MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, January 6th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Here’s commentator Janie B. Cheaney on the ongoing work of transformation.
JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Jesus himself taught us to pray this way, so it’s Biblically correct: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We usually focus on the second half—our own obligation to forgive those who have sinned against us. But I’m having a problem with the first part.
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” The more explicit form is this: “I know God will forgive me. That’s His job.” I’ve heard people say that, in those words. Most of us wouldn’t put it in such presumptuous terms, but do we catch ourselves thinking it?
It can become too easy to ask forgiveness, because, after all, God promises to forgive. He doesn’t have to; it’s a task He assigned to Himself, in order to reconcile rebels. But it’s not an easy thing for a holy God to do, because offenses against holiness must be paid for. Holiness Himself paid, as Peter writes in his first letter: not with silver or gold or any other perishable thing, but with the precious blood of his own Son, a perpetual spotless lamb.
But while it is God’s to forgive, it is mine to repent. He knows my weakness, and how I have to repent the same sins over and over. But I know this too: I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand. It can become too easy to say, “and forgive me for . . .” and let it go at that. “Forgive me” puts the burden on him, and it’s true that only he can bear the burden of the penalty.
But I bear the burden of repentance. To pray, “I confess” or “I repent” or even “I am sorry for—” returns that burden to me. Where it belongs.
“Forgive us our debts” is biblical, and when it focuses our attention on God’s miraculous grace—not only in forgiving, but in making forgiveness possible –the request is righteous. But even forgiven sinners run the risk of assuming their less-heinous sins, like laziness, self-indulgence, neglect, and complacency, are covered with a blank check. After being delivered from obvious transgressions, even after achieving some level of spiritual practice like church attendance and prayer, so-called “Christian” habits can become as soul-defeating as secular ones.
I am not as sorry as I should be. I am not as repentant as I should be. I am not as resolved to do better as I should be. Sin doesn’t grieve me as it should. Grace covers this too, but as Paul writes in Ephesians, “Be careful how you walk,” and what you say, and how you think. True repentance comes from a transformed heart, and transformation isn’t a one-time deal. It’s always going on, and while praying for forgiveness, I must pray even more earnestly for the transformation of true repentance.
I’m Janie B. Cheaney.