But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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. 1 John 2:2NKJV
This morning we continue to study Westminster Larger Catechism Question 194, which asks, “What do we pray for in the fifth petition?” Let us look at the fourth part of the answer, which instructs, “In the fifth petition (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,)… we pray for ourselves and others that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin.” Last time we saw why nothing in all creation can deliver us from the guilt of sin. This week we consider what can.
“We pray for ourselves and others.” So goes the first part of the Catechism’s answer that we are examining today. We must never overlook the corporate aspect of The Lord’s Prayer, for it is behind every petition and the context of every request. Though there is a place for personal confession, Jesus taught His disciples the important, necessary duty of corporate confession of sin: that we are to pray for ourselves, and for others. Notice it does not say “and other Christians,” but simply, “and others.” We in the church should pray for the conversion of unbelievers as often as we pray for the forgiveness of our own sins.
One of the main reasons we ought to be inclined to pray for others without discrimination or reservation is because forgiveness is by God’s “free grace.” Grace is the word Scripture uses to describe God’s activity when He shows favor, blessing, and goodwill towards sinners who deserve only His displeasure, cursing, and wrath. There is no justice in grace. That is to say, when God shows grace to sinners – whether it is that common goodness He shows to all human beings in a myriad of ways every day, or whether it is that saving grace by which God converts and saves sinners – He gives them what they entirely do not deserve. In this way grace is free. We do nothing to get it, we did nothing to earn it. When God gives us grace He gives us His delight and favor freely, He gives us what strictly speaking, according to sheer justice, He should not. Justice demands we should get what we deserve. We deserve condemnation. Yet by grace God gives us forgiveness. How can He do this and not be unjust?
The solution is given by the Catechism in the next sentence, “through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ.” Grace is free to us because Jesus paid the price for it. We owe God perfect obedience, we owe God satisfaction for offending Him by our sins. We have not and cannot give to God what we owe. So God sent Jesus Christ to perfectly obey the Law and satisfy God’s wrath for us. Jesus Christ completely fulfilled God’s Law in a human life of perfect obedience. Jesus Christ satisfied God’s wrath on the cross. But how can these actions of Jesus help me? How can Jesus’ suffering and righteousness save me? The answer is the gospel: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). The gospel message is God’s promise to accept on behalf of, and apply what Jesus did to everyone who simply believes in Him for it. God gives the benefits of the saving work of Jesus through the instrument of faith. This means that if you believe in Jesus Christ for salvation God counts His righteousness and atoning death as yours. Since then the obedience and satisfaction Jesus rendered to God are “apprehended and applied by faith,” all believers have God’s promise to “acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin.”
Consequently, the Catechism affirms the clear teaching of Jesus that the believer, like the tax collector in the Scripture at the head of this article, must continue to ask for this forgiveness. We earn none of God’s salvation, it is all of grace, yet this grace comes to us through means. The person who thinks he can ask for forgiveness one time and then go on his merry way never again thinking about, mourning over, and confessing his sins denies this clear teaching of Jesus. He taught us when we pray we should say, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone indebted to us,” (Luke 11:4). God’s grace should encourage and not hinder us to continue to ask Him to forgive us our sins, for we can be confident, by faith in Jesus Christ, that He surely will!