To Cancel the Record of our Debt
Sins and transgressions – not more religious talk! It's all so out-
That's the way the man in the street reacts when he listens to Christians talking or hears some snippets of a sermon and we shouldn't be in the least bit surprised that he does. It would be astonishing if someone who is cut off from God and dead in his sins should think otherwise. No one will become to take these matters seriously until God begins to draw near by his Spirit and bring about conviction of sin.
And yet God in his mercy does do just that. If you are a Christian this evening it is not because you are good but because God is. It is just because God does break into people's lives to save them that we must go on speaking his word of truth and that includes sin and righteousness and judgement whether folk like to hear it or not.
The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of sins and trespasses because, although modern man might like to downplay the whole affair, his Creator and his Judge does not! Sin is important because, as prophet Ezekiel tells us, Ezek.18:20 "The soul who sins shall die." And that death is the spiritual separation of a soul from God for all eternity.
When a man or a woman begins to give some thought to the fact of sin his first reaction is likely to be to wonder just what he can do about it. He or she is almost certain to conclude that their own deeds are the most important things to consider. If God is going to judge, they reason, then surely he will do so by setting all their good works in one pan of the scales and their bad deeds in the other. All that is necessary then is to have more in the good pan than in the bad and the balance will come down in their favour. And, of course, we conveniently assume that our good pan will easily outweigh our bad.
But is that what the Bible teaches?
Paul writing to the Romans declared in a very straightforward manner that all of us are in the same boat, we are all rebels against God and have failed dismally to attain to his perfect standards:
Rom.3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"
He then goes on to explain that salvation is available as a free gift from God. God's way has absolutely nothing to do with scales and balances. Scales and balances may be popular with men but in reality they lead nowhere and we should far rather be thrilled that God's way has nothing to do with them.
Men are attached to the idea of earning their way rather than by relying on God's free offer of grace for a variety of reasons:
We all have the tendency to minimise the significance of sin. Adam and Eve believed Satan's lie that to disobey God would not lead to spiritual death – they were wrong but that hasn't stopped men and women from believing that same lie ever since. Sin is an enormous problem – one that we simply cannot deal with on our own.
We have the tendency to exaggerate the quality and scale of our good works. The Scribes and Pharisees perhaps thought it an easy thing to conform to the law of God but they conformed only in an outward manner without worrying about motive and their own heart attitude. Saul of Tarsus used to think he was blameless before the Law of God until the Spirit spoke to him about the sin of coveting. We can hide our deepest thoughts from others but not from God.
When we focus upon outward appearances alone it is perhaps all too easy to develop inflated opinions concerning our "good works" but Isaiah brings us back to ground with a bump:
Is.64:6 "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment / like filthy rags."
Even when we do things that outwardly are fine we find that we have not done them for the right reasons. It is God who is great and everything is to be done to his glory. When we reject his diagnosis that we need his free grace preferring to trust in our own good works we are acting in pride and are as far from glorifying God as it is possible to get. What we like to consider as out good works in fact turn out to belong to the same side of the scales as our very worst deeds – our very best deeds are deficient.
What would you make of a murderer who pleaded that he didn't deserve to be punished for his crime because he was a thief as well?
There simply is no hint in the Bible of salvation being secured by the route of balancing good deeds against bad – even the best of our deeds only make matters worse for us as they too fall short of God's glory.
If we are to enjoy salvation it must come by some other means. Happily God has provided another way and it involves not balancing our records but cancelling them!
If one day you were to have the misfortune of being arrested by the police and brought to court you would be issued with a charge sheet. This 'charge sheet' would set out the details of the crime you were being charged with. In other words this 'charge sheet' contains a record of your debt to the law of the land and it may be complete or incomplete. Sometimes in our legal system the accused asks for other offences to be 'Taken into Consideration' -
But when we come to appear in God's courtroom the charge sheet will be complete – nothing will be left out, every time we failed to promote God's glory another charge was added to the list. If we are to be left alone to face the charges there will be no hope for us – how on earth can we escape those charges? Charges that we know to be true and right, charges for which recognise our guilt. Is there any possibility of the charges against us being dropped? And if so how can it be done?
Sin, as we have said before, is something that God takes very seriously indeed. In fact sin is only a problem for us because God takes it so seriously. If God winked at sin then we could sin with impunity and we needn't be concerned about sin at all. But because God is who he is sin remains a problem and that problem must somehow be dealt with.
In the OT God himself declares that he will deal with the problem of our sin:
Is.43:25 "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."
He tells us here what he will do but he doesn't explain how.
In the following chapter God speaks again through Isaiah:
Is.44:2 "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."
Once again there is a lovely declaration but no detail given as to how this is done.
Centuries earlier the psalmist David had pleaded with God to do just this as he was convicted of his sin:
Ps.51:1 "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions."
Oh this is the need of every man and woman, of every boy and girl but how is it to be done?
Paul in our text supplies the answer: it is at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ that the problem is definitively resolved. We are looking at reasons why Jesus had to die and here is another – he had to die in order that the record of our debts, the charge sheet that had been issued against us, might be cancelled. Once more we find that it is God who is active and we who are passive recipients.
How could it be otherwise – we were spiritually dead, our trespasses had seen to that – but God made us alive as he cancelled the record of our debt that stood against us.
Do you remember the story that Jesus told about the dishonest manager, the unjust steward? It is recorded for us in Luke's Gospel ch.16:1-
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light."
Each of the men the shrewd manager went to had a certificate/record of debt that showed clearly how much he owed. None of these men could challenge the matter – they had put their signature to it and they were legally bound. The shrewd manager offered them a dishonest escape route out of at least part of their obligations.
Now our debt is similar, an i.o.u. that we owe to God – and the record of this our debt we can't deny – it has our finger-
How is the matter to be resolved?
Well, says Paul, the record of our debt has not been written down leaving us something left outstanding that we must somehow try to pay; no, it has been completely annulled because it was nailed to the Cross. Now we are not to imagine that pieces of paper were nailed to the Cross rather what Paul means is that Jesus when he was nailed to the tree bore away himself the record of our debt. What this means is that the damning record of our debt was cancelled, it was entirely obliterated against us because Jesus was damned in our place.
A week or so ago I had to put my car into the garage – the bill was expensive but I've paid it. I have a copy of that bill – it has stamped across it in large capital letters PAID. The garage is never ever going to come at me for that bill to paid again – it's been paid in full, my debt to them is over. When Jesus was nailed to the cross it was like he stamped across the record of my spiritual debt to God the words PAID IN FULL – as far as I'm concerned my debt has been cancelled!
Do you see how this puts salvation in a totally different category from that of works and deeds and actions? Instead of striving hard to pursue the evaporating dream of a works-
With faith and trust in Christ who was nailed to the cross carrying away the record of my debt no charges are now left to be brought against me. There are no outstanding charges – they've all been fully dealt with.
If you are a Christian that is true for you!
Paul elsewhere could rejoice in this truth as he declared:
Rom.8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Why did Jesus die? He died in order that the record of our debt might be definitively cancelled. It cost him dearly to set aside our debt, it cost him his life – such is the horror of sin and God's hatred of it. But Jesus died that all those who repent and put their faith in him might never have to fear such a divine charge sheet being issued to them our slate has been wiped clean at the cost of Jesus' life blood.
We see in the death of Christ something of seriousness of sin – trust him and live for him and you will never be exposed to that to which he was exposed. Reject him or try to trust in your own resources and you'll find that the sufferings that came his way will come yours only in your case it will suffering with no hope.
Let me finish by reading an expanded paraphrase of our text:
How can we fail to be thankful?
To God be the Glory for his indescribable gift!