And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14 (ESV)
For six long hours, on a dark day many years ago, the King of Glory hung nailed to a wooden cross. Weakened by a severe beating with a bone-embedded whip, dehydration, and loss of blood, the Son of God suffered at the cruel hands of skilled torturers. Suspended between heaven and hell, He bore the weight of every human transgression. Meanwhile, jeering onlookers ridiculed the public display of shame and humiliation.
The contrast could not have been more extreme. For Jesus to go from the pinnacle of heaven to suffering the torturous and shameful death of the worst kind of criminal, is not something that anyone outside the Trinity saw coming. But it was all part of a plan conceived by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from the foundation of our world.
But why? Why would the Son of God willing suffer such a barbaric death? Why would He give up the comfort and glory of heaven? Why would He subject Himself to public ridicule when one simple command could have beckoned tens of thousands of angels? Why give Himself for a race that had rejected His lordship and committed high treason against His kingdom?
A Debt Beyond Our Reach
Jesus did it all to pay a debt that He did not owe. As part of the human rebellion, we have all joined a treasonous coup attempt. Our species has sought, by self effort, to occupy the throne of heaven. In doing so, we incurred a debt to justice that we can never pay.
Many of our number are innately aware of our indebtedness, and so we try to balance our accounts with heaven. But the amount is far beyond our earning potential. And even worse, the more we try to make good on the debt, the more it accumulates. It would be like a business selling a product for $.25 that costs $1.00 to make. With every sale, that company would go further in debt.
Our insurmountable debt consumes us. And try as we might, we cannot escape the reminders. Entertainment provides only momentary relief. And sleep? The quiet of night fills us with anxious fears, and truly restful sleep becomes elusive. The background of the mind can never be entirely free of such a weighty obligation.
At Odds With God
Being so indebted to heaven’s kingdom sets us at odds with its Owner. When we see Him on the street, we cross to the other side. If He knocks on the door, we pretend not to be home. Emails get deleted and phone calls silenced. And if we happen to see one of His representatives, a strange mix of fear and rage might fill the heart.
The devil understands our plight and loves to assume the roll of debt collector. He is well aware of our inability to pay, but for the sake of twisted pleasure, he calls day and night to harass and demand payment. Then he agrees to strike a bargain, convincing us that attending a religious service, donating a dollar, or doing an act of social justice will help to satisfy what we owe.
Self-made efforts, driven by wrong motives, are like selling the $1.00 product for $.25. They only make the debt worse. No human endeavor, no matter how grand, can tip the scales of justice in our favor.
PAID IN FULL!
The foolishness of it all! The foolishness of avoiding God, or hating His people, or of allowing the devil to hound us when that certificate of debt has already been stamped “PAID IN FULL!”
The Christian’s debt to perfection has been paid in its entirety, nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ! Why would we live as though we are still in debt? Why would we avoid God? Or despise His people? Or entertain thoughts of guilt and self-condemnation? Or think that we have to live up to obligations of religious dogma? Why?
If our debt has been paid in full; no obligation remains. The apostle Paul says of the Christian believer:
What then can we say that Abraham, our physical ancestor, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to brag about—but not before God. For what does the Scripture say?
Abraham believed God,
and it was credited to him for righteousness.
Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness. Romans 4:1-4 (HCSB)
In the same section of Scripture, Paul also writes:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. If those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made empty and the promise is canceled. For the law produces wrath. And where there is no law, there is no transgression. Romans 4:13-14 (HCSB)
Where there is no law, there is no transgression. Or we might also say, “Where there is no debt to perfection, there is no payment owed.” And if there is no obligation to meet standards of righteousness, there are no transgressions. More importantly, there are no transgressors. And if there are no transgressors, there is peace.
These are dangerous ideas, I know. In them, the self-centered soul will seek justification for all kinds of ungodly behavior. But the essence of the gospel—faith working through love—proclaims a different message. Having been forgiven of our sins, and having had our certificate of debt paid in full, the love of God compels us to honor the One who freed us from our debtor’s prison.
Because of the cross of Christ, we are forgiven of our sins and now have peace with God. We are free to live by the royal law of love. And if there is ever to be a moral or spiritual debt we feel compelled to pay, it is to a lifestyle of love freely given.
If the devil calls to unsettle your soul and demand payment, tell him to take a hike in the wilderness. Your debt to righteousness has been nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ and stamped, “PAID IN FULL!”
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.