Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009


The third concern in prayer is our spiritual well-being, the first part of which is our need for forgiveness.



Here we admit to God that we, in ourselves, apart from Christ, are in debt,: burdened down with the guilt and penalty of our sins. Here, every time we pray this prayer, we are reminded that it is only through his mercy, and never through our merit, that we can stand in his presence, accepted, today.

Biblical teaching about the consequences of sin:

Gen 2:17

‘ … for when you eat of it you will surely die’

Gen 3:22-24

‘… he must not be allowed to … take from the tree of life … and live for ever’

Deut 30:15-20

‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…’

Isaiah 59:2

‘your iniquities have separated you from your God’ you sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear’

Ezekiel 18:20

‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ See also 18:30-32

John 3:18

‘… whoever does not believe stands condemned already …’

Romans 1:18

‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men …’

Romans 5:12

‘… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned ’

Romans 6:23

‘the wages of sin is death’

Galatians 3:10

‘ … cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’

Biblical examples of acknowledgement of sin:

Job 42:6

‘I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’

Psalm 32:5,6

‘Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” ‘

Ps 38:17,18

‘For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.’

Psalm 40:12

‘For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.’

Psalm 51:3

‘For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight …’

Psalm 143:2

‘Do not bring your servant into judgment, for on one living is righteous before you.’

Ezra 9:5ff

‘O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens …’

Jer 3:25

‘Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the Lord our God, both we and our fathers … we have not obeyed the Lord our God.’

Jer 14:20

‘… we acknowledge our wickedness and the guilt of our fathers; we have indeed sinned against you.’

Daniel 9:5-6

‘we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets …’

Hosea 14:2

‘take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins …” ‘

Luke 15:21

‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

Luke 18:13

‘He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘



In asking for forgiveness we are expressing our faith in the mercy – the undeserved loving kindness - of God, by he chooses not to punish us as our sin deserves, but rather to cancel the debt of our sin.

Biblical teaching on the mercy of God:

Exodus 33:19

‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’

Exodus 34:6,7

‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’

Numbers 14:18

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion …’

Psalm 25:10

‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth …’ KJV

Psalm 32:10

‘the Lord’s unfailing love (mercy) surrounds the man who trusts in him’

Psalm 33:5

‘the earth is full of his unfailing love (mercy)’

Psalm 33:18

‘the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love’

Psalm 52:8

‘I will trust in God’s unfailing love (mercy) for ever and ever …’

Psalm 86:5-6

‘You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love (mercy) to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.’

Psalm 89:1

‘I will sing of the Lord’s love (mercy) for ever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness know through all generations’

Psalm 119:64

‘The earth is filled with your love (mercy), O Lord’

Jeremiah 3:12

‘Return to me … for I am merciful’

Lamentation 3:22

‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail’

Hosea 14:3

‘in you the fatherless find compassion

Jonah 4:2

‘I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’

Ephesians 2:4

‘God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ …’

Titus 3:5

‘he saved us … because of his mercy’

Hebrews 4:16

‘Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’

James 5:11

‘The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.’

1 Peter 1:3

‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope …’



Forgiveness is an immense concept, its implications reaching into our every moment. Hopefully what follows will be sufficient to give insight into the incredible unexpectedness of God’s act of forgiveness, and the liberating, motivating impact this undeserved act of God has on our lives.

To understand this grand truth, we will discuss various images used in the Scripture to portray the many faceted meaning of forgiveness. As we look at these images we must remember that the promise of forgiveness is given to people with genuine faith in the Biblical God.

[1] Forgiveness is God throwing our sins behind his back:

Hezekiah realised this and rejoiced in it, linking it with God’s love, knowing that it meant being saved from destruction:

‘In your love you kept me

from the pit of destruction;

you have put all my sins

behind your back’ (Isaiah 38:17).

Hezekiah knew that if God kept account of his sins it would be his undoing; but he knows that God, in an act of unexpected love, has thrown (that is the significance of the word) them behind his back - out of sight, out of mind - like a piece of unwanted, insignificant rubbish. An added insight into this image comes from Aboriginal women in the Northern Territory: Their cultural concept that anything behind your back is seen to bear no relationship to you, nor you to it, made this Biblical image of forgiveness very meaningful to them: God, when he forgives our sins, ceases to relate to them. In other words, our sin ceases to impact God; it no longer affects either his actions towards us or his attitude to us. He no longer takes it into account. He has thrown it behind his back.

[2] Forgiveness is God cancelling our debt:

This image is graphically portrayed in the parable in Matthew 18:21-35. Here Jesus makes several points essential to an accurate understanding of forgiveness:

      • our accountability in the presence of the God (23);
      • the immensity of our debt (24);
      • our utter destitution and inability to pay (25); the Greek text actually says the servant had nothing with which to pay;
      • the inevitability of the judgement and penalty (25);
      • our failure to realise or acknowledge the immensity of our debt, the extent of our destitution and our inability to pay (26); (note that the servant thought he had the ability to save up the money given enough time - he asked for ‘patience’);
      • the unexpected, unasked for, mercy and compassion of our Master (27); (the NIV translation ‘pity’ does little to convey the meaning of the Greek word, which means, literally, ‘to be moved from one’s bowels’; it is a very strong word);
      • the comprehensiveness of the Master’s action (27). He cancelled the debt. He wrote if off. It is not that he extended the due date. It is not that he reduced the amount. No. He cancelled it in its entirety. He stood the loss;
      • the liberation (freedom from having to pay, from ever being held to account) that followed (27).

All of this is involved in forgiveness, and it is important that we each grasp hold of all of the above points, if we are to really receive God’s forgiveness. For the servant didn’t. He didn’t understand the size of his debt. He didn’t understand his one hundred percent destitution. He didn’t understand, therefore, the incredible compassion of his master, or the liberation of forgiveness. He went out as one still unforgiven, still thinking as one who owed the debt, still grasping for a few paltry dollars with which to build up some credit of his own (verses 28-30).

This servant continued to live as one who had to, and eventually could, pay the debt. In his failure to understand each of the above facts, he did not receive the forgiveness the master had announced.

[3] Forgiveness is God nailing our sins to the cross of Christ:

Lest we should think that when God cancels our sin debt it is because he suddenly changed his character and became less than just, or even changed his mind and decided that love was more important than justice, he tells us that when he forgave all our sin, cancelling all that stood against us, he did it by nailing it to the cross of Jesus Christ (Col 2:13,14). Jesus Christ took our place, bearing the entire penalty for our sin. For this reason, and only for this reason, God can forgive us. This is the deep and painful truth behind our forgiveness, a truth which at the same time teaches us:

      • the awesome depth of God’s love for us,
      • the abhorrence with which God views sin,
      • the extreme consequence of unforgiven sin,
      • the completeness of the forgiveness he grants us.

If we understand this act of God, this act of Christ, for us, we will never again think that sin is okay, we will never again allow ourselves to doubt God’s love, and we will never again think that forgiveness is variable.

[4] Forgiveness is God removing our sins from us as far as the east is from the west:

Psalm 103 is a song of praise to the Lord. David’s reason for praise is

      • the forgiveness (103:3,10,12)
      • which issues out of God’s great love and compassion (103:4,8,11,13,14),
      • in a way totally undeserved (103:10).
      • When we were in the pits (103:4),
      • when we deserved his anger (103:8,9),
      • when we stood accused (103:9),
      • he, in an act of immeasurable love (103:11),
      • ‘removed our transgressions from us’ as far as the east is from the west.

What is David saying here? Does he mean that God removes our sin out of our hearts so that there is no more sin there and we will never sin again? No. We do not stop being sinners and we don’t stop sinning (1John 1:8,10). When God removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west he is demolishing the sin-barrier that stands between him and us; he is annulling its right and ability to separate us from him. [The Greek word frequently translated ‘forgive’ in the New Testament (as in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 ) literally means to take away, and is used of the lifting of the barrier at a race track, freeing the horses to race.] In terms of the earth’s geography, there is nothing further than the east from the west. This indicates the sureness of what God has done, the impossibility of our sin interrupting and destroying our relationship with God.

God has forgiven our sins: therefore we should consider them out of sight, out of mind, and not allow them to dog our footsteps with on-going guilt and condemnation.

[5] Forgiveness is God throwing our sins into the deepest sea:

This image is similar to the previous one. It speaks of great distance. It speaks of the impossibility of our sins ever being held against us again: they are non-recoverable. There are depths in the oceans which modern man with his sophisticated machines has not been able to explore. When Micah records that God ‘will hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ (7:19c), he is telling us that God has thrown them beyond our reach. They cannot harm us.

When we forget that we are forgiven, when we allow ourselves to wallow in the pits of guilt, when we fear that we have cut ourselves off from God by our sin and failures, when we think that the absence of physical or financial blessing is directly due to some personal sin, then we are saying that God is a liar, that his Word is not true, that he still holds our sin against us, that it is right here, separating us from him, that it is not hurled by his own hand into the depths of the sea. We are, in fact, living as though it had not been nailed to the cross.

Let us be sure that we do not follow the sad example of the servant in Matthew 18!