Where is the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Prayer?

 


A little while ago I had a curious discussion with someone online. Commenting on one of the events for Remembrance, I noted that the prayer said by the Christian leader took the form of a general invocation of a deity, but wasn’t actually a Christian prayer. ‘What do you mean by a Christian prayer?’ came the response. ‘One that is Trinitarian’ I replied. ‘Well, in that case, the Lord’s Prayer isn’t a Christian prayer’.

I was rather struck by that, not just as I hadn’t considered it, but also because it explains something about how the Lord’s Prayer is commonly used. The Ten Commandments have been commonly thought of as a general set of rules for life that anyone can follow. In their location in Exodus 20 they begin with the explicit introduction that ‘I am the Lord you God who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery’—yet the Commandments are separated off as if this story and context did not matter, and detached from the story of God’s dealings with his people Israel. In a similar way, the Lord’s Prayer is often treated as a general kind of prayer that anyone can say. It is that assumption which made the controversy, several years ago, about showing the prayer recited in cinemas rather odd. Even Richard Dawkins thought there could be little objection! The two belong together, not least because it was in the past traditional in many churches to have the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer displayed on either side of the Communion table at the east end of the church building.

But this raises the question even more sharply:in what sense is the Lord’s Prayer Christian? Is it a prayer that assumes or requires that the person saying it is a Christian? Is it Trinitarian—that is, does it bear the hallmarks of that thing which distinguishes Christian belief from all others? Kevin Giles, commenting on the historically orthodox understanding of the Trinity, comments on the ordering within the Trinity in the following terms:

Although the three divine persons are the one God, working inseparably with one will, their life is ordered. Both in eternity and in the world of space and time, how they relate to each other and how they operate follow a consistent pattern that is unchanging and irreversible. This order in divine life is seen in many ways. For example, there is a processional order: the Father begets the Son and breathes out the Spirit in eternity and sends them both into the world in time. ere is a numerical order: the Father may be thought of as the first person of the Trinity, the Son the second, and the Spirit the third. And there is order in how God comes to us and we to him: the Father comes to us through the Son in the Spirit, and we come to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. This order in divine life and operations, it needs to be stressed, does not envisage any sub-ordering in divine life. Ranking or hierarchically ordering the three divine persons in being or power introduces the Arian error.

I think this helpfully identifies the nature of Christian prayer, which is to the Father, through the Son, and in or by the Spirit. Mike Higton, in his explanation of the Trinity in words of one syllable, puts it slightly differently:

So there is God, the one to whom we pray, the one to whom we look, to whom we call out, the one who made the world and who loves all that has been made. And then there is God by our side, God once more the one with whom we pray; God in the life of this man who shares our life, this man who lives the life of God by our side, and who pours out his life in love for us. And then there is God in our hearts, God in our guts, God one more time, the stream in which we dip our toes, the stream in which we long to swim, the stream which filled the Son and can fill us too, and bear us in love back to our source.

Mike is here constrained in his language by the commitment to use only words of one syllable. And he is not suggesting any kind of modalism here; rather, these are the three realities of who God is for the Christian believer. This is what it means for prayer to be Trinitarian, and it is why some kind of Trinitarian formula is often included in Christian prayers—and at the very least a mention that we pray in the name of Jesus, and to the Father.


So in what sense is the Lord’s Prayer Trinitarian? Well, it is clearly addressed to God as Father, and the prayer is presented in the gospels as being taught by Jesus. But the question remains: where is the Spirit?

The first thing to note is the place of the prayer in Luke’s gospel. Matthew presents the prayer (Matt 6.9–13) in the context of Jesus’ teaching in the so-called Sermon on the Mount, and particularly in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the devotional practices of giving, prayer and fasting. It is clear (for the whole ‘Sermon’) that Matthew is organising his account of Jesus’ teaching according to thematic links, just as he groups together his parables about the kingdom in Matthew 13 and his teaching about eschatology in Matthew 24–25.

But the context of Luke’s slightly shorter version (Luke 11.2–3) is quite different. First, it actually springs from the example of Jesus’ own prayer, which his disciples observe, and then ask him to teach them to pray in the way he does (which raises the interesting question about the petitions for forgiveness of sins and resistance to temptation). But, secondly, Jesus then immediately follows the prayer by teaching about asking for the gift of the Spirit. There appears to be the implicit assumption that this is not a prayer you can prayer without the Spirit’s help.

What of the specific wording of the prayer? Can we find the Spirit there?

Our Father in heaven. Although addressing God as father was not unknown in first century Judaism, all the evidence suggests that it was Jesus’ distinctive and striking form of address to God, so that we have in Mark’s gospel the Aramaic term ‘Abba’ that Jesus actually used in Gethsemane (Mark 14.36). Moreover, Paul is clear that a key work of the Spirit is to grant us the same relationship with God after the pattern of Jesus:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4.6)

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8.15)

Addressing God as father is something the Spirit works in us and, just as Paul says quite clearly ‘No-one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12.3), we might add by inference ‘No-one can call God “Father” except by the same Spirit’.

May your name be-known-as-holy. The Spirit is described as ‘Holy’ throughout the gospels, Paul, Hebrews and 1 Peter. A large part of the work of the Spirit in us is sanctification—make us more and more holy as God is holy—so that Paul addresses those to whom he writes as ‘saints’, holy ones. So we find the language of the people of God being ‘sanctified’ all through the letters (for example, 1 Cor 1.2, 6.11, 1 Thess 5.23, Heb 10.10) but there is also one occurrence which echoes the language here of God being sanctified: ‘In your hearts sanctify Jesus as Lord’ (1 Peter 3.15).

May your kingdom come. In the ministry of Jesus and in the growth of the church, under the leadership of the apostles in Acts, the coming of the kingdom and the ministry of the Spirit are intertwined.

If it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt 2.28)

It is rather poignant that, when the disciples in Act 1 ask about the kingdom of God in terms of Israel nationalism, Jesus’ response is offered in terms of their testimony in the power of the Spirit:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1.8)

The reason for this is that, both in Jewish expectation and in the narrative of the New Testament, the kingdom of God is brought to us by the one who has been anointed (the christos) by his Spirit. There is such a close relationship between these two that, though the kingdom is most often described as the ‘kingdom of God’ or (mostly in Matthew) the ‘kingdom of heaven’, it is occasionally described as ‘the kingdom of Christ’ (2 Peter 1.11, and implied in 2 Tim 4.1, ‘his kingdom’) or the kingdom of both Christ and God (Eph 5.5, Rev 11.15). In other places, the kingdom of God is equated with the ‘teaching about Jesus Christos‘ (Acts 28.31) or the ‘authority of the Christos‘ (Rev 12.10).

May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Although ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ refer in spatial terms to the realm of God’s presence, and the creation which has become estranged from him, in the New Testament they also have a temporal reference, in that the ‘age to come’ will involve heaven coming down to earth, depicted in Revelation 21 as the New Jerusalem coming to earth from God. Paul talks of the Spirit as the ‘deposit’, the first downpayment of that which is to come (2 Cor 1.22), so we have a foretaste now of the heavenly realm as we ‘walk in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5.25). In other words, where the Spirit is Lord (2 Cor 3.17) there is a little oasis of ‘heaven’ on earth.

It is worth noting here that the structure of the prayer is quite different from how it is prayer in most English versions. In English, we tend to treat the opening solution and the first intention together as a form of address:

Our-Father-in-heaven-hallowed-be-your-name

after which we add the other two intentions. But the structure in Matthew 6.9–10 says something quite different:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

Following the appellation ‘Our Father in heaven’ we then have three intentions, each of four words, in exact parallel with each other in their verbal structure. In other words, we cannot separate the hallowing of God’s name from the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will. The second and third can never refer to mere social change, separate from the life of discipleship, but must involve the honouring of God as holy.

Give us today our daily bread. The term here translated ‘daily’ (ἐπιούσιος) is unusual, occurring only here in the New Testament (in Matt 6.11 and Luke 11.3). It has the sense of ‘bread of the day to come’, so is rendered by some as ‘bread of the morrow’—that is, bread of the heavenly age, gifted to us in the present that we might do the works of the kingdom. This, again, ties in with the gift of the Spirit, and particularly in Luke, Jesus’ teaching and ministry is exercised ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4.14), even after his resurrection (Acts 1.2).

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. In Gal 5, Paul contrasts the impulses of the sinful human nature (‘flesh’) with the fruit of Spirit. In Acts 2.38, Peter links repentance, the forgiveness of sins and receiving the gift of the Spirit, and these are assumed links not only in John’s baptism of Jesus and the coming down of the Spirit (though in Jesus’ case this is not a ‘baptism for forgiveness of sins’) but also in the incident in Acts 8:14-17 when the Samaritans have been baptised but (oddly) not yet received the Spirit. In relation to forgiving others, Paul’s central meditation on love as the heart of true S/spirituality in 1 Cor 13 includes the qualities of ‘patience’ and ‘not keeping a record of wrongs’ (1 Cor 13.5).

When we receive new life in the Spirit, we are stepping into a life of forgiveness—that which we have received from God, and which we live our in our relationships with others.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In all three synoptic accounts, the Spirit is integral to Jesus’ temptations in the desert and his resisting them. In Mark 1.12, the Spirit ‘throws’ or drives Jesus into the desert; in Luke’s account, Jesus enters the desert ‘full of the Spirit’ but returns from the experience ‘full of the power of the Holy Spirit‘ (Luke 4.1, 14).


The net result of all this is that, though the Spirit might not be named explicitly within the Prayer, the work of the Spirit is the essential corollary to every aspect of praying the Prayer. Perhaps that explains why so many find it an easy prayer to say, without fully realising the implications. It is only as we encounter God as Spirit that we really understand all that this prayer of Jesus, prayed to the Father, actually involves.

Do you see any other connections? Do please comment!

(A shorter version was previously published in 2019.)


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59 thoughts on “Where is the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Prayer?”

  1. “Is it Trinitarian—that is, does it bear the hallmarks of that thing which distinguishes Christian belief from all others?”
    The question begs the question. Show me a single place in the Bible where anyone prays to the Holy Spirit or worships the Holy Spirit.

    “We come to the Father through the Son in the Spirit.”
    We come to the Father through Christ and being in Christ – if we are talking about realities and not just playing around with prepositions. The nameless Spirit is not a separate person but the spirit of the Father and the Son. That is what Scripture teaches, and that is how one knows the Father and the Son. If the Holy Spirit were a separate person, then his dwelling in me would give me knowledge only of him.

    The obvious answer to the loaded question “In what sense is the Lord’s prayer Trinitarian” is “It’s not Trinitarian”. The prayer is addressed to “Our father” and no one else.

    Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4.6) Quite – the spirit of his Son, not a third person.

    If it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt 12.28) Indeed – the spirit of God, not the Son (since Jesus is drawing attention to his having come from God, which as always in the gospels refers to the Father).

    Reply
  2. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.
    Both NIV an ESV translate this slightly differently: ” Forgive us our sins , *for we also forgive everyone* who sins against us”[NIV]. This translation possibly has the demerit of disturbing the rythmic flow of the traditional interpretation. But it ,nevertheless, greatly enhances the force of what forgiving others actually means; not, as has often been the case, viewing it almost as a pious option . Rather it is to be seen as a statement of unquestionable fact.

    Reply
    • Interesting point. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” is correct for Matt 6:12 – except that ‘sins’ should be ‘debts’. Luke has “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone indebted to us.”

      Reply
    • “Jewish teaching regarded sins as *debts* before God. The same Aramaic word could be used for both. Biblical law required the periodic forgiveness of monetary debtors (in the seventh and fiftieth years) so the illustration of forgiving debts is a graphic one (especially since Jewish lawyers had found away to circumvent the release of debts so that creditors would continue to lend). ” Comment: this illustration would also reinforce, the emphasized daily need for forgiveness.
      “…The principle of forgiveness that Jesus states here seems to be that only people of grace know how to accept grace.
      “…Matthew 6:13 Parallels with ancient Jewish prayers, and possibly the Aramaic wording behind this verse suggest that the first line means: *Let us not sin when we are tested* – rather than *Let us not be tested*. Some scholars have suggested an allusion to the final time of suffering here, which was expected to precede the coming of the coming Kingdom.”
      From Keener: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

      Reply
        • Jesus not only “seemed” to do that. He actually pronounced forgiveness from the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Even if the others have no desire to receive your forgiveness, then do as Jesus did :place them into the hands of the Father. At the very least you are not bound by their animosity towards you!

          Reply
          • He didnt pronounce forgiveness from the cross. He asked his Father to forgive them, based on their ignorance of what they were doing, crucifying the Son of God. You seemed to have only read the first 3 words and ignored the rest.

      • You have a forgiving spirit towards them, Yet true forgiveness leading to reconciliation requires repentance by the offender,

        `I find some difficulty in reconciling forgiveness with imprecatory elements found not only in the OT but also the NT. Any help here would be welcome.

        Reply
      • Yes, Peter.
        They may deny or not recognise they have sinned against you. And that forgiveness may need to be repeated over a period time as forgiveness is not deserved nor merited. Nor is it necessary to forgive the miscreant, face to face, but may be in private in prayer.
        Otherwise, there is little recognition and acceptance of how much it cost Christ to achieve ones own undeserved forgiveness for the magnitude of our own sin against God.
        And unforgiveness can result in a hardness of heart, imprisonment in the torture of unforgiveness. Matthew 18: 33 -35
        So our forgiveness of others releases, frees us.

        Reply
    • Colin – forgive me, but this sounds incredibly pious and sanctimonious. I’d suggest that if you really have been able to forgive everybody who has sinned against you then you have lived an extremely sheltered life.

      Also – what about David (Psalm 139:1,2)? Doesn’t look like much forgiveness there – unless there is some wacky counterintuitive definition of forgiveness that I’m not aware of.

      Yet one very important feature of the Lord’s prayer is that it seems to be very much outward looking and taking the view that the problem of self has been dealt with. We start by praying that his name is hallowed, for his kingdom, that his will be done – and there is every indication that we are concentrating on Him and on the wider mission. Only then do we go onto petitions for self; the minimal and necessary requirements of daily bread, forgiveness of sins and keeping us from future sin.

      If we are not already assured that we are in Him, the prayer of Luke 18:13 is the only possible prayer. So it seems to me that our salvation is not contingent on our abilities to forgive those who have sinned against us.

      Whether the Lord’s Prayer is Trinitarian or not is a good question, but one has to be an intellectual to understand the question and see that the prayer is indeed Trinitarian – and nobody has ever argued that being a theological genius is a necessary requirement for salvation.

      Reply
      • Dear Jock Your first two sentences bear no relation to what I have said. Piety and sanctimoniousness were the things I was trying to dispel. Please read what I actually stated! The Heart of forgiveness lies in the cross of Christ; not in my pious attempts at forgiveness.Yes, we are called to forgive. However I have nowhere claimed a special dispensation in that department as you seem to suggest.
        I said that Jesus pronounced forgiveness from the cross. But even here, *He* was not actually forgiving his persecutors. He was in utter agony , physically and spiritually! No! As with everything else at this point he handed the issue of forgiveness into the hands of his heavenly Father. And should we not be doing the same; thereby avoiding the pitfall of self -righteousness.

        Reply
        • Colin – umm sorry – but I’m genuinely not getting something here. I’m not sure what you mean when you say that *we also forgive everyone who sins against us* is a statement of unquestionable fact.

          Do you take this as something eschatological, which we will ultimately see as a reality even if we do not see it now – and even if we fail to feel as if we have forgiven others?

          If so, it would be in line with the rest of the sermon of the mount, which is eschatological, but I don’t see it – it sounds a bit of a cop-out.

          I suppose it comes down to what `forgiveness’ actually means.

          Reply
        • Hello Colin,
          If may press your point of forgiveness further. Jesus, on the cross, accomplished forgiveness for us, as he cried out, It is finished. As you are aware that has connotations of a debt, *paid in full*.
          It is a debt of sin, to God, unpayable; a mortgage as it were, unredeemable by us.
          It is here that the allusions to sin= debt (to God) and debt =sin conflate and conclude.

          Reply
  3. Thank you for this… and indeed for all your blog posts. I’m not Anglican, and attend an independent Evangelical church. I agree with what you say and in my prayers generally address the Father, but do you think it is invalid, on occasion, to pray specifically to the Lord Jesus? E.g. At our communion service I sometimes give thanks specifically to Him.

    Reply
    • 1 Ti 1:12 “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service”

      “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:7-9: 7)

      The very last verse of the Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus: Rev 22:20 “Even so, come Lord Jesus” is an example of prayer to Jesus. Etc.

      Reply
    • David,
      One of the terms often used in Anglican worship specifically in relation to the Lord’s Supper is *eucharist* – from the Greek meaning *giving thanks*.And, given what Our Lord Jesus Christ has procured for us in His paschal self -sacrifice ,then thanksgiving ought to come *automatically” from the very depths of our souls! It is not a question of *validity/ invalidity*. It is a question of *Reality*!

      Every blessing to you.

      Reply
  4. “we cannot separate the hallowing of God’s name from the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will. The second and third can never refer to mere social change, separate from the life of discipleship, but must involve the honouring of God as holy.”

    Conversely, the “honouring of God as holy” cannot be separated from the social change involved in the coming of the kingdom, where God’s will is done on earth as it is in the heavens. The injunctions of the prophets to social justice are clear, and God’s name is *dis-honoured* when we *say* we are following and trusting him, but in fact do little or nothing about the poor, the homeless, the weak, the dispossessed, the sick, etc. we only honour God’s name, we only honour God, when we actually do what he wants and help to bring about his kingdom. Honouring God’s name is not just about not swearing or saying nice things. Hypocrites, as Jesus is reported to have said.

    Reply
  5. Maybe there is a need to do a study on Holiness of God…and of Christ’s disciples. Certainly,
    our works, (which don’t endow us with holiness) don’t seem to be part of the Prayer: rather it’s wholesale dependence on our Our Father God, our Saviour God, for all of life.
    Isaiah is prominent in prophetical pronouncing and foretelling of the Holy One of Israel.
    Peter’s letter is also relevant to the question of holy discipleship.

    Reply
  6. I still find it amazing I can call the Creator of the universe, daddy. Because of the Son. Im always reminded of that scene in The Railway Children on the station platform, when the clouds of steam begins to clear – “Daddy, oh my daddy!”

    Always brings a tear. Perhaps that will be our reaction when we finally see Him…

    Peter

    Reply
  7. For a multi-level, Trinitaraian aspect and understanding of the Prayer, but centred on Jesus, could it be suggested to take a deep dive into the longest? chapter in the NT, John 6.
    Divided into two sections,
    1. Demonstration John 6: 1-24
    2 Exposition John 6: 25- 70
    Jesus is: I am, the bread of life, sent by the living Father… the work of God, believing in the one he sent, on whom the Father has set his seal…

    v40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”
    v 47,48 “Truly, truly I say to you has eternal life. I am the bread of life…..
    v 51 I am the living bread…
    And the bread that I *will* give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

    …Grumbling and offence caused brought this response from Jesus:

    V 62 “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before.”

    v 63 ” It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
    Some do not believe and
    many disciples turned back, no longer followed.
    So asking the Twelve, do you want to go away as well?
    v 68 -69 “Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,

    and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
    ESV

    Reply
  8. Jock,
    You seem to be struggling with forgiveness.
    I agree with Colin – see my comment to Peter above at 5:31 pm.
    But, I’d add that any personal forgiveness does not exempt the one forgiven from the law of the land eg prosecution for a crime. It may, I’d suggest, however, be instrumental in a personal decision not to persue a claim in civil law, (as per scripture) for example, for negligence..

    Reply
  9. Q1 cont’d. Is it not telling that in the practical examples that Jesus gives regarding forgiveness of others, He says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you,….”

    In Luke, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

    This does not seem to reflect what others have said which amounts to ‘you just forgive people’. I find this mindset diminishes the seriousness of the sin and the pain it causes, and also means the ‘sinner’ is not required to take any responsibility for their bad actions.

    I would also add that if reconciliation is the ultimate aim of forgiveness, no such genuine reconciliation occurs if ‘you just forgive’.

    I am not even convinced that human beings have been designed to be capable of forgiving others where there is no repentance or recognition of fault.

    ‘Sorry’ truly is the hardest word but without it real forgiveness and reconciliation does not occur.

    Just my thoughts.

    Peter

    Reply
    • Peter – OK – so we need a good working definition of what biblical forgiveness actually is, what we are called upon to do – and how we know that we have actually done it (or failed to do it).

      But this does somewhat start concentrating on `self’, when the Lord’s prayer is primarily about Him and the Mission. The prayer starts with the important petitions – hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

      I’m curiously reminded of the title of Spike Milligan’s autobiography `Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall’ where, although the title might suggest that it is about AH, it all turns out to be about Spike Milligan.

      It wouldn’t be sensible to pray like this if there was the huge elephant in the room of lack-of-forgiveness on our part, which meant that we weren’t assuredly part of the heavenly kingdom in the first place.

      Reply
  10. Hello Peter,
    I’m not convinced from scripture that reconciliation between people is the object of forgiveness. There is always a cost to forgiveness, paid by the one who forgives.
    Sure, in our fallen state forgiveness between persons is against our nature, but as forgiven sinners, could it be suggested that if we do not forgive we do not have sufficient cognisance of the serious weight of our own sin, that cost the cross of Christ for our forgiveness. There was no repentance or recognition of fault by those who crucified Jesus, who prayed in dereliction on the cross; Father forgive, for they know not what they do.

    Sorry may not be a gauge of true repentence, in any event, and in any event, the sin against you is indeed ultimately and more seriously against God.
    Sure, of and in ourselves we rail against personal forgiveness of others as did Corrie Ten Boon, but by the supernatural grace, Spirit of God, she was able to do so, forgiving her concentration camp guard, post WW2.

    Reply
  11. Peter you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll leve off with this, closer to home and within personal knowledge and experience.
    As adult converts on an Alpha course run by our local CoE we were confirmed into the church on Trinity day.
    As a child she had been sexually abused by a now dead uncle. As a young adult (some 20 or so years earlier) she had been raped by a stranger.
    Around time period of our confirmation there was much Christian teaching on forgiveness especially in connection with healing. (Even secular sources recognise the health benefits of forgiveness – a quick search will reveal).
    There were road blocks along the way, but with prayer and Christian counseling, she was able to come into a place forgiveness of those who had greivously wounded her and who couldn’t apologise/ repent, yet up till then continued to hold her life captive.
    The change in her life is there to be seen by those who know her.

    Reply
    • Geoff – the situation you described is all very nice, but I don’t for one minute believe that `coming to a place of forgiveness’ of the wicked uncle is a necessary condition for the person you are writing about to see the kingdom of heaven – and therefore isn’t what Matthew is referring to in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:15, where a failure to forgive means that entry to the heavenly kingdom is denied. Try a thought experiment – if she had been unable to `come to a place of forgiveness’ would she then be denied entry to the heavenly kingdom?

      I’m simply trying to figure out what Matthew means by forgiveness in the context of 6:15.

      Reply
      • Morning Jock,
        She was and is saved into the Kingdom of God and has and had the Blessed Assurance.
        It certainly was n’t very nice!
        The examples
        were in response to Peter’s question.
        She was released from the bondage of unforgivness into freedom and peace and healing of her mind, will and emotions through the the dual forgiveness of God in and through Christ and her forgiveness of those who greivously sinned against her.
        You have said that you don’t understand Colin above but we are all correct!
        Are you struggling to forgive?
        A church organist considered that he didn’t need to forgive his backstabbing critics in the church because he was better than they were, thus waiving away forgiveness with the hard, fence- building sin of pride.
        When it comes to Lords supper, we are to mend fences before partaking.
        A friend stopped taking communion, because he couldn’t do so with a fellow church member and he became hard and embittered through a combinatation of pride and unforgivess.

        Reply
        • Geoff – I think the we (Christians) all have immense feelings of guilt – and among these are feelings that we have failed to forgive as we are supposed to forgive, which is a sin.

          But when Paul writes about guilt (in Romans), he isn’t talking about feelings of guilt; he is talking about a judicial state where we have been pronounced guilty and when he talks about justification he is talking about a judicial pronouncement by God that we are not guilty.

          And it is precisely when we *have* been justified that we *feel* most guilty about our sinfulness.

          Everything that you write about your fellow Christian being led to a point where she can come to a place of forgiveness is, of course, psychologically very useful, because inability to reach this place results in psychological difficulties. This is very important, but I think that these *feelings* of forgiveness, *feelings* that we might have come to a place of forgiveness, are irrelevant to what Matthew is talking about in the Lord’s prayer.

          After all, as I pointed out, I don’t think it would be appropriate to start a prayer by praying for the hallowing of God’s name, his kingdom and for his will to be done on earth as in heaven, if our starting point wasn’t that we have already been justified and already pressed into His service for the wider mission.

          This is what gives us the confidence to pray to God in the way that Matthew outlines.

          But yes – there are situations where I find forgiveness very difficult (and I believe that this is true of all Christians).

          Reply
          • Jock,
            Forgiveness of others is not matter of feelings as you seem to think it is, but an act of will, obedience; a matter of sanctification, changed from the inside out, of a renewing of the mind with the washing of the word, a coming to Jesus, Matthew 11, which is not a one-off thing, for Christians, for all bruised reeds ; not justification.
            We disagree on this significantly, though, perhaps, not on the prayer Jesus taught so I’ll draw a line under it, thanks.

          • Geoff – I don’t think it is so much that we disagree, but rather I do not understand what you or Colin are saying (and if I did I might agree).

            But Matthew 6:15 indicates that this *is* a justification issue; if you do not forgive, when forgive is taken in the way it is meant in the Lord’s prayer, then the Father will not forgive your sins – hence you do not see life.

            Two things:

            1) I do not for one minute believe that the Lord will deny entry to the heavenly kingdom for the woman you wrote about earlier if she finds herself unable to forgive her abusers that you pointed to.

            2) I think we can take it that David was `in the number’ of the Saviour’s family, yet he wrote Psalm 139:21-22 `Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.’

            We have to be careful how we define `forgiveness’ so that we don’t accuse David of falling short of it, or at least not in a way that the Lord denies him entry to the heavenly kingdom.

            With Christian forgiveness (as with every other part of Christian life) I think it is expressed well by Paul in Romans 7:21-25

            `For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’

            This certainly describes Christian forgiveness, where the inner being delights in God’s law and wants to forgive, but the sin that dwells in the members sometimes makes this impossible; you may think you have forgiven and then discover that – in fact – you haven’t.

          • …. failure on the forgiveness front is just like any other sin – it plays no part in the `inner being’, but is still present in the `old man’ – and when one thinks that one has mastered it, it rears its ugly head again.

  12. To PCI “Pronouncement” can also be a simile for announcement. I did actually quote what Jesus did say in my first statement on this topic. I also clarified it in my *second statement* which was compiled a few hours *before* your response to my first!

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  13. I’m disappointed that nobody has tried to give a good working definition of `forgive’ here.

    I am called upon to `forgive’ those who have sinned against me. What does this mean? What am I supposed to do? How do I know if I have fulfilled it and actually `forgiven’? How do I know if I have not forgiven in the sense meant in the prayer.

    This is actually quite crucial, because Matthew 6:15 (just after the prayer) tells us that the consequences of a failure to forgive as God wants us to are that we do not see life. So this is an important question.

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    • Jock,
      I don’t know if this is helpful to you, but in practical terms, I understand ‘forgive’ to mean that you don’t hold something against someone for what they have done to you or bear a grudge against them for what they did do you.

      This does not mean glossing over or failing to acknowledge the consequences of what they have done, but it is an attitude that you do not condemn the person for their actions. It is both an attitude of heart and will that is notoriously difficult to maintain in our own strength, and we need need God’s help daily to do that.

      If you forgive somone but still bear a grudge against them, it is likely you still need God’s help to forgive. If I find I am bearing grudges, then it is worth reminding myself that God doesn’t bear a grudge towards me.

      Reply
      • Chris – yes – I think this is helpful. As Christians, we do make a decision to forgive, decide not to bear grudges or to hold past (and recurrent) sins against them. I think we all find that, nevertheless, our anger flares up – which means that whatever decision we may have made about this, it hasn’t exactly engulfed the heart and mind. At the same time, we understand that we are sinners – and that nevertheless God has forgiven us, but even with this understanding, we still bear grudges and we do need God’s help on a daily basis.

        Thanks – it is helpful, at least for me, to have what you wrote spelled out and repeated in the way you did.

        At the same time, what alarms me is the way that, in a matter-of-fact way, we say `as we have forgiven those who sinned against us’ – when it is difficult to see that it is really true, with the injunction of Matthew 6:15, which indicates that if we haven’t then we won’t see life. That still (as you may have surmised) alarms me.

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  14. Jock,
    I think the reason that it indicates that we won’t see life if we refuse to forgive -note that in the Lord’s prayer it is implied that we have a *choice* to forgive or not – is that it makes us unfit for God’s kingdom. If we refuse to forgive, then not only does it harm and embittter us emotionally, but you can also think of it as a form of inverted pride.

    What we are effectively saying if we refuse to forgive, is that what this person did is so bad that I cannot ever forgive them and then contrast it with God, who is always ready to forgive us for all our manifold sins if we truly repent.
    Unconsciously, I guess that if we are honest, we like to think that although we are sinners, there is an accompanying niggling thought that says something like ” maybe I’m not quite as bad a sinner as some people I know- particularly those who have done me harm and they deserve it!”

    This is pride and God does not tolerate it at all, which is why Jesus had strong words to say about unforgiveness and we know that God resists the proud.

    CS Lewis stated once that forgiveness is a wonderful idea until we ourselves have something to forgive. I confess there are some people I know I would dearly love to kick the living **** out of for what they have done to me in the past but God says I must forgive them. I cannot deny that I have these attitudes towards them, but I can take it to the cross and ask God to help me forgive and many times I have to do this until what becomes an act of the will, becomes one of the heart.

    I think that CS Lewis understood the nature of forgiveness very well, and his allegorical book ‘The Great Divorce’ shows how this plays out in our lives with the ‘grey people’ enslaved to their unforgiveness, becoming secure in it and refusing to become ‘solid’, so excluding themselves from the Kingdom. I would read it if you have not already done so.

    Reply
    • Chris – thanks for this – and thanks for the book recommend! I enjoy CS Lewis, but I hadn’t come across that one before.

      I think I more or less agree with everything you say – although in the Lord’s prayer we state as fact that we forgive – we aren’t asking God to help us out with forgiveness there – and he is (at the end of the prayer) very stark about the consequences of lack-of-forgiveness.

      I agree with you about the reasons – except that I consider repentance ultimately a gift from God (a gift which we can refuse) – and I suppose that forgiving others is similar. And you’re right that although we know theoretically that our sins are so bad that Jesus had to undergo death to save us from them, we’re sometimes slow in accepting the implications of this.

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  15. Jock,
    I said I’d leave off this and I thank Chris Bishop for his contribution.
    Without seeking to be patronising, could it be suggested that the orginal article is read again. The prayer is a one Christians pray, (though others may also do so without understanding or knowing God as Father/Abba.
    Forgiveness of others is what a Christian does as a result of being forgiven by God in Christ. It is not a precondition for salvation.
    As to how we forgive, maybe pronouncing forgiveness ( in prayer to God) is a start, but it is not a one- off event as Chris explains as does scripture. Perhaps over time repeated pronouncements may be needed when thoughts pop ito mind, unbidden.
    An arcade game from past times comes to mind as an illustration – whack- a mole- to deal with those thoughts of unforgiveness.

    This article, that I came across today, which, from the title, doesn’t seem relevant, but is, if read in full, as it references Colossians 3.
    Colossians 3:12-16 is on point, particularly pertinent.
    https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-be-a-small-group-member/

    As you have cited a psalm in an earlier comment, could it be suggested that the matter of many imprecatory psalms, which are a problem for many Christians today, is slightly a separate topic. This is a generality, I know; they are unvarnished prayers to God, crying out for justice, and leaving it to him. And when they come from King David , (who frequently prays, at times in his life, when he sees God being dishonored) they are signposts to David’s greater Son, King of Kings, our Lord Jesus, to his Kingdom rule and justice and prayers and pronouncements, on the cross. His Kingdom now, but not yet in all its fullness.

    As an aside, Ian Paul’s articles on the Beatitudes have unsettled some, and give some background to the context of the pray Jesus taught in Matthew.
    Are the Beatitudes a how- to (become a Christian list , or a call to social action) , or what a Christian, disciple of Jesus is?
    I don’t consistently have the stamina of mind to follow all the threads, and at present, while I’ve not been an early adopter of Covid, but a laggard, I’ve succumbed to it, bringing with it, a more than usual, cotton wool brain.
    Yours in Christ,
    Geoff

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    • Hello Geoff,

      Well, I sincerely hope and pray that you get over the Covid! I don’t think that we got it. It’s a bad thing – so I really wish you the very best.

      I had read Ian Paul’s article in full – and carefully – and I posted comments because I didn’t feel it answered the question I wanted answered – and I don’t have a good answer of my own.

      What Chris Bishop wrote was very good – he expressed it very well.

      I still feel there’s something here that doesn’t quite add up – we say `as we forgive’ as if it is a matter of fact – when it simply isn’t. The prayer does not say `we ask you to fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we can forgive’. And the injunction of Matthew 6:15 makes the consequences of failure in this department very clear.

      But 1 John is full of what somebody once called the `victimised reader’ and we may be getting the same here (not Ian Paul I may hasten to add – I’m referring to Matthew or Jesus -whoever is responsible for the Lord’s prayer as it appears in the Holy writ).

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      • Hello Jock,
        Matthew 6:15 is not a stand alone verse, but to be set in context, as you know. What is clear, is that is that while the relationship may be impeded, it is not broken off. God remains our Father. The prayer, I’d suggest, is primarily about relationships, with our Father and with others.
        This is from the ESV Study Bible Matthew 6:14-15
        “Jesus reemphasises the importance of forgiving others, indicating that there is a direct relationship between having been forgiven by God and the forgiveness disciple must extend to others. As in v. 12 *forgive your trespasses* here refers to restoration of personal relationship with God, not initial justification.”
        For a heavily implied example of see the the parable of the two lost sons, otherwise known as the Prodigal son, for the long term effect of the unforgiving elder son. (A book which does not the follow a possible regular preaching of the parable is “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller. If you are not familiar with it, it might carry a chastening and edifying corrective, summary.
        Following a similar trajectory of the effect of human relations is the relationship of husband and wife in 1 Peter : 3:7 …”since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
        Last, forgiveness of others, seeing it as a matter of justification, risks falling into a category of salvation by works, works of (perfect?) forgiveness. Or that we get into the Kingdom of our Father by our forgiveness and stay in by works of forgiveness.
        DA Carson writes more in his book on the Sermon on the Mount but here emphasises the Fatherhood and looks further to Matt 6:37 and I’ll pick out a point which, it is suggested is key; an unforgiving spirit bears strong witness to a fact rhere has not been repentance.

        It could be added that it is opposite to the fruit of the Spirit and growth in holy living.
        Carson again: “More and more they recognise the deceptive subtleties of their own hearts and the malicious cunning of the evil one and fervently request of their heavenly Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (a *litotes* – a figure of speech which expresses something by negating the contrary). “Into temptation is negated: lead us *not* into temptation, but away from it, into righteousness, into situations where, far from being tempted and therefore kept righteous. As the second clause of this petition expresses it, we will then be delivered from the evil one.”

        Not sure, I can take this any further, with the comments I’ve made in total as a whole.

        Reply
        • Hello Geoff,

          Well, yes – the way you take it has strong similarities to my own – Matthew 6:15 cannot mean that the believer with an inability to forgive is damned, because that would contradict an awful lot of Scripture (and the clear and plain meaning of Romans) – although we do seriously have to question whether a person is, in fact, a believer if the fruit of the Spirit is so lacking that he cannot forgive.

          Nevertheless, I do feel that the ESV study bible which you quote does lessen the force of Matthew 6:15, where the wording that Matthew gives really does present it as a justification issue – it says that if I do not forgive, then God does not forgive me. And we know that if God does not forgive me, then I’m `out’, cast into outer darkness; if God does not forgive me, then I am not in the number – because being in the number means precisely that God has forgiven me.

          What the quote from Carson you give doesn’t point out is the most subtle way the devil can use this is to come round the back door, creating a situation where forgiveness is very hard – and then coming round the front door and saying, `oh look; you see that you cannot forgive; well, I have news for you: Matthew 6:15 says that you’re not in the number.’

          So – on the whole I do strongly agree with you about how it *should* be taken, but I’d like to point out that the author (Jesus) really has written it in a way that does (or at least should) scare the willies out of the believer.

          Reply
          • Thanks for the reminder Jock, returning me to a place I far too frequently, thoughlessly, carelessly slip away from.

            A reminder of the Good News that, you, I, Ian, anyone, will never, ever, in our finitude, *measure up*.
            Yet, we have One, who infinitely, beyond measure, bestrides eternity, measures-up in our stead.
            He is is worthy. Only One is Good, only One is good enough.

      • Thanks, Peter. Without a flow test, I would have thought it to be like any other seasonal or unseasonal debilitating cold. ( Presumably the O variant). Or in other words, man flu, (without the fever of real flu) generously bestowed by my wife.
        In turn, we suspect, she contracted it through working with superspreading children at church after school club. We are both of an age, even while we have friends who are a decade older, who pray for us, to be seen as vulnerable even without, co-morbidities: vulnerable to death. Hope.

        Reply

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