What is meant by “forgiveness” in Matthew 6:12? Part 4

We have been exploring the answer to the question: Does Matthew 6:12 teach that God’s forgiveness is dependent upon the forgiveness, which we grant to others? The answer is emphatically, No! What then are we to make of this condition laid down by our Lord in Matthew 6:12? How are we to understand it?

Calvin, we noted, points out two instructive, key insights.

First, he notes that this condition is partly intended to comfort the weakness of our faith (see Parts 23 for this disussion).

Secondly, Calvin notes that this condition serves partly as a warning against presumptuous faith. It is a safeguard against cheap grace.

Calvin writes, “Also, it is partly by this mark that the Lord excludes from the number of his children those persons who, being eager for revenge and slow to forgive, practice persistent enmity and foment against others the very indignation that they pray to be adverted from themselves. This the Lord does that such men dare not call upon him as Father,” (3.20.45).”

Likewise, in his commentary, Calvin writes,

“This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment…Christ did not intend to point out the cause, but only to remind us of the feelings which we ought to cherish towards brethren, when we desire to be reconciled to God. And certainly, if the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished. The Spirit is the witness of our adoption, (Rom. viii. 16,) and therefore this is put down simply as a mark, to distinguish the children of God from strangers.”

This point is critical to understand. To be sure, good works (e.g., forgiveness, repentance) are essential to salvation. But, these good works are only possible after the Holy Spirit has graciously worked in the sinner. Regrettably, this is not understood well by a number of Evangelical Bible teachers and churchgoers today. As a result, many teach and believe that the forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon the believer’s forgiveness. Such a view is an example of what happens when law and Gospel are confused (in this case, injecting law back into gospel).

“…many Evangelicals are teaching and believing a remodeled Gospel.”

Making the forgiveness of sin conditioned upon one’s own forgiveness (i.e., injecting law into Gospel) turns the Gospel into a conditional faith and (unwittingly) erects a de facto justification by works. Sadly, many Evangelicals are teaching and believing a remodeled Gospel.

When we see statements such as Matthew 6:12 it is crucial to understand that passages like this and others (cf., Mk. 1:15; Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38) are addressing the logical necessity, not conditional necessity, of sanctity, which results from justification. To make the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, dependent on the forgiveness, which we grant to others is to make our good works the instrument of justification. This viewpoint turns the Gospel on it head. In this understanding, real forgiveness is actually impossible because everything that produces genuine forgiveness has been taken away (i.e., the new life implanted in the believer by the Gospel). Making God’s forgiveness dependent on our forgiveness clearly contradicts the clear teaching of passages such as Romans 4 and Galatians 2:15-21, 3:1-29 and 5:2,4.

Dr. R. Scott Clark provides a very helpful and vital illustration of this important point when he writes,

“In reading the Heidelberg Catechism, it is crucial to remember that its doctrine of justification is in the second part of the Catechism, not the third, where the doctrine of the Christian life is contained. It is wrong to appeal to HC 87, “Can they, then, be saved who do not turn to God from their unthankful, impenitent life?” as proof that the catechism teaches justification by or through sanctity. This question is addressing the logical necessity of sanctity as a result of justification and distinguishing between salvation (including justification and sanctification) and the narrower concept of justification. For the catechism to make our dying to self and living to Christ the instrument of justification would contradict flatly the teaching of HC 21 and HC 60,” (Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p.14, footnote 25).

“Making God’s forgiveness dependent upon the believer’s forgiveness is to change the covenant of grace into a ‘bastard covenant of works.’”

To borrow Dr. Clark’s helpful insight, we might say, “It is wrong to appeal to Matthew 6:12, “and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors,” as proof that our Lord teaches justification by or through sanctity. To do so is to remodel the Gospel into a conditional faith, or as Thomas Boston put it, “…it is to change the covenant of grace into a ‘bastard covenant of works.’” Perhaps out of a desire to guard against turning faith and the Gospel into a license to sin (i.e., guard against a presumptuous faith), some Evangelical Bible teachers have made obedience to Christ’s laws the condition for salvation (e.g., by making the forgiveness of sins dependant upon one’s forgiveness of others; or requiring repentance as a condition of forgiveness).

But, this is not the proper Gospel-driven answer. It is a law-driven answer, which is the natural inclination of all men but totally foreign to the Gospel! The correct answer is to say that no one can trust in Christ for true salvation without also trusting in him for holiness.

“Christ is not divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13). You cannot have half a Christ!”

Walter Marshall writes, “You cannot truly trust in Christ for true salvation if you do not want to be made holy and righteous in your life! When God gives you salvation through Christ, holiness will be one part of that salvation. If Christ “does not wash you” from the filth of your sins, “you have no part of him” (John 13:8). What a strange salvation it is, if people who are saved do not care about holiness!…Those who think they have received a salvation such as this abuse the grace of God in Christ, and turn it into license for sin. They want to be saved by Christ, but apart from Christ, so to speak…They would take one part of his salvation, and leave out the rest. However, “Christ is not divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13). You cannot have half a Christ!” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 115)

Marshall, like Calvin, concludes by pointing out that trusting in Christ for salvation but not holiness is presumptuous. He writes,

“Some people want to have their sins forgiven so that they can continue to live in enmity against him, without having any fear of punishment. They do not want to be forgiven so they can walk with God…Their trusting in Christ is a terrible presumption…True gospel faith makes you come to Christ with a great thirst, that you might “drink of living water”- by which Christ means his sanctifying Spirit (John 7:37-38). True Gospel faith makes you cry out earnestly for God to save you- not only from hell but from sin as well. “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). When you seek salvation by faith in Christ, holiness is a major part of the salvation that Christ freely gives you. You cannot divide salvation (i.e., justification from sanctification- J.F.). You cannot have the forgiveness of Christ without the holiness of Christ!” (Marshall, p. 116)

“True Gospel faith makes you cry out earnestly for God to save you- not only from hell but from sin as well.”

Works proceed from faith, they do not precede faith. Keeping this distinction guards against the ever-present tendency to confuse justification and sanctification (i.e., safeguards against legalism). It also upholds the truth that there is no such thing as justification without sanctification (i.e., safeguards against license/cheap grace). Though justification and sanctification are distinct they cannot and must not be separated.

This then is how this condition in Matthew 6:12 serves as a warning against presumptuous faith.

5 Responses to What is meant by “forgiveness” in Matthew 6:12? Part 4

  1. Mike Sears says:

    Great truths!! They fit perfectly with some deep meditation on the prodigal son parable this morning. When the son, “came to his senses” he desired to go back to his Father. Rather than staying away from him “in the pig sty”, he desired to go back (be justified, having understood somehow the love of his Father) and be in fellowship (live in holiness) with his Father. In contrast, his brother who stayed living (a state of justification, at least in his mind) with his Father, yet apparently did not live in a close relationship (living in a state of holiness) with his Father. My thoughts go much deeper and have much more context to them but I am unable to unpack them all right now. Thanks for your continued faithfulness to the Gospel!!

  2. Richard says:

    It’s all right, John, you can name names. BETH MOORE is one example of an”evangelical” teacher who is turning the covenant of grace into a “bastard covenant of works.” See her recent teaching from the book of Nehemiah.

  3. ps2 emulator

    Really nice site you have here. Ive been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work.

  4. how do i remove spyware

    Really nice site you have here. Ive been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work.

  5. psp game download

    Aww… I just found this blog too! Well best of luck with the projects.I’m thinking about doing the same thing very soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: