Many Christians know the model prayer as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Some of us know the words to the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Sometimes a group of Christians will be asked to pray the Lord’s Prayer together. Things run smoothly enough until we reach the part about “debts.” Or “trespasses?” Or “sins?” If the group of Christians hasn’t called it ahead of time, we will likely to get a cacophony at this point with everyone saying what they’re familiar with.
First, to clear up some of the language issues. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Debts is the English translation of the Greek word used in Matthew 6:12–opheilemata. It means what’s due. It suggests something financial. Jesus provides a further development of forgiving as we have been forgiven in 6:14. There he uses the word paraptoma which means trespass, transgression, or false step. Sin is the word used in the parallel passage to the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:4–hamartia.
Each of the English words we use there has some connection to language we find in the Greek versions of the prayer and its surrounding interpretation. I find it appropriate that when we get to the word “sin,” we do in fact use many different words for it. It’s appropriate that we speak about sins with everyone likely to do their own thing.
As for me, I prefer the word “debt.” Debt speaks of something loaned to me that I should pay back. I have been given a life and I have misused it–one way to define sin. I have done my own thing. God has forgiven me. I cannot repay God for that grace. However, I owe God so much more than simple forgiveness of sins. I owe God my life, all my material possessions, the relationships that are most meaningful to me, opportunities, the capacity of faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the church, and eternal life. These all come from God. They are loaned to me. When I pray, “Forgive us our debts,” I am praying that God would not demand back from us all that we owe to God. I am praying for relief. I am praying for the chance to direct that which God has entrusted to me toward the purposes that God has for me.