Blank slate: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Henry Gustav Molaison was born in 1926. After a bicycle accident at the age of nine, he suffered tremendously from constant epileptic seizures that slowly grew in severity. When he was twenty-seven years old Henry underwent a radical surgery to remove small parts of the medial temporal lobes of his brain in an attempt to control the seizures. The surgery achieved its goal: the seizures stopped. But it soon became evident that there was a problem. As an unforeseen side-effect of the surgery Henry now suffered from anterograde amnesia, i.e. severe short-term memory loss.

Henry was totally unable to learn anything new. He could recall life before his surgery—he knew his name, retained all the skills and information he had acquired in his education, and he could complete crossword puzzles printed before 1953 with ease. But he could now only engage with reality in short snatches.

Each morning Henry woke up expecting his surgery to happen that day, believing he was twenty-seven years old, though in reality, he lived to be eighty-two.

Researchers flocked to examine “Patient HM,” as he was known to them. They peppered him with questions day and night for years in order to unlock the mysteries of brain function as it related to memory. Patient HM was always perfectly patient. He never grew weary of the interrogations, he never became frustrated with the endless litany of interviews, tests, puzzles, and games. You can’t get bored of an activity if you can’t remember ever doing it before. Nothing in life was tedious, monotonous, or repetitive for him, and he never became cynical or depressed.

Henry maintained the idealism and confidence of a young man in his twenties until his dying day, despite the frequent bewilderment of rediscovering the reality of his old age and condition afresh several times each day. One of the virtuous side effects was that Henry never remained angry about anything for long. He never harbored resentment or bitterness, and he never held a grudge.

Although this condition is unspeakably tragic, I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if we were all afflicted with just this one inability: holding a grudge against those who offend us.

We all need to master the art of “tabula rasa” – a blank slate.

This is exactly what Jesus expects of all his followers…

Let’s examine two habits that would enhance our relationship with God and man.

Luke 11: 1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

1. Habitually Ask For A Clean Slate

The word forgive or ἄφες means to release, to let go, to send off. In other words to wipe the slate clean.

This is one reason God condescended to take on human flesh—to wipe our slates clean. When John was baptizing in the Jordan he noticed Jesus and he pointed saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus came to bear God’s anger for our sins on the cross and to carry away our sins.

We don’t need Jesus as a spiritual life coach or merely as an example of love. We need Jesus to carry away our sins and wipe out the record of wrong we have incurred.

Colossians 2:13-14 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There is no payment, no penance, no currency, no bribe, no appeasement, no set of good works, that you can do to outweigh the devastating guilt of even one of your sins. One sin against an infinitely righteous God is infinitely unacceptable to him.

So that is why Jesus came: To be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

But…

Why does Jesus tell those who are already his disciples, to pray “Forgive us our sins”? Aren’t their sins already forgiven? Why do we who are believers need to pray “forgive me,” again, and again?

There are two categories of forgiveness in the Bible. One is forensic, or a legal declaration of forgiveness. And the other is relational forgiveness.
• Forensic forgiveness happens once, at the moment of conversion, at justification.
• Relational forgiveness happens repeatedly whenever there is a disruption in the relationship.

John 13:5-11 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Here Jesus compares being forensically forgiven with a once-off bath. But you still need to repeatedly and frequently have Jesus wipe your feet clean so that you don’t feel guilty and ashamed, which would disrupt your sense of a relationship with your Savior.

So make it a part of your daily prayer to confess your sin to Jesus and ask his forgiveness. Do not wait until your conscience feels better about your sin. Ask for forgiveness as soon as you have sinned, and he will wash your feet and restore the closeness of your relationship with him.

2. Habitually Grant Others A Blank Slate

The flip-side of the forgiveness coin is Luke 11:4b “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

A person who has asked for forgiveness is a person who grants forgiveness.

Notice the word “for.” There is a causal link between the two actions. I feel confident asking God for forgiveness because I am one who is forgiving others. Your ability to forgive demonstrates that God’s work of forgiveness is having an effect on you.

In fact, when Jesus gave the Lord’s prayer during the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, he added these chilling words…

Matt 6:14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

That sounds like a condition for my salvation! But it’s not a condition of forgiveness, it’s an assumed correlation.

A forgiven person always forgives. A person who won’t forgive is a person who has not yet experienced the saving forgiveness of God.

Put more bluntly: true Christians always forgive.

So, putting this all together:
Ask forgiveness daily, and
Grant forgiveness lavishly, and
Pray with a clear conscience: Forgive us our sins for we forgive those who are indebted to us.

This will help you enjoy the blessing of a clean slate.



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