What comes to mind when you think of the word “financial debt?” College loans? Low-budget TV commercials? Interminable stress and prolonged discouragement?
These are all possible, and understandable, responses. Here’s another one: Jesus Christ.
Jesus Came to Crush Our Debt
What do I mean by this rather odd statement? To begin with, on the cross Jesus paid for all of our sin. We were terribly, tremendously in the wrong before a holy God. We all heaped up an unpayable amount of sin. You think $100,000 is a large amount of debt? Try offending an infinite God.
This is why the cross is so precious to us: there was no spiritual bankruptcy to declare. There was no bank loan that could rescue us from moral insolvency. We were cooked. In fact, we were going the opposite way, accruing more and more sin, day by day. This is where all humanity stands: in a righteousness crisis without any hope of payment.
Except for Jesus.
Jesus is the ultimate angel investor. He gave us not simply good terms on a loan, but his moral purity. He both covered our sins and provided us with his righteousness. We could say that he was our silent partner, but that would be wrong. He delivered to us everything we needed, but he was not silent. His gift of righteousness, imputed through faith, came through death on a cross. Jesus screamed his way through it. He convulsed and doubled over at the pain. But he did not come down from his torture instrument. He stayed up there, and he paid it all.
All our debt was paid by all his agony.
But What About Now?
Christians are those who receive this good news by repenting of sin and confessing this great redeemer as Lord. As a result, all his righteousness is credited to our account. Our righteousness crisis is solved. We walk into court under a death sentence, under a crushing weight of debt we could never pay, and we walk out owing nothing. More than that: we enter God’s courtroom as the most indebted person imaginable, and through God-given faith we leave it wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.
But what about now? Now, I think we believers face a temptation.
It’s possible that we could feel grateful for Christ’s work, but then fail to apply it to our lives. Given that our major need has been met, we could grow lax. Take things easy. Not really concern ourselves with our spiritual lives. Like a trust fund baby suddenly come into staggering wealth, we could live selfishly and narcissistically. We could think we’re above the rules.
It’s possible that we could take stock of our spiritual lives, and grow dull toward the killing of sin. After all, the crisis is over. Now we can coast. Pride, jealousy, lust — we could regret such practices, yes. We might not want to do them. But without really realizing it, we could change our tack. Instead of attacking sin, we might just manage it.
It’s like a couple that has seen many thousands of dollars of ruin erased. Over time, with that near-miracle in the mirror, it’s not hard to slip back into old habits, right? You don’t need to go all crazy, we tell ourselves, as if you’re some sort of mercenary-in-the-wild with green paint on your face, so focused on killing sin. Just manage it.
Jesus Is Not Your Sin-Manager
That is a human way to think. We can all fall into it. Paul anticipated such a mindset in Romans 6:1. Here’s what we need to realize: Jesus didn’t die to be our sin-manager.
What do I mean? Christians are not called to shuffle the decks with our sin. We don’t assume it’s here to stay. We don’t set up programs and practices to rubber-stamp our sin. We don’t expect our friends to only nod empathetically when we tell them that we spoke unkindly, ate greedily, or watched covetously. We’re not able to coast in our spiritual life, rarely reading Scripture, rarely praying. We don’t approach our church family as if they exist only to affirm us.
It’s easy for all of us to fall into these kinds of patterns, though. We can think that the Spirit dwelling inside of us is okay with unholy words, deeds, thoughts. He’s not (Ephesians 4:30). We’re free in Christ, but we’re not free to sin, or to flirt with sin. Whatever else Christian freedom means, it fundamentally means that we are free to be holy. There is no barrier to godliness. We have all we need for it through the Word and the Spirit (2 Peter 1:3).
Even after we come to faith and our sin debt is fully and gloriously paid, we still have to attack sin. We still have to wake up every morning and fight it. We’re not in the red; we’re in the black. But we can’t be lax. We can’t live lazily, putting our sins into new file folders. There’s no part of a Spirit-indwelt Christian that approaches sin as if it’s here to stay. We can’t abide our defensiveness, our proud responses to the tentative suggestion that we might have hurt a friend by careless words. We don’t carve out space in our hearts for lust, soothing ourselves by telling us that since sexual desire is “natural,” it’s okay for us to be careless with our eyes. After conviction of sin by the Spirit, we won’t keep hanging out with friends who drag us down spiritually, convincing ourselves that we’re around them to minister to them.
In these and many other ways, we approach our sin like we approach financial debt: we attack it. We’re not content to live with it. We get a plan to remove it. We take steps to fight it. We invite accountability and ask for prayer from fellow church members to overcome it. We pray to eradicate it.
We don’t manage sin, we kill it.
The Lord Is Patient
We remember as we attack sin that the Lord is patient with us. Sadly, we will commit transgressions until our lives end. Growth in godliness is a progressive reality (Colossians 3:1–11, 1 John 1:9). It takes a lifetime. None of us can microwave our hearts until — bing! — they’re perfectly pure. Sin is taken away from us when we pass from this life to the next. Until the Lord brings us home, he is kind to us, repeatedly and unendingly forgiving us as we confess our sins and repent of them.
That is a precious reality. God is a patient and kind heavenly Father.
But make no mistake: grace never softens our thirst for obedience. It actually inspires us to go on the warpath against our unholiness. We look to the cross as believers, and we see there lavish forgiveness, but also our fundamental approach to sin. In the power of the cross, we are to kill sin. We are to realize that it is a deadly serious matter. Jesus did not die to manage our sin. He died to kill it.
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