We turn now in our study of the Word of God to Luke chapter 11 and this would be the seventh message on this wonderful opening section of chapter 11 under the title, "Lord, Teach Us to Pray." Let me read it to you.
"And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.' And He said to them, "When you pray say, ‘Father, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’"
Now there is a parallel to this particular instruction in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 6, which our Lord gave many months before this in His ministry in Galilee. Many months later we find our Lord in Judea moving toward Jerusalem and toward His death and again the issue of prayer arises among His disciples. And He goes back to the same pattern, the same model of prayer that He had taught them much earlier. He teaches them how to pray. And as we've been saying, this isn't in particular a prayer to be prayed, but it is a way to pray all your prayers. It is a pattern for prayer. They needed to learn how to pray from Jesus as John's disciples needed to learn how to pray from John because the kind of praying that was being advocated and being taught and being demonstrated in Israel was a far cry from the kind of prayer that God wanted. It was vain, endless repetition. And Jesus spoke of that in His Sermon on the Mount, that endless repetition of the scribes and Pharisees who thought to be heard by God for their much speaking. Jesus said, "When you pray, don't pray that way, don't pray publicly, don't pray proudly, don't pray calling attention to yourself so as to appear holy. Go in your closet and pray quietly and pray this way." It was apparent that the lessons about how to pray needed to be taught to those who were following Jesus. They could find no better teacher than He for they had listened to Him praying and knew that He prayed in a very different way than what they had always heard. And so they asked to be taught and He teaches them and all of us how to pray.
We finally come, in flowing through this prayer, down to verse 4 and this wonderful statement, "When you pray, say,” among these other things, “and forgive us our sins." Here is Jesus, God in human flesh, telling us to ask for forgiveness. God is not a reluctant forgiver, nor is Christ. This is at the very heart of our praying: Ask forgiveness. This assumes that we need it and that God gives it. That basic assumption is the heart of the Christian gospel. We need forgiveness and God provides forgiveness when we ask. The forgiveness of sin, of course, is the greatest need of every soul, since unforgiven sins expose the soul to divine judgment and guarantee eternal punishment. We need forgiveness more than we need anything else. That's why the gospel can never be directed at matters that are peripheral. It's not about fixing your life. It's not about making you happy or prosperous. The gospel is a message about forgiveness and it therefore involves the fact that you understand your sin, you understand something of its nature and its consequences. There is a desperation that comes to the heart of one who understands the nature and consequence of sin so that that person looks eagerly to find, if in fact forgiveness might be available. And only, only from God our Father is that forgiveness available and only from Him is it possible, for all sin is a violation of Him and only the one violated can render the forgiveness.
This request assumes that we need forgiveness, such as we need bread. Bread deals with our physical life, forgiveness deals with our spiritual life. Forgiveness is the most important, but bread comes first because if we're not sustained in life, we can't even ask for forgiveness. We can't get to the spiritual needs unless we're alive. And so providing our physical sustenance allows us to live that we may seek our spiritual sustenance.
We understand this is the gospel here at this church. We've preached this through the years. In fact, I...I've preached primarily on the gospel all the years of my life. And yet I don't hesitate again to rehearse it, particularly in view of the fact that we are gathered around the Lord's Table. The issue here is about forgiveness. As I said in the little message I gave in the concert, there's only one problem in the world. It's not a difficult thing to sort out the issues of the world. There's just one problem, it is sin. It is sin. And it's not difficult to know what sin is because it's defined in the Bible. We know precisely and exactly what it is. We also understand that all have sinned and that no one is exempt from that indictment nor is anyone exempt from that potential judgment and punishment. It is a universal human problem. It is the cause of all that is wrong in this world and in this created order. And if you come to understand that the single problem is sin, and then you understand that the single cure is forgiveness, and then that there's only one who can forgive, God, you understand the message of the gospel.
God does not simply forgive, however, by looking the other way; does not forgive by just being indifferent toward our sin. He does not forgive by being soft. In fact, let me give you an understanding that I think is important to hold on to and it is this: Every sin ever committed by every person who has ever lived will be punished, every sin. No sin ever committed will go unpunished. I don't know if you've ever realized that, but that is in fact the case. Whatever a man sows, he also reaps. In Exodus 23:7 God says, "I will not acquit the guilty." In the prophecy of Nahum verse 3, there is an unequivocal statement, "The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." And in Romans 1:18 it says, "God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." No sin ever committed by you or me or anyone else who ever lives will go unpunished. All sin will be punished.
Scripture describes the relationship between God and all of humanity as a relationship of hostility. God is not the friend of sinners. He is their enemy. God hates sin and He hates the sin that has made man His enemy. Psalm 7:11 says, "God is angry with the wicked every day." Psalm 5:5 says, "He hates those who do iniquity." This is what the Bible calls enmity, or hostility and all sinners are essentially in the same boat. No one escapes that indictment. Whether you violate what you might perceive to be minor points of God's law, or not, you are as guilty as one who violates perhaps the more major commandments of God and does so more frequently than you do because James 2:10 says, "If you've offended in one part of the law, you've broken all of it." And the real truth anyway is that no one's sins are minor or trivial. All sin is against God and all people are born sinners. “There's none righteous, no not one.” They're all alike; they're all gone out of the way. They're all corrupt. They are all born with an insatiable lust for sin. They started out that way. “In sin did my mother conceive me,” says the psalmist. He's not talking about an illicit relationship or an illegitimate birth. He's simply saying from the moment of my conception I was a sinner. This is the desperate condition of humanity. We are spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:1, we are under God's holy anger, Ephesians 2:3, and we are without hope, Ephesians 2:12. This is a desperate, desperate state that man is in.
On the other hand, as wretched and sinful as we are, God is the absolute opposite, perfectly, infinitely, absolutely, flawlessly, thoroughly holy and righteous. And because of that, every sin has to be punished. His justice can only be satisfied by the full and complete punishment of every violation of His law and the due penalty determined is infinitely severe. It is eternal damnation. And nothing that we offer to God, nothing we do, religiously or morally, can ever change that. We have no capability to satisfy the justice of God, no ability to remove ourselves from under a just judgment. You might say that the predicament of the fallen sinner, all humanity, is as bad as it could be. Everybody is a sinner and the looming sword of God's judgment hangs over our necks. We are children of wrath, enslaved to sin; children of Satan without ability to love God, obey God, know God or please God. And the situation virtually is irreversible from a human perspective. We are accountable to a holy God whose justice must be satisfied. We are guilty sinners incapable of doing anything to satisfy that justice. And any hope of being justified, being made righteous before God seems completely impossible. In fact, to make matters worse, listen to what God Himself says. Proverbs 17:15, "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord." God says it is an abomination to justify a sinner. It is equal to declaring an innocent person guilty. In Proverbs 24:24 we read, "He who says to the wicked, 'You are righteous,' peoples will curse him, nations will hate him." It is not right, says God, to declare wicked people righteous. Again and again then, God declares that we are sinners and then repeatedly forbids anyone to declare a sinner righteous. Now this paints the picture of our problem.
But now for some good news: Scripture tells us God does exactly what He says you shouldn't do. We can't do it but He can. God does justify the ungodly. He does justify the ungodly. He does what He explicitly forbids us to do. It says in Romans 4:5, "God, who justifies the ungodly." How does He do it? Verse 7, "He covers their sins." Verse 8: "He does not take into account their sin." How can God do that? Cover their transgressions, not keep the record of their sins, justify the ungodly, how can He do that? How can He grant such forgiveness without compromising His own justice? How could He grant such forgiveness without compromising His own holiness and righteousness? How can He forgive sinners without breaking His own Word?
Well you know the answer, don't you? Our sins have already been punished, for God Himself made Jesus Christ the substitute who bore our punishment for us. That's the gospel. Forgiveness is man's greatest need because unforgiven sin has the most massive implications, certainly in time but vastly more importantly in eternity. Forgiveness is man's greatest need. Nothing even comes close to it. It determines heaven later and blessing here and now. We need bread and we recognize God as the source of our physical sustenance, but we need spiritual sustenance far more and to stay alive or to come to life spiritually requires forgiveness, forgiveness. And so we come then to this petition in verse 4, "And forgive us our sins." This comes to grips then with the greatest need. This presents to us the fact that the most bleak and horrific and apparently irremediable dilemma of our sin and its consequence has a solution. Here is Jesus, God of very God Himself, telling us forgiveness is available.
Now remember, as we've gone through this prayer and we've blended it with the Matthew prayer to get all the elements of it, we've seen God as the focus of everything: God as the source in the term "Father," God as sacred in the expression "Hallowed be Thy name," God as sovereign in "Thy kingdom come," God as superior in "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," God as supporter or supplier, "Give us each day our daily bread," and now we come, number six, to God as Savior, God as Savior, "And forgive us our sins." We'll then see God as shelter in leading us not into temptation, and finally when we look back to Matthew, we'll see God as ultimately supreme.
So it's really a prayer that affirms the glory of the nature of God. And here we find that God is a forgiver of sinners. How wonderful this truth is. Sin has made us guilty. Sin has brought us under eternal condemnation. We stand on the brink of judgment justly. But there is hope. There is hope. Forgiveness is offered by God, who by nature is a forgiving God. Whether you're reading the prophets of the Old Testament or the apostles of the New Testament, you will find God our Savior, God who is eager to forgive, God who desires to remember sins no more, remove them as far as the east is from the west, bury them in the depths of the deepest sea. “Who is a pardoning God like Thee?” writes the prophet. But what is called for here is the necessity to ask, which means to admit that one is a sinner, which means to affirm that God can and will forgive on the basis of the substitutionary death of Christ, who bore in His own body our sins on the cross, 1 Peter 2:24.
Confessing sin then becomes essential, doesn't it? And this is the big barrier. You know, you've seen this through the years in the people you deal with. I see it as well. The big barrier is to recognize one's sinful condition, to redefine one's self in terms of utter wretchedness. We spend our whole lives trying to build a good self-image. We spend our whole lives trying to convince ourselves and everybody around us that we are basically good people. And all of a sudden to reverse that entire diagnosis and explain to ourselves and to everybody around us and particularly to God Himself that we now have come to a new understanding in which we now see ourselves as wretched, sinful, utterly incapable of any good that honors God, that is a huge, huge transition. It's that self-denying, self-hating that Jesus called for again when He said, "You have to deny yourself in order to come after Me." Confessing sin is essential. First John says in chapter 1, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." But there's no forgiveness where there's no confession. In fact, that verse really describes a kind of person; the one confessing is the one being forgiven. Or to say it another way, people who have been forgiven are people who are by nature confessors of sin. It's not something you do once; it's a way of life.
This can be said about all who have been saved, all who have been rescued. They understand themselves to be sinners. They understand that there is forgiveness with God made available through the work of Christ and they have come, understanding their sinfulness, to seek that forgiveness. Therein lies the confession or the penitence, the repentance that is so essential.
So as we look then, for this morning anyway, briefly in preparation for the Lord's Table, as we look at verse 4, I want you to just focus on the term "sins" there. This is the problem. This is the problem. Before we talk about the forgiveness, which is the solution, I want you just to look at a little more at the problem. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23 says. "There's none righteous, no not one," Romans 3 earlier in the chapter says. And that sets up the situation for everything that's wrong in the entire world, every single thing. Sin disturbs every relationship in the human realm. Every human problem that exists between people, no matter what that relationship may be, every problem comes from sin. Sin has stirred up all chaos at every level in which chaos exists, whether it's in a marriage, or whether it's between nations.
Sin waits to attach every baby born into this world. Sin is the current monarch of the world. It rules the heart of every man, woman, boy, and girl. Sin is the lord over every human soul. Sin literally has contaminated every living person at every level: mind, will, affections, emotion, and conduct. Sin is the degenerative power in the human stream that makes men susceptible to disease, to illness, to injury, to death. Sin is the culprit in every broken marriage, every disrupted home, every shattered friendship, every argument, every battle, every conflict, every war, every pain, every sorrow, and every death. It is what Joshua 7:13 calls, "That accursed thing, that accursed thing." It is powerful. It is pervasive. It is sinister. And it will send every soul into hell and we're incapable to do anything about it. You can take all the New Year's resolutions you want to take. You cannot overcome your sin by making personal vows as a sinner, as a non-believer. We who are believers can take steps in self-discipline and in commitment. Because we have the Holy Spirit in us and the truth of God reigns in us through His Word, changes can be made.
But the unregenerate man can't pick himself up by his own bootstraps. Jeremiah 13:23 says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin...the color of his skin? Can the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to doing evil." You can no more do good when all you do is evil than somebody can change the color of their skin, or a leopard can change his spots by wanting to. Sin dominates the mind, it dominates the will. It dominates the affections. It dominates the emotions. It defines us as in the kingdom of darkness, under the rule of Satan. It brings us under the eternal wrath of God. It makes life miserable. We are born unto trouble. We are subjected to vanity or emptiness. We have no peace, for there is no peace to the wicked. And millions of us die routinely day after day after day.
This is man's deepest need. He is a hopeless, helpless sinner. And here the word "sins" is instructive for us. It is the word hamartia. There are a number of ways to define sin. One of the best ways is to look at the words that the Greek language uses. You don't see them in the English, although there are varying English words: sin, debt. Matthew says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Transgression, trespass, iniquity. Let me just give you five of the Greek words that perhaps will help to give you an understanding of the character or nature of sin.
The word used here by Jesus in this account in Luke is the word hamartia. It is a shooting word and it means to miss the target, to miss the mark. Then sin is a failure to hit God's standard. Sin is a failure to meet the requirement. And what is the standard? Well, Jesus said it in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, 5:48, "Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect." The standard is absolute, holy perfection, the very perfection of God. That's the standard. That's why also in the Sermon on the Mount earlier in that chapter, Jesus said to the Pharisees...or to the people rather, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you're not going to be in My kingdom." They were the most superficially, externally, religiously, ceremonially, righteous people around and they didn't come close to the standard, they missed the mark. The standard was established long ago. You find it in the book of Leviticus, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." And if you're not as holy as God is holy, you missed the mark. You missed the mark. It's not about relative goodness, it's about absolute holiness. It's not about being better than somebody else. You can always find somebody worse than you are. It's about absolute holiness. That's the mark. Miss that mark and you need forgiveness, and everybody does.
There's another word used in the New Testament for sin, not only hamartia, but parabasis, para-basis. It literally means “to step across.” Sin is going over the line. The borders are there, the barriers are there, this is right, don't go beyond it, stepping across the line, the line drawn between right and wrong, between good and evil. Sin steps over that line. And we all enter in to the forbidden territory, the forbidden territory of thought, or word, deed, action. We've all been there. We all go beyond what God has established as His perfect standard.
So we miss the mark. We step over the line. A third word used in the New Testament is anamia. Namia or namos means “law.” A is called the alpha privative. It negates it. It means “lawlessness,” “lawlessness.” Sin is then breaking God's law. It is rebelling against God. And it is the primary act of the proud, selfish sinner. A man kicks against the law of God because he wants to go his own way. Like the old soldier in Kipling's famous “Mandalay,” who said, "Ship me somewheres east of Suez where the best is like the worst, where there ain't no Ten Commandments and a man can raise a thirst." We want to live like that, apart from the law of God.
Sin is severe. It is missing the mark, stepping over the line, rebelling against God. Now, that brings us to words that are used also in this text, but in particular in the Matthew account of this prayer. In Matthew 6:14 and 15, Matthew uses a word that is translated in the New King James "trespasses," forgiving our trespasses, and in the NAS it's translated “transgressions.” The Greek word is paraptōma, paraptōma. It's a fourth word used for sin and it means to slip, stumble, tumble, fall. Sin then is literally lacking the self-control necessary to stand up. It means being out of control. It means being swept away by impulse or passion so as to be out of control. You understand that kind of image. People fall down, stumble, trip and fall because they lose control. That's one way to describe sin. It is a loss of control. That's the word “trespass” or “transgression” used in Matthew 6:14 and 15. This points to our impotence; it points to our inability.
We miss the mark. We miss the mark regularly because we can't reach the standard of perfection. It is utterly impossible for us. We step across the line all the time because we cannot restrain our evil hearts. We rebel against the law because we're driven by sinful pride. We stumble and fall because we have no self-control. We are impotent.
And then there's one other word, the fifth one. It is also the one used in Matthew 6: "Forgive us our debts." And you find it here in 11:4 of Luke in the second statement in verse 4, "We ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." And here it is used in its verb form as a synonym for sins, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others," here called debts. This is opheilēma, opheilēma. It means “a debt.” What is this saying about sin? It is saying every sin you have ever committed has put you in debt to God. You have defrauded God of what He is due and what He is due is righteousness and obedience. You have defrauded God. You have violated His will. You have rebelled against Him. You've stepped over His line. You've missed His mark. You have stumbled and fallen. And all of that has caused you to incur a debt with God, a debt that will be paid, that must be paid. And that's why it's synonymous with sin because sin by definition is a missing of the mark. By definition it is a crossing of the line. By definition it is a stumbling and a falling. By definition it is an act of rebellion.
But the effect of all of that is to incur a debt with God, a debt that must be paid, that must be paid. So when you come to God, Jesus says, say to God, "I have missed the mark. I have stepped across the line. I have rebelled. I have tumbled and stumbled and fallen. And I have incurred a massive debt that I can't pay. Does this remind you of the Matthew 18 text, Jesus teaching about the man who came and owed an unpayable debt and fell on his face and asked forgiveness? And he was forgiven. This is the attitude that is required in this petition. This is all we ever ask from the sinner. But this is the part of the gospel that's so disturbing to people. Even seemingly Christian people find this too hard to incorporate in their gospel presentation. But this is essentially what our Lord is saying. "Come and confess you have fallen short, you have missed the mark. Come and confess you've stepped over the line. Come and confess that your whole life is one great act of rebellion, stumbling, tripping, falling. Come and confess that you have incurred a massive debt before God that you could never hope to pay. And what do you do about it? Astonishingly and amazingly: How about this? Ask Him to forgive it. There is no way God could have been more gracious than that, absolutely no way. Just ask Him to forgive it. That's all.
You say, "But if I confess that my life is nothing but missing the mark and stepping over the line and rebelling against God, that my life is nothing but sin, it's nothing but this continual incurring of debt as I stumble and fumble my way along. This is contrary to everything that I've trained myself to believe about myself." That's exactly right. This is the hardest thing for the sinner to be honest about is his own wretchedness.
And you remember; I go back to it all the time, in Luke 4 when Jesus told the people in the synagogue at Nazareth that this is how they had to view themselves and they tried to kill Him. The sinner doesn't want to hear this. This is a hard part of the gospel and there's no diminishing of the one who does this. There is rather the lifting up and delivering and exalting of the one who does. The greatest of men came under the consciousness of sin. Read of David's confession in Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 as he poured out his soul in contrition, penitence and confession. Hear Peter cry to the Lord Himself, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, oh Lord." Or hear Paul say, "I am the chief of sinners." Or hear the publican in Luke 18 pound his breast, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
Now Jesus taught us all to pray like this, all of us, which refers us then to the universality of the problem. Nobody escapes the problem. We all have the problem of sin. We all have the opportunity then to ask forgiveness. But, you know, we wouldn't even do that unaided because it's part of our fallenness to be blind to this, not only blind to the fact of available forgiveness, but blind to the need of it, blind to the desperate need of it. And so to help us, God has placed the Holy Spirit into motion and John 16:8 says, "The Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment." The Holy Spirit comes into the unawakened heart, into the dead heart and helps it become alive to the reality of sin. The Holy Spirit prods and prompts and convicts the heart, John 16:8. A little later in that same chapter, it says, "And then gives the truth." The Holy Spirit comes to awaken the sinner to his sin and then to awaken the sinner to the gospel.
But no one is ever going to be forgiven who doesn't come and ask. Now we're talking primarily here about that forgiveness that comes at the point of our salvation, but this has application as well to those who are already believers, for we have to come back again and again and again — Don't we? —
routinely and ask for forgiveness. We have received judicial forgiveness in the broad, sweeping and general sense at the time of our salvation so that Romans 8 says there will never be any condemnation. No charge will ever stand against us for we have been completely forgiven. But there's another level of our life with God that requires a relational forgiveness. As we sin as believers even though that sin in the big picture of justification has been paid for by Christ, in the reality of fellowship with God it interrupts and so it has to be dealt with as well. And we'll talk more about that next time, the distinction between those two. But what Jesus is saying to us here is the best that could ever be said to us, our greatest need can be met, our greatest dilemma can be solved, our greatest fear can be ended, our greatest disaster, eternal hell, can be avoided if we just ask, if we just ask. Let's pray together.
We ask together, Lord, forgive us our sins. We ask because You've told us to. We thank You that most of us have come in that initial time of penitence and confession and we've asked for forgiveness and received full forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ. But there are some here who have not, some who have been up to this point either ignorant or unwilling to ask for forgiveness. Oh God, how we pray the Holy Spirit would come now and work in their heart to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment, to show them the horror of their true condition and the fearsome and eternal consequences of it. And may they be compelled, driven to plead for forgiveness, knowing that You wouldn't have told us to ask if You weren't prepared to give.
You are a saving God, a forgiving God who loves to deliver sinners from hell. And we thank You that You stand ready to forgive all who ask and that no one who comes would ever be turned away. And for those of us who are Christians, we have been forgiven in that forensic sense, that judicial sense. But like Peter who didn't need to be bathed completely because he had already been, we need to have our feet washed. We too confess our sins and ask that You would wash our feet for they, even though we are among the forgiven, they have become dirty as we have continued to live in this fallen world. Forgiveness is necessary, we know, before we can partake of the bread and the cup. If we were not sure of our justification, if we were not sure of our confession leading to sanctification, we would then bring great judgment on ourselves. So, Lord, we do confess and ask for Your washing and Your cleansing, whether it's the whole washing of justification or whether it's that foot cleansing of sanctification that keeps the relationship all that You would want it to be, Lord. Do whatever cleansing work needs to be done in such a way that we can take of the bread and the cup in a manner that discerns Your body and glorifies You and brings to us blessing and not chastening.