‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’. And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins,
For we forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’ (Luke 11:2-4)
Jesus invites his disciples to address themselves to God as sons; to pray ‘Father…’ There is security and comfort in the assurance that every word which follows reposes in his goodwill to us as children. God is a father to us at all times. Not even our daily sinning puts this relationship into question, such that we would need to be readopted each morning by new confession and faith. We are welcomed as sons, and are permitted to turn our minds to God’s glory and our daily needs before asking for forgiveness.
That said, while assuring us that we are the household of God, Jesus insists that daily confession is necessary and that pardon is conditional — ‘for we forgive everyone who…’. How can this be? Has not God already remembered our sin no more — Jeremiah 31:34?
But confessing sins to God as sons is a very different thing to pleading in court with God the accuser or begging for mercy before God the vengeful warrior. Our sins are visible to God, but the context has dramatically transformed itself: God has forgotten our sins before the court-room and on the battlefield and he now addresses them in the family home. When we sin, he restores us to himself; when he punishes us, it is not in vengeance but for our good (as when Nathan said to David ‘The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord the child who is born to you shall die’ — 1 Samuel 12:13-14).
Our Father’s forgiveness is liberal and gracious. This should put us, his sons, to shame when we consider our miserly, calculating version. And all the more, because while ‘forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems’ (Carnegie Simpson — quoted by John Stott in The Cross of Christ). Quite rightly, Jesus does not expect us to ask for forgiveness from God while with-holding it from others. So let’s confess our sins with assurance to God, forgiving each other liberally, because God is our Father.
John Aldis is Alastair’s cousin. This is his greatest achievement. He works in Paris for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. After studying theology he is hoping to work in West-Africa as a pastor or Bible teacher.