In this next petition of the prayer, Jesus adds the gospel perspective. The Kingdom of God is not something you can earn your way into. Entrance is by the special invitation of gospel grace. This biblical message is consistent and clear. Look at Israel. She was not the greatest of nations, but the least (Deuteronomy 7:7)! God chose the Israelites to be subjects in his kingdom simply because it was his pleasure to do so. Similarly, no one earns his way into Christ’s kingdom. As Colossians 1 teaches, we have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
See how God’s grace plays out in this petition. We are instructed:
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Those who have been forgiven are to practice forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness comes gladly and easily to the believer; sometimes it is much more difficult. And how do you teach this portion of the prayer to children? The answer lies in the question itself. It is a plea for God to forgive us as we then grant forgiveness to thosewho have wronged us. As in calling for the Kingdom of God to come and invade our lives (v. 10), here we are urged to pray for a life based upon the grace of God, extended to his people.
This is an unnatural prayer request. Neither you nor your children are “forgivers” by nature. You don’t deserve forgiveness, and you certainly have no natural inclination to grant forgiveness to others. But just as with all of the other requests in this wonderful prayer, Christ directs you to pray in a manner contrary to your own selfish, sinful desires. No one can live out this prayer; no one can even sincerely desire these petitions to come to fruition without the saving work of Christ. The petitions cause us to see our need of Christ’s redeeming work. So the very nature of this prayer points us to our need of a savior. Each petition is a gospel petition. There is no human will or effort here. The only heart that will cry out for the kingdom of God to come is a redeemed heart.
Thus, teaching this prayer to your children is teaching them to ask for the gospel grace of God to become real in their own lives, to transform them. It is a prayer that requires God to rule in their hearts. Asking God to forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors means that we have grasped the essence of the gospel. This prayer teaches that we must be a subject of God’s kingdom for this prayer to be heard.
Reminiscent of Hebrews 4:16, this is a bold request. It acknowledges that only those who have been redeemed can come before God with such a prayer—but come we must. Every time we pray this prayer, the gospel is the only hope that it will be answered. This is a powerful way to lovingly and consistently show your children their need of Christ and his saving work. This request for forgiveness, (and the extending of forgiveness) guards against the cumulative buildup of bitterness. Little brothers and sisters are not simply to be tolerated, but to be forgiven and loved. For children, apart from God, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Praise God for this magnificent prayer.