Knowing the identity of the One to whom we speak in prayer is vital for offering up petitions that are pleasing to God. We have seen that although Jesus grants us the privilege of calling Him “friend” (John 15:15), we dare not let that allow us to view Him, the Father, or the Holy Spirit merely as a friend. The three persons of the Trinity are not our “pals.” They are more loyal friends than we could ever find on earth, but they are not to be brought down to our level and treated as casually as we would another human being. God remains our sovereign Lord (Rev. 6:10), and if we do not address Him as such, we will show ourselves arrogant in His presence.
John Calvin taught that the right knowledge of God and the right knowledge of ourselves are inseparable. If we must know who our Creator is in order to offer up authentic, God-pleasing prayer, then we must also know who we are. Right away, the understanding of the Almighty as our Sovereign Lord reveals who we are, namely, His subjects and servants. Thus, we can never come before God and demand anything as if He owed it to us. We find this principle throughout Scripture, and Jesus reiterates it in today’s passage. When we have done all that we have been commanded, we must keep in mind that any blessing we receive for our service is born purely of grace (Luke 17:7–10). There is no sense in which we merit a reward from the Lord; anything He gives us is a pure gift.
The fact that God does not owe us any favors is born largely from the reality that we are sinners who have fallen far short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). We have not lived up to the perfection that the Lord demands (Matt. 5:48), and thanks be to God, He provides the solution to that problem by imputing to us the perfect righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:21–26), the only One who has kept His commandments without fail. But this imputation is a matter of grace alone, and it is received by faith alone (Gal. 2:15–16). And to receive this imputation, we must turn from our sins, repent, and rest wholly in Christ.
This repentance occurs decisively at conversion, and we are justified in Christ, covered in His righteousness and gifted with eternal life (Rom. 6:23). But that does not mean we need not live a life of continual repentance. We will continue to fall short and need cleansing (1 John 1:8–9). Consequently, God-honoring prayer that remembers who we are and who He is requires repentance. We must approach God with sorrow for our sin.