I came into this world with certain obligations upon me. Though I didn’t know it, I started out life as a debtor. I owed my very existence to a sweet couple living in upstate New York. And beyond them, to the sovereign Creator of all things.
Nobody had to communicate this indebtedness to me; it became self-evident by way of culture, convention, conscience and common sense, that I owed a certain modicum of gratitude and obedient behavior to those who’d given me life itself, not to mention the many benefits that served to enhance that life.
What I specifically owed to God and to my parents is summed up in the two “greatest” commands that Jesus quoted in the New Testament: I owed them love. Of course, Jesus goes on to connect love to obedience--conformity to the moral law of the divine Lawgiver. I owed God my worship...my faithfulness...my reverence...my rest and labor. I owed Mom and Dad my honor and my compliance to their wise leadership. And, by extension, I owed the rest of humanity my cooperation with common codes of civic righteousness, as given by God.
Justice is a very simple concept, really. It’s a matter of each person, entity or institution receiving that which is owed to them. Justice is fairness. It is equity. It is a perfectly balanced scale where each party gets what is rightfully his.
But when I look at the previous description of my indebtedness to God, my parents, and society, I must honestly hang my head in shame. For I am a debtor who has regularly failed to pay my debts. I failed to love God and others as I was obligated to do. I failed to obey the laws of God, the instructions of my parents, and the rules laid out by governing authorities. I knowingly neglected, and even flagrantly violated, all of these requirements, often pretending to myself that I would never be called to account for these missing payments of debt.
Now, if the God of the universe was the jovial, permissive Santa Claus that many, if not most, claim to worship, I might be able to assume He would just look at the many failures in my record book of disobedience (non-loving behavior), and simply smile and chuckle warmly, saying, “Oh, well, boys will be boys...no real harm done,” and just look the other way.
But no, when it comes to our perfect, holy Lawgiver, rules are not made to be broken. When He created me, He gave me a purpose. And when I disobey, I defy that purpose. When He created me, He stamped me with His image. When I act rebelliously, I deface that image. When He created me, He communicated His commands to me in no uncertain terms. When I act like I didn’t hear--or couldn’t care less--I am inviting His wrath. God’s retribution against my SIN.
Sin is another kind of debt owed by the sinner. Actually, it is a kind of divine treatment God owes TO the sinner. Romans 6:23 tells me that “the wages of sin is death.” What I owe to God when I sin, amounts to me personally suffering under the punishment God owes me for my sin.
Do you see how debt defines my life--past, present and future?
My past amounts to a ledger of unpaid debts to God and to others: acts of obedience that I’ve consciously or unconsciously withheld and CAN NEVER MAKE UP FOR. The idea of doing meritorious deeds that would give me “extra credit” and repay those previously unpaid debts--such an idea is ludicrous, since any good deed I do from now on is one that I’m already obligated to do for its own sake!
My present amounts to a “to-do list” that I am by nature unable to fulfill. The sinful fleshly attitudes that inhabit my being are what led to the past unpayable debts to begin with, and that sinful flesh--those desires to please myself at all costs--is still active in my heart. So, I am morally unable to live up to those two “greatest” commands of Christ (love of God and neighbor), let alone the lesser commands that are every bit as binding on me.
My future amounts to a mounting sentence of death at the hands of an eternal, perfect Judge and Executioner. A God who “will by no means clear the guilty.” A King whose kingdom is a realm of perfect righteousness, to which no sin--and no sinful person--will ever be admitted. A Jailer whose prison house is prepared for all who owe Him the obedience they failed to render in this life. This debtor’s prison is called Hell.
There is hope, however, for hopeless debtors such as myself--and for YOU, my friend.
There is a way--ONE way--that a sinner can be considered righteous. ONE way that a hell-bound debtor can be declared “debt-free.”
One man lived up to all the obligations placed upon Him as a human being in this world. That man was Jesus of Nazareth. “Jesus” means “Savior.” And that is exactly what God’s Son was born here on earth to be.
The perfectly obedient, holy life that Jesus lived two millennia ago supplied a treasury of merit for all who would trust in Him alone for their salvation. This perfect record of merit is now available for every sinner who will leave their own life of sin behind and follow Christ.
Every debt of obedience the Christian owes is “paid up” in full by Christ’s life.
The atoning death of Jesus on the cross, bearing the guilt of His people’s sin, suffering the punishment from God that those sins deserved, pays the debt of wrath God owes to every sinful soul that will accept Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf.
Every debt of wrath God owes the Christian is “paid off” in full by Christ’s death.
The raising of Jesus from the dead vindicated Him as God’s Son and Heir to an eternal kingdom. The Holy Spirit sent to all believers to indwell them at conversion, gives them the divine power to grow in their moral faithfulness to God and others: their likeness to Christ.
The ongoing, present debt of obedience the Christian “owes,” has now become an offering of gratitude he or she gladly renders as a newborn child of the King of glory!
When the Lord Jesus had hung on the cross for six grueling hours, suffering the punishment of both God and men, He spoke the word “Tetelestai!” A commercial term similar to our expression: “Paid In Full.” He had come to accomplish salvation for His people. That was the meaning of His very name. On that cross, just before He breathed His last, He knew that his task was complete. The English Bible translates His words: “It is finished.”
The Christian has come to the humbling realization that the debt he or she owes can NEVER be repaid...except by the Lord Jesus Christ. The riches of His righteous life and substitutionary death are the Christian’s by faith.
I know, by the authority of His holy word, that I can rest my life--past and present and future--on my Savior’s finished work. By God’s grace, through the faith He gives me, I know that I am His and He is mine.
God so loved...by giving His Son. In Jesus Christ, I am now living DEBT-FREE!