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If we take the time to consider it, we will admit that we often fail to love God with our whole being and we often fail to love other people who are made in his image. The truth is that no matter how often we have tried to be true to our calling as God’s representatives on earth, we have fallen short. Our great debt means that on the final day of reckoning, we will find ourselves so far overdrawn that we will have to declare complete bankruptcy. When we ask God to forgive us our debts, we count on his being as he has revealed himself to be in Jesus. He is the “Father in heaven” who has sent his Son to wipe out our debt through his death and fill us with the Spirit who causes us to cry, “Abba, Father.”
Some people are deeply troubled by Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness in these verses, because he seems to base forgiveness on our having forgiven others. It is easy to see why someone would have this concern in light of Jesus’ comments just a few verses later, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14–15). This is a troubling passage that is hard to fit into the biblical notion of God’s unconditional offer of forgiveness.
There is no clear resolution to this tension, but it is always helpful to look at things in light of the entire biblical story. As receivers of God’s free gift of salvation, we have been radically forgiven. Likewise, we are called to be like Christ in our forgiveness of others. It seems Jesus is saying that to be his disciple is to have entered into a whole new reality that is experienced through our identification with Jesus the Messiah. It is a liberating experience, so if we have truly embraced this new reality, we will be the kind of people who forgive others.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” This last request zeros in on the fact that we experience opposition to our walking in the way of the Father. Moreover, contrary to what we might assume, our Father in heaven is not first of all committed to making our journey through this present life as easy as possible.
“Lead us not into temptation” at first glance appears puzzling, because it seems to imply that we need to request that our Father not lead us into a situation where we will be tripped up. What kind of father would be motivated by a desire to see his kids tripped up? This is where we need a little understanding of the original language to get a subtle but important distinction. The word that is translated temptation (peirasmos) can refer either to testing or to temptation—as a trap.
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