The Threat of the Lord’s Prayer

The Threat in the Lord’s Prayer

This post is about the threat that comes after the Lord’s prayer. Namely, if one does not forgive, he will be found to have not been forgiven. Here is the text from the NASB.

9aPray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

10aYour kingdom come. bYour will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

11aGive us this day 1our daily bread.

12 ‘And aforgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but adeliver us from 1bevil. 2For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen .’

 14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

(Mat 6:9-15 NAU)

The level of fear this warning should instill in those who do not forgive is not felt by many except in moments of sudden existential reality. This post will try to give some explanation and context to this warning, with all of its force intact.

Ethical norms are fairly easy to perceive, but rarely obeyed. Not many people realize that ethics is a philosophical science which receive attention in academics, and is probably one of the more easily felt and practical of all fields of study. Ethics also calls (or should do so, anyway) for instant obedience. What is more, when we find an ethical norm to be the case, it usually confirms common sense experience as well.  Think about it this way. Imagine a couple of coffee induced intellectuals meeting at the Starbucks are discussing an ethical issue. This does happen from time to time. If after some conversation they were to bring it to a Biblical ethics thinker/teacher, they would likely get an answer they already knew to be the case, but do not want to do anyway.  Ethics are easily understood, but hardly practiced.

Another way out is to use some way to justify or qualify the situation so that it is no longer a valid ethical concern for oneself. That applies in most situations, but not to me, because (for example) it was for Israel that they had to do that, the Lord Jesus does not demand any morality because of grace. Don’t let’s be legalists. The excuses abound. Those are larger issues, which we only have a moment to notice and pass by. The point of this first considerations is to show that our issue when we come to this text is that even though it is (fairly) clear, we do not want to obey it, not take its waring seriously. It does not come from the Old Testament. It does not give any way out. In fact, it is a solemn warning that if one does not forgive, he is not forgiven, and will be found on that day as one whom the Lord Jesus “Never knew.” See Matthew 7.

This text and its meaning can be explained away several ways. All of them are insufficient to account for it. Take the tract of the Old Testament being obsolete. Some will argue that this still fits with Old Testament ethics, with sanctions and warnings for disobedience. Thus, it no longer applies today. The problems then are the covenant of grace spans both testaments, and even if the Lord Jesus were still acting under the context of the Old Covenant, he was here establishing his New Covenant ethic by way of not “abolishing the Law” (5:17-18). Another direction to make sense of it is to recast the whole way of salvation and make it contingent upon one’s obedience. One gets into the kingdom by grace, but stays in by obedience, once one is illumined and renewed. The problem with this is that it makes grace no longer grace, and contradicts the entire books of Galatians and Romans. Another tract is to say that Jesus made clearly impossible that the way into the kingdom was by works; that no one could get in by way of works. That is, he was setting up the need for grace. Therefore, obedience to these laws in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is not necessary under grace. The problem here is that he speaks of forgiveness, which is a word which belongs to the mode of gospel grace, not law and works as a principle to get into the kingdom.

There is no way out. We have to directly approach the text and retain its meaning intact. Rather than making nonsense out of it, let us now turn to make sense of the text. Here is the text in question again.

14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.


These are conditions upon which one is forgiven in the state of being in the Kingdom of God. This is one who calls upon God as Father, by grace, and in a regular prayer life. All theevidence is that this is not a sinners’ prayer or conversion moment, but a regular practice within the Christian life. The forgiveness is a renewal of personal reconciliation to the Father for continued intimacy and in reconciliation of current sins. The Lord’s forgiveness is conditioned by forgiving others. The warning is if someone is seeking reconciliation, and you don’t want to reconcile, but harbor enmity in heart and disposition, then the Lord will not forgive you.

This text fits in the context of many other texts which seem to make salvation in some way conditioned upon obedience. For example:

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

13 for aif you are living according to the flesh, you 1must die; but if by the Spirit you are bputting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:12-13 NAU)

Pursue peace with all men, and the bsanctification without which no one will csee the Lord. (Heb 12:14 NAU)

Others could be brought up as well. The issue is not if there is a need for obedience for salvation. The issue is how obedience relates to grace and salvation. That has to be in the forefront of our minds. The Christian is required to obey the Lord. If the Christian does not obey the Lord, then he/she is warned, disciplined, or worse, unforgiven. So how does this make any sense when placed beside the grace and justification of Romans 3:21-5:11? Or Galatians?  The answer is in the ordo salutis.

The ordo salutis (order of salvation) refers to an order of events which come to pass in the process of salvation. Obedience fits into this order. This includes obedience to the command to forgive (and the warning that if one does not he/she will not be forgiven). It seems to me only this order takes texts like those I mentioned above, and one in question seriously, as they fit into the order of salvation.

The ordo begins with election, then an effective call of the Gospel which regenerates, and then the two saving graces are given to the renewed person (faith and obedience), then one actively believes and is justified, and begins the life of repentance of mind toward serving God and receives holiness, assurance, and other benefits that flow from faith and repentance. The order concludes with glorification at death and then resurrection at the return of Christ. What theLord Jesus and the apostles frequently did was to warn that if one part of the ordo was missing, then no part of the ordo is had. The part that was often missing was either faith, repentance, good works, orthodox doctrine of the gospel. These are all different aspects of the ordo, and they all come in their chronological and cause and effect order. If one link in the chain is missing, then the whole chain is missing.

That explains the enigmatic logic of John.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, bso that 1it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1Jo 2:19)

It is evident that those who went out from the church were not of the church because they left the orthodox doctrine of Christ, and the obedience he requires. The abandoned the ordo salutis.

The condition to “forgive if” one is to “be forgiven” fits into this paradigm. If one refuses to forgive, then one has not received forgiveness. This warning could be leveled at any sin. It is not just the one in question. Any sin could demonstrate that one is still in the power and grasp of sin, under obligation to it, and not living by the Spirit. Jesus singles out the forgiveness we give to others because he forgives us so much, and this must be seen as the highest ethical norm. The sacrifice of Christ shows us that even though God is just and fair, he also is merciful, and mercy triumphs over justice as of controlling ethical virtue. So for the Christian to reject mercy and forgiveness to others is to deny the most basic and clear virtue which God revealed to man in the cross of Jesus.

The end result of this is that God requires the Christian to forgive, and warns those who refuse that they may be headed out the door of the visible church because they were never of the invisible church. The important thing here is that we realize the value of the ordo to make sense of this and many other similar texts. Without this basic protestant doctrine, texts like these simply make no sense.