Heidelberg Catechism Q.126

Q.126. What does the fifth request mean?

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors means: Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.  Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.


By praying the fifth petition, Christ is teaching his disciples to admit they are sinful.  This line like all the other lines of the prayer isn’t a line to be prayed once and then left alone.  On the contrary, we want God’s name to be made holy always, we want his kingdom to come every day, we desire our physical needs to be met each moment of the day and so we must also never forget that we are sinful and in need of forgiveness.  Read Psalm 51:1-7.


What sins are included in this request for forgiveness?  Every sin we have – the sins we overtly commit, the sins we ignorantly do and the positive acts we fail to perform. Each of these is an offense against God.  In some we have chosen to disobey, in others we have ignorantly failed to bring about God’s great desires for our world.  But no matter how the sin occurs, actively or passively, the result is the same.  We are under judgment and in need or forgiveness.  Read Deuteronomy 27:26.


Read Matthew 18:21-35.  This is a beautiful picture of what it means to ask for forgiveness.  We are asking God to wipe away our great debt and its consequences, i.e. eternal punishment.  And our Lord willingly grants us this request in Christ.


In this prayer Jesus makes a striking statement, our experience of forgiveness must affect our life in the world.  We must forgive others just as the Father forgives us.  People do not owe us anything; all sin is against God. He is the great one who is sinned against.  We are just little people who live with the consequences of others rebellion against God.  But if God is willing to forgive them, how can your or I refuse to forgive?  Read Matthew 6:14-15.


How can we practically forgive others?  First, we must start by explicitly stating the offence and declaring it as sinful. This removes it from being an issue of opinion or hurt feeling and places it as an offence against God and his law.  Second, we must recall the truth of the Cross – Christ died for the sins of many.  Third, we declare, “As Christ has forgiven, so do I forgive you.”  Finally, we pray for God to make the feelings of forgiveness fill our hearts as the truth of forgiveness fills our minds.  These four steps are not magic. And they may need to be repeated many times, especially the final step of prayer, but eventually God can and will cause the feelings to match the declaration.  Read 1 John 2:1-2.


When one experiences forgiveness the power to transform a life is great.  Forgiveness releases one from the consequence of sin and brings a great joy and relief.  Our desire is to bring wholeness to people by pointing them to the ultimate forgiver, Jesus Christ.  Let us start by sharing our forgiveness with others.  Read Acts 13:13-39.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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