of our days, we get our feet and our hands spiritually dirty. And therefore, we do not need to go back and have, if you like, the “big wash” all over again, but we do need to come to him in daily and continual repentance.

Now, the Westminster Confession of Faith tackled this years and years ago—actually, almost 350 years ago now. And when you read it to your profit, you find, for example, that it says, “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those who are justified.” This is the issue, you see. Why would those who are justified need their sins forgiven? If all of our sins have been dealt with, why then do we need to confess our sins? “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those who are justified because they fall under his fatherly displeasure.”[9] “Because they fall under his fatherly displeasure.” Because the cloud has come down over the breakfast table. And God, in his grace and in his mercy, does not leave us to live under that cloud, but gives to us a mechanism whereby we may know what it is to live under his smile. Incidentally, Augustine said, “I don’t believe that this petition refers to the great forgiveness, which is assured as a thing past, but rather that Christ is referring to the sins of a daily infirmity.”[10] So you have Augustine, you have Calvin, you have the Bible. I think that’s a pretty good trio, the latter being the best.

Forgiveness, as we live our Christian lives, is not ours until we seek it with repentance.

The Westminster divines, when they gave us the Westminster Confession, didn’t simply recognize their need to confess the doctrines of the faith, but also they recognized the need to confess the sins of their own lives as an essential part of daily repentance. In other words, once they wrote the doctrinal statement and they said, “The Christian life is one of continual repentance,” then a group of Church of Scotland ministers, reading that which had come out of Westminster, said to one another, “Well, if the Christian life is a life of continual repentance, then surely we ought to write down and meditate upon those things whereby we sin against God on a routine basis.” I don’t know about you—I don’t know what it is that you come to God with on a routine basis—but I would be surprised if some of us have even had it occur to us that some of these things would provide the very necessity for continually praying this petition in the Lord’s Prayer. I can’t go through all of them, but let me just give you a flavor of the kind of things that they wrote down in the seventeenth century that confronted them with the need for continual repentance:

An ignorance of God and a lack of nearness to him.
Exceeding great selfishness in all that we do.
The fact that we are glad to find excuses for the neglect of our duties.
The fact that we neglect the reading of Scripture in the secret place.
The fact of our refined hypocrisy, whereby we desire to appear what indeed we are not.
The fact that we are readier to search out and censure faults in others than to see or to deal with faults in ourselves.
Our foolish jesting away of time with useless conversation.
The existence of bitterness rather than zeal.
Too much eyeing of our own credit and applause, being pleased with it when we get it, and unsatisfied when we don’t.[11]

You say, “Well, I came here this morning, and I thought that, really, I had nothing particularly to be concerned about. My slate was clean, I had everything—I had all my big ones taken care of. It never occurred to me that there might have been anything that had got dust on my feet in my spiritual pilgrimage at all.” And you read just a selection like that, and you say, “Oh, dear, oh, dear. Forgive us our sins.”

We realize the wonderful truth of 1 John 1:8 when we go through this: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Now, we recognize that in the letter of John, in that first letter, he is concerned that those of us who follow after Christ may not sin. He says, “I write to you that you may not sin. But if you do sin,” then, he says, “we have an advocate with the Father.”[12] We have one who is the propitiation for our sins. We have one who “pleads our case in the presence of the Father,”[13] so that when the Father recognizes that we sin, Jesus pleads our defense and says, “I died for that sin, Father. Do not hold it to his account.”

Now, for that reason it’s imperative that we keep short accounts with God. By confessing our sins as we become aware of them, we keep short accounts with God. By confessing our sins as we become aware of them, we’re enabled to live in fellowship with God and with a clear conscience.  And it is, then, with a sense of gratitude that we’re able to live a Christian life that “please[s] him in every way.”[14]

The forgiven person is the forgiving person.

Now, at the risk of undue repetition, let me state this principle once again, because I want to go on from here to the second part of the petition: forgiveness, as we live our Christian lives, is not ours until we seek it with repentance . It is not ours until we seek it with repentance. Do you remember when you came to Christ, when you turned from your sin? Your repentance was clear and it was deliberate. If, then, our Christian lives are to be journeys of continual repentance, then our repentance needs to be equally clear and equally deliberate. Our sins after we are converted are not forgiven until we repent of them. God has not provided for us some great slush fund, as it were, that just sloshes between a debit and a credit side in the ledger. He has made for us, once and for all, an atoning sacrifice for sin in Jesus, he has declared that the penalty is no longer held against us, but as we walk through the journey of our days and as the clouds of disintegrated fellowship descend upon us, he awaits “Father, forgive me. Father, I’m sorry. Father, I shouldn’t have said that, I shouldn’t have thought that.” And it is in that encounter, in the keeping of short accounts, that all of that blessing and enjoyment is experienced.

I say to you again that the Christian life is to be one of continual repentance: daily turning from sin to God, daily asking for his forgiveness for the occasions when we have not turned away from sin quickly enough. And by means of that, repentance becomes both a principle and a habit.  Not that it merits our pardon, but it prepares the way for it. It is by God’s mercy that we are pardoned, and it is by repentance that we make entry into the enjoyment.

Let’s suppose you left a ticket for me at will call: you paid for the ticket, and you left it there for me. When I take the ticket, I have to do something with it, and that is that I have to pass it in. And it is in putting it in that I enjoy the benefits that the ticket conveys. Christ, if you like, in a very simple illustration, has paid for us, and he has left the ticket for us at will call, and as we pick it up and pass it in, then all of the benefits that he has provided by means of his payment become ours, and that so on a daily basis.

Well, that’s as much as I can do with this for now—and you’re probably glad of that—but we must proceed to the second half of the request. “Forgive us our sins…” Are your sins forgiven this morning? Have you come to Christ? Is there a “Volume 2” in your life, where you finally faced up to this, and you came, and you turned away from everything that you knew to be wrong and separating you from God, and the Lord Jesus became your Savior and your friend? If not, we’d love to talk with you about that and help you in any way we could. Of course, you may enter into all of the benefit of that sitting just where you are as you cry out from your heart to God.

“For We Also Forgive”

Now, once this has taken place, what we discover is that the forgiven person is to be the forgiving person. The forgiven person is to be the forgiving person. Now, it is not, as we’ve said, that we cause God to forgive us as a result of being forgiven. Some people read this the completely wrong way around: “Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” In other words, “We’ve been doing it, so hopefully you will do it as well, God.” The Bible makes it perfectly clear that forgiveness springs from the grace of God, and not from any human merit, and certainly not as a result of our going out and endeavoring to try and be gracious and forgiving to everyone else. 

Can I truly say I understand the enormity of forgiveness if I refuse to forgive the trivial offenses against me?

It is not, then, that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. Rather, as John Stott puts it so helpfully, “It is rather that God forgives only the penitent, and one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit.”[15] One of the chief evidences of someone who has truly repented of their sins is a forgiving spirit. So, in other words, when I continually harbor enmity and bitterness in my heart and hold grudges, not only do I disintegrate my own life, not only do I jeopardize relationships with others around me, but frankly, loved ones, I call in question as to whether I’ve ever discovered the nature of true forgiveness at all. For the forgiven person is the forgiving person.  Let us beware, as we’ve seen in these studies in Luke, of telling everybody that we are the forgiven person because we completed some formulaic pattern that some individual gave us and said, “If you do this, this, this, and this, you’re a forgiven person. Now, if anyone ever asks you if you’re a forgiven person, you simply remind yourself that you did this, this, this, and this.” What does Jesus say? He says, “Take a look at yourself and see if you are a forgiving person. And if you’re not a forgiving person, you better examine whether you’ve understood the nature of genuine forgiveness.” “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive those who sin against us.”

Now, when I consider the enormity of my offense against God, then the injuries that others inflict upon me will actually appear relatively insignificant by comparison. And that’s why last time we read from Matthew 18, to which I encourage you to turn for just a moment, and the story of the unmerciful servant. We read it last time because we wanted to refer to it. What a hope! And here we are now, just a week late. And you remember the question that gave rise to the telling of this story was uttered by Peter, who wanted to know how many times he had to forgive his brother.[16] You ever felt that way? “Jesus, how many times do I have to keep forgiving my wife? She is totally driving me nuts.” You’ve never felt that way? Neither have I. “How long do I have to go on forgiving this person in my office who keeps doing the same thing again and again and again? How about seventy times, or seven times, or… What would be a good number, Jesus? Could you just give me a number, because I want to put it into my little thing there, that little Day-Timer, and I just want to check it off. And I’m keenly looking forward to when I reach the limit, because I’d be very glad to give them a punch on the nose just as directly as possible.”

So Jesus says, “Well, how about seventy-seven times?” Actually, what he’s doing is, he’s saying, “How ’bout a number that you’ll never ever reach?” And then he tells the story of the kingdom of heaven being “like a king who wanted to settle accounts,”[17] remember? And one man owed him the equivalent of $10 million. He owed him a sum that it was clearly impossible for him to pay, even in the totality of his lifetime. Despite the fact, he made a protestation, in verse 26, that if the man, the king, was patient that the servant would pay everything back: “I’ll pay everything back.” What a hopeless task that is! That’s what happens to us when we discover that we are indebted to God as a result of our sin, and then all of a sudden we determine we’re going to pay everything back. And some of you are here this morning, and that’s why you’re here, because you’re endeavoring to pay everything back. And one of the ways you’ve been taught to pay everything back is by coming to church, and you’re able to reduce so much of the debt by attendance at church. If you come again, then you can reduce it by a little more, and if you get very regular about it, then you’ll be able to whittle the debt away in no time at all and find that, by your own merit and your own creative righteousness, suddenly you won’t have a problem at all.

Let me tell you, you will never climb that mountain. Martin Luther tried it, and it brought him to despair and to bondage and to great bitterness. It was only when he discovered that every mountain he could climb was “by grace alone” that the burden fell from his back. But when we are confronted by our sin, beware of the people who tell us, “Well, yes, that’s exactly what you need to do: just do your best, and see if you can’t whittle the debt away.” That is the soul of every false religion. The fact of the matter is, the debt is so vast that if the man tried all of his life, he would never be able to repay it, and the only hope he had was that which he discovered: that “the servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”[18]

Now, you would think that this man, having been relieved of a debt of $10 million (to use a figure), would be so outrageously excited about this that whatever money he had, he’d be happy just to give it away to people in the street. Whatever he had now, he would be glad to share with others. Therefore, isn’t it an amazing little story? When he went out, he found one of his fellow servants, someone who was in a similar position to himself. This guy owed him $20. And jumping on him, he began to choke the life out of him, saying, “You pay me back what you owe me!” And the fellow servant fell to his knees, prayed the same prayer that the previous chap had prayed: “Oh, please be patient with me and I’ll pay you back.” But he refused, and he had the man thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.[19]

Now, the whole point of the story is this: the unreasonableness of this servant in view of the disparity between the size of the debts involved. An unpayable amount represented by, let’s say, $10 million, compared to a payable amount represented by $20. Now, what is Jesus saying? He’s saying this: it is inconceivable that we, who have been forgiven such a vast debt, should ever fail to forgive the debt that we encounter as a result of what others have done to us—confronting us with the question, “Will I, having been forgiven so much, refuse to forgive another so little?” I mean, can I really say I know the forgiveness of God, the eradication of the vastness of my offense, and then drive in my car day after day, smoldering at some trivial offense against me as a result of a word that was spoken, or an invitation that was not received, or a rejoinder that was past, or whatever it might be? Can I truly say I understand the enormity of forgiveness if I then refuse to forgive the trivial offenses against me?  Now, that is not to say that every offense is trivial, but it is to say that in comparison to the vastness of our condition before God, every offense is trivial.

One of the major hindrances—I might even be prepared to say the major hindrance—to blessing in our churches, in our families, and in our personal relationships is the absence of the practice of forgiveness. If you and I neglect the exercise of forgiveness, we will very soon lose our enjoyment of God’s pardon.  And I urge you, loved ones: if you keep a record of sins, either physically written down or mentally stored in one of those subfiles of the computer of your brain, then I say to you, on the authority of the Word of God, “I beseech you, brethren, by the renewing of your minds, that you present your lives as a living sacrifice to God.”[20] Give up those things! Refuse to replay the video. Do not take those old pictures back out and go through them all over again. Surely, if he has forgiven the vastness of our offense against him, we may then walk in harmony with those who have offended us.

The unforgiving spirit is the number one killer of spiritual life.

Indeed, the Bible makes it perfectly clear. We saw this in Luke 6:37 (and with this I draw to a close) that our daily experience of forgiveness—our daily experience of forgiveness—is directly related to our willingness to forgive others. Luke 6:37: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” Then he turns around, makes it positive statement: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” In other words, the way in which we forgive is the way in which we will be forgiven. There is an exact correspondence between our own experience of God’s forgiveness and how we are called to forgive others. Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,” then it’s not a full stop. Thankfully, there’s not a full stop. It may just appear to be a form of moralism, you know, “Do your best.” No, “Be kind and compassionate … one another, forgiving each other,” how? Or in what way? Or by what power? “…just as in Christ God forgave you.” How am I to forgive you? The way God in Christ has forgiven me. How has he forgiven me? Totally, unreservedly, unremittingly, forgetfully he has forgiven me! Now, if you want to “be kind and compassionate to one another,” it is impossible, says Paul, without a genuine expression of forgiveness. For a heart that harbors wrongs will not be a kind and compassionate heart.

Someone has put it in this way, in not a particularly good poem:

“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
You taught us, Lord, to pray.
But you alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say.
How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrong and will not let
Old bitterness depart?
In blazing light your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew:
How small the debts men owe to us,
How great our debt to you.
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
And bid resentment cease.
Then, reconciled to God and man,
Our lives will spread your peace.[21]

So let’s be very clear as I conclude: it is in our forgiveness of other people’s sins against us that we reveal the fact that we have discovered forgiveness in Christ.

From Principle to Practice

Now, that simply serves as the foundation; that is, if you like, the principle. Now, what does the Bible say? It says, “Do not merely hear the word, but put it into practice.”[22] So we have to go, then, from principle to practice. And unlike last Sunday, when I chose to come back to this because I didn’t want to leave part of the morning congregation hanging in relationship to this subject, tonight I’m going to deal with the issue of the very intense practicalities of this.

Dwight L. Moody said, “Those who say they will forgive but never forget simply bury the hatchet but leave the handle out for immediate use.”[23] And that’s where some of us are: every place we go through our house, there are handles sticking out, ready to be picked up and to hammer at somebody just at a moment’s notice. Things that we said were forgiven and obliterated and will not be raised again are back out, and whack! with the handle or whack! with the blade.

The unforgiving spirit is the number one killer of spiritual life.  You want to be spiritually useless? Let me tell you what to do: refuse to forgive others, and you will be as spiritually ineffective so fast it’ll make your head spin. There is only one remedy for our past, and it is forgiveness. There is only one ground for our confidence in the future, and it is in the promises of God. And there is only one basis for enjoyment in the presence, and that is in our trusting obedience. So, for those of you who are able to make it, do return this evening as we get to some of the intense practicalities of what it means to pray this petition from our hearts.

And now, O God, you know our hearts, and you have heard all of my words. Grant that “the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts may be acceptable in your sight.”[24] Bring us, O God we pray, to a genuine experience of repentance and faith and the blessing of forgiveness, and grant that it may become apparent that we are forgiven because we are the forgiving ones.

And may grace and mercy and peace from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of each one today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] John 1:29 (NIV 1984).

[2] Matthew 16:21 (paraphrased).

[3] Isaiah 55:6–7 (KJV).

[4] Attributed to Donald Macleod. Source unknown.

[5] Luke 15:18–19, 21 (paraphrased).

[6] Luke 15:20 (paraphrased).

[7] Calvin, Institutes 3.3.20.

[8] John 13:8–9 (paraphrased).

[9] The Westminster Confession of Faith 11.5.

[10] Richard Chenevix Trench, Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Drawn from the Writings of St. Augustine, with Observations (London: 1844), 99. Paraphrased.

[11] The Ministerial Confession of 1651, quoted in Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (Boston: The American Tract Society, 1860), 47–58. Paraphrased.

[12] 1 John 2:1 (paraphrased).

[13] 1 John 2:1 (paraphrased).

[14] Colossians 1:10 (NIV 1984).

[15] John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Wheaton, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1978), 149.

[16] See Matthew 18:21.

[17] Matthew 18:23 (NIV 1984).

[18] Matthew 18:26 (NIV 1984).

[19] Matthew 18:28–30 (paraphrased).

[20] Romans 12:1–2 (paraphrased).

[21] Rosamund Herklots, “Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive” (1969). Paraphrased.

[22] James 1:22 (paraphrased).

[23] Attributed to D. L. Moody in Bible Truths Illustrated by J. C. Ferdinand Pittman (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1917), 118.

[24] Psalm 19:14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.