“In this manner, therefore pray: 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 forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Matthew 6:9–13

High on the list of words upon which to build a marriage has got to be forgiveness. A simple childhood definition of forgiveness is “I give up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” The Bible word is aphiemi, a compound word meaning “to send away from.” The general idea is to forgive and to remit.

In the strictest Bible sense, God is the only one who can really forgive. Even the Scribes during Jesus’ first coming claimed “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jewish teaching was that even the Messiah could not forgive sins. They failed to see the Messiah is God. Isaiah 43:25 records God’s declaration: “’I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.’” That is what true forgiveness looks like, blotting out the sins and never remembering them ever again! In a real sense, only God can forgive sins with such finality.

How can He forgive and forget? First, our sins are a direct offense to His holy nature. The penalty of eternal death rests upon everyone because God is just in condemning our sins. It takes an act of God to remove both your sin and the penalty of your sin from you. Second, this act of God must satisfy His wrath that you justly deserve to die. Justification can only be by the death of the one and only innocent life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness requires the judicial removal of your sin from you and the judicial placing of your sin upon Christ. Then He had to die in your place. Third, you must accept His sacrifice in your behalf through faith in Jesus Christ’s propitiatory, vicarious, substitutionary death. The proof of His finished work for you is in the fact of His resurrection!

God’s manner of forgiveness is not an overlooking of faults, a mutual “let bygones be bygones,” a show of magnanimity on the part of God, nor is it an indifferent means to a happy end. Quite the contrary, it is a judicial, formal, authentic, effective, transformative removal, effectual payment, and God-granted state that you receive by grace from the hand of Almighty God!

God grants absolute forgiveness to you therefore you must emulate Him in your dealings with others. Ephesians 4:32 commands, “And be kind (keep on becoming kind) to one another, tenderhearted (sympathetic in spirit), forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Right there is the measure of the Christian grace of forgiveness, just as God in Christ forgave you! The old expression is that you cannot out-give God. This is certainly true in the realm of forgiveness.

In the instruction concerning our Lord’s model prayer, forgiveness takes up a good bit of the content. One of the reasons for this is that forgiveness is a distinguishing mark of an authentic Christian. We are to be always conforming to His petition “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In verses 14 and 15, He further teaches, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Jesus is not teaching that you get to heaven by good works, but He is teaching that if you are really God’s child you are both forgiven and you are a forgiver!

Nowhere in life is the grace of forgiveness more taxing, and yet more valuable, than in a marriage. Not only is forgiveness required, but you have to live with each other. And not only do you have to live with each other, but you have to forgive each other as God has forgiven you! A Christian marriage is where your skill at forgiving as you are forgiven is put to the highest test. It must be a forgiveness that is always ready to forgive, it is a forgiveness that may have to last for decades. It is exercised under the supervision of God (who reads your thoughts), and it is living the kind of forgiveness that God rewards. James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” 1 John 1:9 reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (As an old preacher said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful gift to receive…until you have something to forgive!”)

For forgiveness to function in your marriage, you must replicate as best as you can God’s model of forgiveness. Honesty and humility must be fully operational in both the husband and wife. Genuine repentance when wrong has been inflicted is the kind described in 2 Corinthians 7:8–12 (evidences of real repentance). Repentance will always lead to changed behavior. Forgiveness should be extended with restoration as the goal. Matthew 18:21–35 is full of instructive meaning for all believers, especially for two Christians who are married together (Luke 7:40–50). Trust and obey.