Some translations use the word “debts”; others use “trespasses” in this prayer. Both are accurate, for they represent two types of disobedience.

A “trespass” is a willful disobedience to a rule or standard God has already set in His Word. When we choose to step past the boundaries of God’s order, we “trespass” into unlawful territory. This is sin. Walking in God’s grace does NOT mean we can do whatever we want without regard (Rom 6:1,2; Heb 10:26-29). Sin is sin, and must be dealt with every time it is chosen.

A “debt” relates to our failures in a situation, when we should have behaved differently than we did. This is also sin. The Bible describes it this way: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas 4:17 nas).

We sin by choosing to do the wrong thing; we can also sin by not doing what we know is the right thing!

We may not have committed a vile sin or a willful rebellion that needs to be confessed. However, we may have a place in our life that falls far short of God’s standard for holiness. Sometimes we are blind to an area of sin or compromise in our life. We need to come to God in prayer and ask Him to shine the light of His truth into our hearts. Even a judgmental attitude or an impatient, angry word are enough to warrant repentance and a cleansing touch from God.

The Bible remedy for both types of sin is clear: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our forgiveness is assured when we repent to God (Ps 103:12; Mic 7:19; Heb 10:17). We must deal with our sin daily in prayer, to keep our walk with God open and pure.

People who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and growing as Christians will always be aware that they need more of God’s holiness and less of their own selfish ways. The pure in heart are the ones to whom God promises to reveal Himself (Matt 5:8).


We must also take time in prayer to forgive others who have wronged us. A soul filled with bitterness cannot approach God in true communion. An embittered heart is also like an infectious disease that can poison others – even an entire church! (Heb 12:15).

The Bible makes very clear that because we have been shown great grace and forgiveness from God, we have no right to withhold the same kind of extravagant forgiveness toward others (Matt 18:21-35). If we want to be forgiven, we must also be forgiving (Matt 6:14,15; Mark 11:25,26). If we will show mercy, we will receive mercy (Matt 5:7).

Forgiveness is a vital key to effective prayer and a godly Christian life. Let us make confession and forgiveness a daily part of our prayer!

[For more about forgiveness and its important role in prayer, please read “Obstacles To Effective Prayer – Obstacle 2” on page 13. Also, read “How Do I Forgive?” on pages 13-14 for instructions about forgiving others.]


Jesus’ pattern for petition continues, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt 6:13).