“‘And forgive us our debts.’ Strange to say, some experience a difficulty here. Seeing that God has already forgiven the Christian ‘all trespasses’ (Col. 2:13), is it not needless, they ask, for him to continue to beg. God for forgiveness? This difficulty is self-created, through a failure to distinguish between the purchase of our pardon by Christ and its actual application to us.
True, full atonement for all our sins was made by Him, and at the cross their guilt was canceled. True, all our old sins are purged at our conversion (2 Peter 1:9). Nevertheless, there is a very real sense in which our present and future sins are not remitted until we repent and confess them to God.Therefore, it is both necessary and proper that we should seek pardon for them. (1 John 1:6-10). Even after Nathan administered assurance to David, saying, ‘The Lord also hath put away thy sins’ (2 Sam. 12:13), David begged God’s forgiveness (Ps. 51:1).
What do we ask for in this petition? First, we ask that God will not lay to our charge the sins we daily commit (Ps. 143:2). Second, we plead that God will accept the satisfaction of Christ for our sins and look upon us as righteous in Him. Some may object, ‘But if we be real Christians, He has already done so.’ True, yet He requires us to sue for our pardon, just as He said to Christ, ‘Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance’ (Ps. 2:8). God is ready to forgive but He requires us to call upon Him. Why? That His saving mercy may be acknowledged, and that our faith may be exercised!
Third, we beseech God for the continuance of pardon. Though we be justified, yet we must continue to ask; as with our daily bread, though we have a goodly store on hand, yet we beg for the continuance of it. Fourth, we plead for the sense of forgiveness or assurance of it, that sins may be blotted out of our conscience and from God’s book of remembrance. The effects of forgiveness are inner peace and access to God (Rom. 5:1, 2).
Forgiveness is not to be demanded as something due us, but requested as a mercy. ‘To the very end of life, the best Christian must come for forgiveness just as he did at first, not as a claimant of a right but as a suppliant of a favour’ (John Brown). Nor is this anywise inconsistent with, or a reflection upon, our complete justification (Acts 13:39). It is certain that the believer ‘shall not come into condemnation’ (John 5:24); yet instead of this truth leading him to the conclusion that he need not pray for the remission of his sins, it supplies him with the strongest possible encouragement to present such a petition.
Likewise, the Divine assurance that a genuine Christian shall persevere to the end, instead of laying a foundation for carelessness, is a most powerful motive to watchfulness and faithfulness. This petition implies a felt sense of sin, a penitent acknowledgement thereof, a seeking of God’s mercy for Christ’s sake, and the realization that He can righteously pardon us. Its presentation should ever be preceded by self-examination and humiliation.
-A.W. Pink, The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, 114-115.