Let’s say for a moment that I have a friend who loans me five dollars. I now have his five dollars (sweet!), but I am also indebted to him for it. It isn’t really mine. But when the time comes for me to repay him the five dollars, he says to me “Don’t worry about it. Consider it a gift.”
Do I still owe my friend the debt? Or has the debt been forgiven? That’s a pretty simple question to answer. It’s the same idea as if you pay off a credit card bill. Once the bill has been paid, then it’s paid. You don’t have to keep paying on a statement that has a zero balance, right?
But let’s ask some questions about the nature of my friend rather than about the nature of the debt.
Perhaps later in life, this friend asks me to do something for him. Does he ask me to “return the favor” (an interesting expression!) by saying to me: “Remember that time I lent you five dollars? You owe it to me to help me out.” If that is his response, has the debt that I owed him really been forgiven, or is that debt, which I offered to repay, still really being held over my head and as a result it wasn’t really forgiven at all? I have had friends like this, and what’s more, I’ve been that sort of friend too many times in my life… and no doubt still am, and will be for some time to come.
But maybe this friend is a different sort of friend than I’ve had and than I’ve been. Maybe I see this friend and say to him, “Hey, remember the time that I was in need and you lent me five bucks?”
This friend, in response, says to me: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What five bucks?”
This is the picture of a debt that has been forgiven… one that carries a zero balance, even though I never actually paid it back. That’s the sort of example we consider when we hear the expression “forgive and forget”. That’s the way our God sees us who love Him, as being completely free of the debt of sin that we carry in our lives. And because He has completely forgiven our debt, He has also completely forgotten it.
Jeremiah 31:33-34, and quoted in Hebrews 8, says this:
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Get it? That’s the picture of the forgiveness Jesus gives us on Good Friday. God promises that He forgives us, and that the forgiveness we’re given is so perfectly complete that He will not even remember our sins. We are washed completely clean by the blood of Christ. In His salvation, our God looks at us and says “What sin?”
Our response at Easter to the love – to the passion – that God showed us in paying our debt in full is not one that should be riddled with guilt, and our service to Him should not be a service that is done out of a sense of obligation or payback. God did the work to pay our debt simply because that’s how much He loves us… not because He’s expecting a returned favor. This is the very essence of the Grace of God.
Grace simply means “unmerited favor”. If that favor is one that we believe we can (or must) earn or repay, then our response to Grace trivializes the work of Christ. And if we believe that we are to go through life trying to earn God’s Grace, that isn’t Grace at all, is it?
You know, we’re not even obligated to say “thank you” for all of this, in the sense that saying “thank you” is a requirement for benefitting from Grace. But I hope that this Easter will be one in which we give thanks whole-heartedly to a God who loves us so much that He’d endure the cross on our behalf so that we could be free from the burden of a debt we owe but cannot repay on our own. We give thanks not because we’re required to do so, but because we are grateful to a God who demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
Let our response to Jesus this weekend be gratitude and remembrance. Let it be one that is driven by love and an appreciation of Grace, rather than by a sense of thinking that we are earning or repaying God’s favor, because we’re not, and we can’t.
And you know what? There is nothing to earn that hasn’t already been given freely by Grace. And there is nothing we owe that hasn’t already been paid in full.
We all struggle with sin, and we should. Our freedom that Jesus bought for us on the cross doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want whenever we want. At the same time, we need to be mindful that God is not a cold and distant accountant or scorekeeper. He is our loving Father, and it is His desire to help us with our struggles just as we desire to help our own children with theirs. When we fall, although there may be consequences in our falling, our perfectly loving Father is not standing by to punish us but instead patiently picks us up, dusts us off, kisses our wounds (even and especially those that take a long time to heal) and helps set us back on our way along the path of following Him.
So that debt that you’re carrying around that burdens your spirit? That shame that you may be hanging on to that makes you question how anyone who knew about it could still really love you? It’s time to let those things go. Jesus bore that weight for you already, and Jesus already paid the debt in full so that there’s not a bill coming for it later.
Let go of it. Just let go.
Let our response to Easter be a grateful heart that is free from burden by the Grace of God. Let our response to His calling be born out of love, not a sense of debt or guilt, because those things are of our own making – not of His.
So my question for you is: what debts are you carrying around and bearing the weight of on a daily basis? That you’re hanging on to, even unintentionally?
Lay them down at the cross of Jesus on this Good Friday. Walk away from them and be free from their burden, covered in His grace and in the security of knowing that our debts are canceled, paid in full and forgotten, and we bear them no more. That’s how much Jesus loves you. That’s the work He did when He endured the cross. It’s not your burden to bear any longer. Jesus did it for you, and it’s done, and it’s finished.
Celebrate this weekend the freedom that laying those sins down affords you, and may your celebration be joyous and blessed.
Peace and Grace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ!