December 14, 2017

The Debt You Cannot Pay

Jim Oesterwind

It’s hard to love people who feel entitled to your love. I guess you’re just supposed to be grateful to bask in the presence of one so loveable. When a person feels that he is God’s gift to the world, that person has very little to give the world. But when a person who is needy and desperate finds genuine love, that person will truly reciprocate with undying gratitude and affection.

The Lord Jesus had relationships with a self-righteous religious Pharisee named Simon and a notoriously sinful woman (see Luke 7.36-50). The Pharisee watched the woman bring a heavy heart and an alabaster flask to Jesus and express love and gratitude. He thought to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7.39). You can almost imagine him spitting those last five words out in his thoughts.

Instead of calling fire down upon the self-righteous man’s head, Jesus confronted him with a parable:

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”” (Luke 7:41–42)

There is an obvious parallel between this parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32). The debtor who owed 50 is like the older son; the debtor who owed 500 like the younger. The creditor could certainly be the father who desires to welcome back both his self-righteous son (Simon the Pharisee) and his wayward prodigal (sinful woman).

Jesus asks Simon, “Which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer to the question will be a self-indictment for Simon. It is similar to what the LORD did to David when he confronted his murder of Uriah to cover up adultery with the man’s wife. God sent a prophet named Nathan to tell a story about a little ewe lamb.

“There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1–7)

Like the debtor who owed 50, those forgiven little love little. Like the debtor who owed 500, those forgiven much love much. But the creditor forgave both. God forgives the vilest of sinners among us only if such a sinner comes by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ. But all of us are sinners. All fall short of the glory of God. Human perspective leads us to falsely conclude that some of us are better than others. Paul wrote, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

The fact is that you may be a self-righteous religious person or you may be a licentious, bar-hopping sinner. But all of us are guilty before God. All fall short of the glory of God. If we draw a comparison with someone, let us attempt to compare ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. You will conclude as I have that none of us have cause to boast. No matter how much or how little we owe, we cannot pay our sin-debt.

But God is willing to forgive. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus “Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Since this is true, we cannot have anything to do with our salvation. It is all in accordance with God’s mercy and grace. Therefore, no man can claim to be especially loveable to God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only One worthy of the Father’s words, “This is My beloved Son!”

If you attempt to justify yourself by your supposed goodness or by some law or standard you’ve kept, you have fallen from grace and have become estranged from Christ (see Galatians 5.4). God is willing to forgive, and He invites sinners to come to His Son’s Person and work believing. If you trust in Christ alone for your eternal life, you have much for which you should be grateful.

Your debt is not small. It cost the Father the death of His Son: Jesus’ lifeblood shed for you. Self-righteous people have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. They are truly hypocritical and pretentious. Formerly self-righteous people experience the grace of God and delight to see Christ high and lifted up!

Your debt is not too great. There is a zeal that Christ will own. Romans 12.11 teaches us that we should not lag behind in our work for the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to be zealous and fervent in spirit when serving the Lord. When zeal is directed by the Word and motivated by gratitude, then we shall be vindicated even though the world forsake us. Pray and seek power to honor and glorify God. If you live this way, then you shall hear the Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

No sinner will be turned away when he turns to Christ! Jesus forgave the unwelcome woman’s sin. Only God can do that. Her story reminds us that God’s mercy is not only present in our own story, it is dominant. Jesus paid the debt we could not pay. Therefore, we must “owe no one anything except to love one another!” (Romans 13.8a)


Jim Oesterwind is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, CA. He blogs at Sun and Shield.


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