Forgive Us Our Debts (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VII)

Praying Hands 2The fifth request found in the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). There is so much packed into that one seemingly-simple request, that we will need to unpack its meaning and application over the course of more than one study. (So consider this as part one of a two-part study of this particular request in the Lord’s Prayer.)

Perhaps the first thing that we should learn from this request and its inclusion in the model prayer that the Lord Jesus taught us to pray is that we actually need forgiveness. If we need to ask for forgiveness, that necessarily means that we are sinners, doesn’t it? In fact, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (KJV). How many have sinned? All. How many have therefore “come short of the glory of God”? All. Every last one of us.

And in this request our sins are referred to as “debts.” Sin puts us in debt to God. Being in debt to another person is bad enough, but being in debt to God should be a sobering thought for anyone! What every person owes to God as his or her Creator is obedience – perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience. But ever since the fall of mankind in Adam’s sin (Genesis chapter 3) we have all failed to obey God, and have transgressed his holy law in more ways and more often than we can even begin to comprehend. Our debt of sin is un-repayable by us. It makes our ever-mounting national debt seem like chump change in comparison. And so we desperately need forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? The word “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 has the idea of sending something away or removing it. It brings to mind the imagery of the “scapegoat” found in Leviticus 16:7-22. There we are told that two goats were to be used as a sin offering – one goat would be killed as a sacrifice to the Lord (v.15), while the other goat (the scapegoat), after having the sins of the people confessed over it, would be sent away into the wilderness (v.21), bearing the sins of the people far, far away, never to return.

Those two goats together picture for us the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in both making atonement for sin, and in carrying our sins far away from us. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (KJV). The reason that we can ask God for forgiveness of our sins is only because the debt of our sin has been paid in full by the only one capable of paying it – through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And forgiveness is not something that we just need to ask for from God at the beginning of the Christian life, but will continue to be an ongoing (even daily!) need in the lives of all believers. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that in this life we will never outgrow our need to continually ask God for forgiveness. (And so the Lord’s Prayer clearly rules out any idea of perfectionism!)

Praying for the forgiveness of our sins should also be a regular part of both private and corporate prayer (i.e. praying with other believers in groups as well as in public worship). After all, it does say, “forgive us our debts,” not just ‘forgive me my debts.’

I sincerely hope that you know the joy and peace that only come through the forgiveness of sins, and which is freely offered to you through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing else in this world that can relieve a troubled conscience like the knowledge that, in Christ, a holy God has freely forgiven all of your sins!

OUR DAILY BREAD (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VI)

Praying Hands 2We now come to the fourth request found in the Lord’s Prayer, which is “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). In this part of the Lord’s Prayer we are instructed to pray for the provision of our daily needs, the necessities of life (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, etc.). Bread represents the most basic staple of food needed in order to sustain life.

The idea of the Lord providing “daily bread” brings to mind the manna (or bread from heaven) that the Lord miraculously provided to the children of Israel for 40 years during the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:35).The manna was not only miraculous provision, but it was also provided daily, with the exception of the Sabbath (Exodus 16:26). A double-portion was to be collected the day before the Sabbath. Think about that. What a picture of dependence upon the Lord!

And so by instructing us to pray for our daily bread, the Lord Jesus is clearly teaching us that we too are dependent upon God, even for our daily needs. If truth be told, everyone is still just as dependent upon God for their daily needs as those Israelites were during those 40 years in the desert, and in our prayers we should acknowledge that dependence.

It is all too easy to overlook this simple truth. When things are going well, and you are living comfortably, it is easy to forget that all that you have is a gift of God. No matter how hard you may work, no matter how successful you may be, at the end of the day, you are still utterly and completely dependent upon God for everything. But do you pray that way?

Likewise, even when things are not going so well, even when you have no earthly idea how you are going to make ends meet, it is surprisingly easy to forget that you are entirely dependent upon God to meet your needs. You might think that being in need would make it much easier to acknowledge one’s dependence upon God, but how many of us in those situations fail to pray, or treat prayer as a last resort? It is not without reason that the Scripture says, “ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2, KJV).

And notice that there is nothing inherently “unspiritual” (whatever that means) about praying for your daily needs. The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, given to us so that we might better understand how to pray, and one of the main things that we are taught to pray is for our “daily bread.” To be sure, it is not the first thing or the top priority on the list (that is that the Lord’s name would be “hallowed” or revered – Matthew 6:9), but it is certainly included.

So let us learn to pray for our daily bread, and may we be quick to give thanks to the Lord for providing for our daily needs, whether we have a little or a lot.

THY WILL BE DONE (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART V)

Praying HandsIn our brief series going through the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4), we now come to the third request, which is “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (v.10). This is closely-related to the previous request (“Thy kingdom come” – v.10). After all, one of the primary ways that a king’s kingdom is manifested is in his will being done. The one must lead to the other.

What does it mean to pray for the Lord’s will to be done? It means (as Jesus goes on to tell us in v.10), that His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done in heaven? Perfectly. Perpetually. Personally. That is how the angels themselves do the will of God in heaven! They obey Him perfectly. There is no disobedience or sin in heaven. None. (That is part of what makes heaven, well, heaven!) They obey Him perpetually. In other words, they do His will at all times. Always. And they obey Him personally. They live to serve the LORD and do His will.

That has important implications for those who confess the name of Christ and who would sincerely pray the Lord’s prayer. If you are going to pray for the Lord’s will to be done on earth, that has to start with His will being done in your own life, doesn’t it?

But what does that entail? It means first of all that we humbly submit to and accept His will in whatever He sends our way in this life. That is to pray as Jesus Himself prayed in the garden of Gethsemane – “not as I will, but as You will” (NIV). To pray this way requires that we trust God that His will is good, and that He knows what He is doing (even when we ourselves do not). Do you pray that way? Do you pray for the Lord’s will to be done in your life, even in times of trial or suffering? The Lord “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). All things. And so He alone is worthy of our trust at all times.

It also means that we must seek to do the will of the Lord in our own daily lives. And if we are praying for the Lord’s will to be done without a sincere desire and aim to do what the Lord has commanded in His Word, then we are just going through the motions in prayer. There is a word for that kind of thing – hypocrisy. As Jesus Himself said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NIV).

So let us learn to pray for the Lord’s will to be done, both in our own lives as well as in our families, our community, and even “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Shorter Catechism on the Primacy of Preaching

1710_largeThe Westminster Shorter Catechism concludes with a very helpful section dealing with the outward and ordinary means of grace (Q.88-107). The means of grace are the “ordinances” of Christ, “especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer” (Q.88). That is basically an outline of the contents of the remainder of the catechism. It deals with the Word in Q.89-90; the sacraments in Q.91-97; and prayer in Q.98-107 (which is more or less an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer).

How is the Word of God a means of grace? The Shorter Catechism says the following:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

The Holy Spirit working through the Word of God makes it a means of grace. That is, He makes the Word effectual for “the convincing and converting sinners” (bringing them to faith in Christ at the beginning), and of “building them up in holiness and comfort” (ongoing throughout the Christian life), “through faith” (because the Christian life is by faith from beginning to end – Romans 1:17). So in a lot of ways, that means the Word of God is central in the Christian life.

But notice that the catechism specifies that it is “especially the preaching” of the Word that the Holy Spirit makes effectual unto the salvation of sinners.  Do we have such a high view of the preaching of the Word on the Lord’s day? Do we believe that it is not just one means among many of evangelizing the lost and bringing them to repentance and faith in Christ, but actually the primary means that God uses to do so? Perhaps if we rightly understood the primacy of preaching in evangelism, we might be much more enthusiastic about inviting our friends and neighbors to church.

And what of the Christian life, and sanctification? According to the Catechism (and Scripture, of course – see 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2), the preaching of the Word takes preeminence there as well (or at least it should). Can you live the Christian life and grow in grace the way that you should apart from diligently attending upon the preaching of the Word of God? Simply put – no. Private reading and study of the Scriptures is certainly necessary and helpful, but that is no substitute for the preached Word.

Thy Kingdom Come (The Lord’s Prayer – Part IV)

Praying HandsIn our series about the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), we now come to the second request found in the prayer – “Thy kingdom come” (v.10). Much like the previous request (“Hallowed be Thy name” – v.9), this might not really sound much like a request, but that is precisely what it is. Another way of putting it would be to say, “Let your kingdom come.”

But what exactly does that mean? As brief as this request may be (only three words in English!), it is not necessarily all that easy to understand, is it?

Theologians have often distinguished between the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory. These are not two separate kingdoms, but rather are two aspects of one and the same kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The old Puritan writer, Thomas Watson notes that “they differ not in nature, but in degree only” (The Lord’s Prayer, p.59). In other words, the kingdom of grace is the present-day expression of rule of Christ, while the kingdom of glory is the future, final, and complete expression or manifestation of that very same rule. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition? A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

So when we pray for the coming of the Lord’s kingdom of grace to come (i.e. this side of glory, before the return of Christ), we pray for things such as the destruction of Satan’s kingdom; the salvation of the lost; that sinners would be brought to repentance from sin, and faith in the Savior; that the Lord’s rightful reign would be more and more acknowledged by all; that his good and righteous commandments would be affirmed, upheld,and obeyed in all spheres of human life; and for the good news of the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth.

And when we pray for the coming of the kingdom of glory itself, we are then echoing the words of Revelation 22:20 – “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (KJV). To pray for that is to pray for the Lord himself to return in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and to rule in glory with his redeemed people forever in heaven. In that great day the words of Revelation 21:3-4 will finally become a reality:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (ESV)

When you see it put that way, who wouldn’t want to pray, “Thy kingdom come”! May the Lord be pleased to teach you and I how to pray. And may he advance and hasten his kingdom in answer to the prayers of his people!

John Owen on the Communicatio Idiomatum

Owen (Glory of Christ)The communicatio idiomatum (or the communication of properties) is one of the more important doctrines related to the incarnation of Christ, and yet it is not exactly one of the more well-known or commonly-discussed doctrines in our day.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter entitled “Of Christ the Mediator” puts it this way:

“Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature” (8.7).

That, for example, is why Acts 20:28 can speak of “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV, emphasis mine). Can God bleed? In the person of Christ, yes, but only according to His human nature. But because of the unity of His person, the Son of God can properly be said to have suffered, bled, and died.

The communicatio and some of its implications are helpfully summarized by Louis Berkhof:

“[The communicatio idiomatum] means that the properties of both, the human and divine natures, are now the properties of the person, and are therefore ascribed to the person. The person can be said to be almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on, but can also be called a man of sorrows, of limited knowledge and power, and subject to human want and miseries. We must be careful not to understand the term to mean that anything peculiar to the divine nature was communicated to the human nature, or vice versa; or that there is an interpenetration of the two natures, as a result of which the divine is humanized, and the human is deified (Rome). The deity cannot share in human weakness; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead.” (Systematic Theology, p.324)

In his book, The Glory of Christ, John Owen (1616-1683) explains how all of this relates to the earthly life, ministry, and death of Christ. He writes,

“The Lord Christ suffered and did many things both in his life and in his death as a human being. But all that he did and suffered as a human being was done and suffered by his whole person, even although what he did and suffered as a human being was not actually done and suffered by his divine nature. Because his human nature was part of his whole person, what he did as a human being could be said to have been done by God himself as God, e.g. God purchased his church ‘with his own blood; (Acts 20:28).” (p.43-44)

So we do not speak of the human nature of Christ dying for our sins, but of the death of Christ Himself (i.e. his whole person), according to His human nature. As Owen puts it, all that He did and suffered “was done and suffered by his whole person,” and yet also “not actually done and suffered by his divine nature.” Only this doctrine, properly understood, truly does justice to the incarnation of Christ, as well as to both His divine and human natures.

Hallowed Be Thy Name (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART III)

Praying HandsThis is the third post in a brief series of blog posts about the Lord’s Prayer. As I pointed out previously, the Lord’s prayer is intended to be a pattern or model for believers to follow in prayer – it is given in order to teach us how to pray. In Matthew 6:9 the Lord Jesus introduces this pattern prayer by telling his disciples, “Pray then like this . . . .”

The fact that the Lord’s Prayer is given as a pattern or model prayer means that the Lord’s redeemed people can (and should!) learn any number of things about prayer by a thoughtful examination of its contents. There we learn what kinds of requests ought to be commonly mentioned in prayer. For example, we as believers are to pray that the will of our heavenly Father might be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). There we are also taught to pray for our daily bread (v.11), as well as for forgiveness (v.12). So those things should occupy a prominent place in our prayers.

But we can also learn a lot about prayer from the structure and order of the Lord’s Prayer. You may be familiar with the old adage, “first things first.” It means that some things have a higher priority than others. Well, what comes first in the Lord’s Prayer? It may surprise you. In Matthew 6:9 Jesus begins the prayer this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Now “hallowed be your name” may not sound much like a request, but that is exactly what it is. Another way of putting it would be to say, “Let your name be hallowed” (or revered as holy).

Think about that for a moment. The very first request in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s name would be hallowed. In other words, the glory of God is to be the number one concern of the prayers of God’s people! It is not merely first in sequence, but in priority as well! That is no doubt a revolutionary thought for many in our day. How many of us actually pray that way? Is the glory of God at the top of your prayer list? It should be. Jesus himself says so!

May the Lord be pleased to teach you and I how to pray. And may his holy name be greatly glorified and hallowed in answer to the prayers of his people!