(To go along with the concept Paul expresses in Philippians 4:17-18)
Without debt, society as we know it wouldn’t exist. For many of us debt is such a common part of our lives that we really don’t give it much thought. Almost all of us carry credit cards. In fact, many of us rarely use cash any more. Every time we use a credit card – we incur a debt. Very few of us paid cash for our houses. Our mortgages are simply another form of debt. Many have other forms of debt, also – such as car payments or student loans.
But what if you have more debt than you can pay? Whoever loaned you the money to purchase what you bought will repossess the goods, or take whatever you put up for collateral. A creditor might garnish your wages. If you can no longer afford the mortgage payments on your house, the bank will foreclose.
Usually, we don’t get ourselves so far into debt that there isn’t a reasonable possibility of paying it off in our lifetime. But it is possible – particularly when you get compound interest on the loan working against you. For example, earlier in our history people would buy things on credit for inflated prices at the company store. The interest on the loan would be so high that it was almost impossible to ever pay it off on the wages the company paid its workers. Lest you think that that sort of thing only happened in the dark past, today a lot of people are discovering that it is almost impossible to pay off their student loans.
Unscrupulous lenders are why we have such things as usury laws. They are on the books to prevent people from being victimized by predatory creditors who compound the debt until it is impossible to pay it off. It’s also why we have bankruptcy laws. If someone does get so hopelessly mired in debt that there is little chance of their being able to pay it off, the laws give them some protection from their creditors – except for student loans which are not erased by bankruptcy. In the old days there were things like debtor’s prisons. If you couldn’t pay you got thrown in the clink until you could pay. I’ve often wondered how you were supposed to earn the money you owed while you were behind bars – but that’s how it was. During certain periods of history in some countries, people who couldn’t pay would be sold as slaves to satisfy their debts.
But suppose that we didn’t have our bankruptcy laws, and imagine a debt so huge that there was absolutely no way you could ever pay it back no matter how hard you worked and no matter how large your income. You couldn’t get your creditors off your back by going to jail. Even being sold into slavery couldn’t satisfy the debt. It would be a hopeless situation.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation we managed to get ourselves into with God. He is our Creator and we owe Him our service, our worship our loyalty – our very beings. Yet none of us has served God the way we ought. In fact, each of us has rebelled against Him. Even now, in spite of our best efforts, we still do not give God the glory that is rightfully His. We are in debt and there is no possible way we can ever pay. Since we are supposed to do good at all times, we can never do enough good to make up for the good we failed to do in the past.
In one place the Apostle Paul describes our condition as “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12).
But since we are totally incapable of paying our debt, God paid it for us. In Romans 5, verses 6 through 8, Paul writes, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)
Paul expressed the same idea another way when he wrote to the Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:1-9 NIV)
Our word “mortgage” is made up of two other words. “Mort” means death, and “gage” means a pledge. Since there was absolutely no way we could pay what we owe, our life was forfeit. But since God did not want us to have to pay, God Himself paid the price. Through Jesus’ death God took our mortgage and stamped “Paid In Full” across the face of it.
Each week we gather to remember that our debt has been paid. We remember the price by eating a piece of bread which represents the payment of Jesus made of His own body instead of ours. We drink a cup of juice which represents His blood which wiped out our debt.
Today as we eat the bread and drink the cup, let’s remember the phrase, “Paid In Full.”