As long as we are wandering around in this fallen world, we will struggle with sin. Everyone will, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes said:
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV
Sadly, this is an inexorable part of reality and a biblical truth. It is presupposed in the Bible that we will struggle with sin our entire mortal life. Look at the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught us during his Sermon on the Mount. Here, the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us how to pray to our Heavenly Father. First, Jesus provides us with a few instructions for prayer.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:Matthew 6:5–9a ESV
Pay attention to these three points.
- Jesus explains that you should follow these instructions “when you pray,” which can also be translated “whenever you pray,” indicating that these are general instructions that you should observe when you pray to your Father. Hence, the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t be an occasional liturgical prayer; it should be the foundation of your prayers.
- He says that this prayer is for when you “go into your room and shut the door.” It describes how you’re supposed to pray in your prayer room when you’re together with your Father, not in your mind throughout the day (which means that you can still come to him with little prayers throughout the day without having to pray the entire Lord’s Prayer).
- The phrase “pray then like this” can be translated in different ways, like “pray then in this manner.” Hence, Jesus is instructing us about the proper posture in prayer and what to petition the Father for. He isn’t saying that you must enunciate the Lord’s Prayer verbatim every time you pray; rather, you should include these petitions in your prayers. These petitions don’t have to be eloquent either, so don’t worry about your wording. It is better to be honest than verbose. A single authentic word from a living heart is better than a thousand words from a stony heart. And as Jesus said, “do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.”
To summarize, it is the model prayer that you should imitate during your most devotional, intimate moments together with the Father in your prayer room, shut away from the busy world
Always Praying For Forgiveness
Next, Jesus recites the prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.Matthew 6:9b–13 ESV (emphasis added)
Notice the highlight. The prayer includes six petitions, and the fifth is a plea for forgiveness. The parallel passage in Luke is even more explicit, asking the Father to “forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). If we could ever live a life free from sin, why are we commanded to continually ask our Father for forgiveness? Aren’t past sins supposed to have been forgotten already (Heb. 8:12)? The obvious answer is that we have always committed new sins that we have to seek forgiveness for, whether or not we are aware of them.
A glance at the Law will make this evident. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught that obedience to the Law was not simply a matter of outward conformity, but a matter of the heart. He expounded upon various commandments, explaining that it was both sinful to violate the commandment and desire to violate the commandment. For instance, he took the seventh of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” (Matt. 5:27; Exo. 20:14) and said that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Thus, both adultery and adulterous thoughts are sin. Have you had any thoughts like that? What about hostile thoughts (Matt. 5:21–22)?
After he had expounded upon additional commandments, he told them that they “must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). So, is your thought-life perfect?
Here is another one. James tells us that, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Have you done everything right today? Did you wake up precisely on time? Have you read the Bible enough? Prayed enough? Exercised enough? Said every right and loving word to everyone around you? Finally, have you done absolutely everything today “to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)?
Obviously not. You are a sinner, just like me. Therefore we must both petition our Heavenly Father for forgiveness, as our Lord Jesus Christ told us to.
However, this petition doesn’t mean that we are asking God daily to justify us and save us anew. God justified and saved us the moment we believed in Christ (Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1, 30; 10:10). We can rest safely in these promises. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we can take Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for granted either. With deep humility, we have to keep confessing that we are always transgressing the holy Law of God somehow; hence, entirely dependent on the cross for our salvation, not just to cover over our past sins, but our daily sins.
Being Honest With God
We pray like this to be honest with ourselves and with God to maintain our relationship with him. Anyone who tells him that they have no sin is not being honest with him and dishonestly will wreck your relationship. (If you want to ruin your relationship with someone, keep lying to them and see what happens). God wants us to be truthful, as John wrote:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.1 John 1:8–10 ESV (emphasis added)
Notice what John wrote. He used the first-person “we,” including himself in the argument, and he used the present tense “have,” indicating that this applies there in the present. To put it in other words, John is explaining that if anyone, including himself, were to say, “I have no sin,” it would be false. Everyone has to say the opposite, “I have sin.” That is the truth. If even John, one of the Twelve Apostles, had to confess his sins, how much more do we have to confess? You don’t believe that you’re better than the Apostle John, do you?
The Right Attitude Before The Father
When we enter God’s presence, we have to do so with a humble spirit, and when we arrive at his table, sit down at the lowest seat (Luke 14:10). Suppose you refuse to and instead take a higher seat. In that case, you are in grave danger of becoming a self-righteous Pharisee, believing yourself to be better than “all the other shameful Christians who always have to confess their filthy sins.” You’ll be like the Pharisee who came to the temple to pray: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Even if you credit all your holiness to the Holy Spirit, your prayer will still be fundamentally identical, full of the same hubris: “Holy Spirit, I thank you that I am not like other men, thieves, druggies, porn addicts, or even like this fake Christian.” Don’t be like the Pharisee; be like the contrite tax collector:
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.Luke 18:13–14 ESV
How can you delight yourself in the Lord (Phil. 4:4) if you’re only repenting? First, you’re not supposed only to repent. Your prayer to the Lord shouldn’t just be a prolonged confession, obviously. Second, there is no conflict between these two behaviors, quite the opposite. Once you realize that you’ve done something displeasing to the Lord, every day, yet he keeps inviting you to come inside of his Holy Temple to commune with him, every day, it fills you with a sense of joy and awe at his magnificent grace.
Imagine that you’re a rebellious child. Every day you run outside and do something you shouldn’t have. Occasionally you are more rebellious than usual, climbing up on the roof to start a fire with the dry leaves you found in the rain gutter. Normally you are more mature, just painting a little brown sunset on the car with mud. In either case, you have done something inappropriate and have something new to apologize for. And so you should. Simply ask your Heavenly Father for forgiveness, and he will do so, always, even if the only thing you can cry is “sorry.” Since he has adopted you, regardless of what you’ve done, irrespective of how dirty you’ve become, he is always there at the end of the day to clean up after you, wash you from your unrighteousness, and care for you like a beloved child. What glorious grace and love the Father showers upon his precious children, always waiting for them to come home to him with open arms.
He might discipline you, but he disciplines you because he loves you, dearly, as any good father does. And he is the best Father (Heb. 12:1–17). Therefore, regardless of what happens, we know that everything is working together for our good (Rom. 8:28).
Resting In Christ
Finally, remember that Jesus himself has prayed for us (John 17), and the Holy Spirit is praying for us (Rom. 8:26), so when our repentance is inadequate (which it will be), they are there to intercede for us. We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but they do. Our prayers cannot be perfect, but theirs are. Therefore, even when you forget to ask for forgiveness for something, there is no need to worry because they have interceded on your behalf.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Romans 8:31–34 ESV
God knows how to take care of his children. He always knows what they need before they ask him (Matt. 6:8).