This is part six in a series of Tim Keller's thoughts on the Prayer of Prayers.
3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
~ Jesus, Luke 17:3-4
And Jesus said to them, "When you pray, say...'forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.'"
~ Jesus, Luke 11:2, 4
The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others. Luther, who for years struggled mightily and personally with the issues of guilt and pardon, gives a clarion call to seek God's forgiveness every day in prayer:
If anyone insists on his own goodness and despises others...let him look into himself when this petition confronts him. He will find he is no better than others and that in the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
Luther adds that this petition is not only a challenge to our pride but a test of spiritual reality. If we find confession and repentance intolerably traumatic or demeaning, it means "the heart is not right with God and cannot draw...confidence from his Gospel." If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
Jesus rightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others. It works two ways. If we have not seen our sin and sought radical forgiveness from God, we will be unable to forgive and to seek the good of those who have wronged us. So unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God. It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own. Calvin puts it vividly:
If we retain feelings of hatred in our hearts, if we plot revenge and ponder any occasion to cause harm, and even if we do not try to get back into our enemies' good graces, by every sort of good office deserve well of them, and commend ourselves to them, by this prayer we entreat God not to forgive our sins.