He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And, now, I sing a brand new song, “Amazing Grace.”
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.
Ellis J. Crum
I remember singing the words to this old hymn as a young boy growing up immersed in Baptist culture. Truthfully, although they were familiar to me, and slipped from my lips without much effort, they didn’t mean all that much to me at that time. But last week, as I considered freshly the impact and implications of the sacrificial death of Jesus, I was freshly reminded of them- and freshly struck by their astounding meaning.
Have you ever been in debt before? I mean, really in debt? I mean, so in debt that you weren’t sure how you were even going to begin paying up? Needless to say, that’s a pretty helpless and hopeless place to live. It leaves you with only two real options- work yourself to the bone in an attempt to make things right, or sink down into the despairing resignation that you likely won’t ever get there, and may as well not even try.
While I have a few I could choose from, the debt story that stands out in my life came at the beginning of my senior year of college. I was your typical, under resourced college student, but had managed in a year’s time to save enough cash to purchase my now-wife’s engagement ring. I had the ring in hand, and was ready to pop the question. What I did not have was any more money; I had spent pretty much everything to get the ring.
And then it happened. Late one Friday night, pulling back into the parking lot outside my residence, I got into an accident…with a parked car. Yes, embarrassing, I know. It was late, no one was around, and I was honestly tempted to walk away. But I couldn’t. I left a note with my name and number, and began pleading with God that I would never have to speak with this individual about this incident. Two days passed, and just as I began to hope that God had graciously answered my prayer, the phone range. It was the vehicle owner, and she (justifiably) wanted things fixed. She got a quote on the repair, and while I don’t remember the precise amount, it was…a lot, especially when you have the equivalent of $17.34, give or take, to your name.
I called home, somewhat sheepishly explained the situation to my Dad, and he agreed to pay the upfront cost of the repair, leaving me indebted to him. Remember, now, I have basically no income at this point. So while the debt wasn’t crazy big by objective standards, to me it was massive. I began funneling every little bit of cash I got back to my Dad for the remainder of that school year, becoming a master of the $2.14 dinner at Whataburger on the weekends in an effort to save whatever little bit of extra I could. Finally, after returning home the next spring, I had the debt down to approximately one third of its total.
Kerri and I were a few months from our wedding day, and from “real life” expenses. I was facing down, for the first time in my life, the necessity of paying the rent, the utilities, the car insurance, the groceries, and the like. I was still making next to nothing, and Kerri was still in school. And this debt continued to loom over my head- that is, until one afternoon when my Dad slipped me a note. The content of this note was short and simple, but it couldn’t have meant more to me in that moment.
It read, “Paid in full.” In that moment, with those three words, my Dad said to me, “Don’t worry about the rest. I got this.” You would have thought someone had just given me a check for a million dollars. I was overjoyed, a weight gone, a burden lifted, all thanks to the grace and “forgiveness” of one man. Take note of this, though- In that moment, with that act of “forgiveness,” my Dad didn’t magically make my debt go away. It still existed, the same as it had before. He simply absorbed the cost of it himself. Someone had to pay it- either I did, or he did. And in love, he chose to pay in full on my behalf.
Now let’s revisit the words of the old hymn that heads this post. It describes a “debt” that we owed- not to another person, but to God Himself. This debt was significant, so insurmountable that we could, by our own efforts, “never pay it.” We’re not talking a $10 “I owe you” here; think more like $10 billion. This is the debt of our sin and rebellion against God- a debt that each of us, without exception, owes to our Creator God.
Now when you consider the reality that debts don’t just “go away”- they must be paid by someone- you realize that in light of our sin, there are only two options. Either we have to pay up, or God has to pay up, to absorb the rightful cost of our sin on Himself. In Jesus, God chose the latter, at one moment revealing the absolute depth of our depravity and the absolute depth of His love for us, even in light of it. In Jesus, God said to us, “I got this.” On the Cross, Jesus paid our debt in full forever, “clearing our account” before heaven and making a way to be made right with our God.
Think about that for a moment. How much would you have to love someone to pay a debt for them? It probably depends on the person in question, as well as on the amount owed. But consider the question this way- How much would you have to love someone to pay their debt at the cost of your own son’s life? The answer to that question is how much God loves you- not on your best way, but on your worst. Think of the most sinful, shameful thing you’ve ever done, and recognize that in that moment, God offered up His one and only Son to rescue you for a relationship with Him. How one could stand unmoved in light of such a sacrifice is absolutely beyond me.
In closing, I give you this quote from Timothy Keller. Meditate and marinate on it this week, and if you’ve never trusted Jesus’ “payment” on your behalf, I implore you to make that move this week. If you have, allow yourself to be freshly reminded of the gravity of that sacrifice, and share it with someone else who needs to know that hope too.
“The Gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope”…Timothy Keller