Have you ever had someone do something really nice for you, and feel that you had to pay them back? Years ago, a pastor talked about a “gift for a gift” gift, meaning that someone buys us a gift around Christmas, and we weren’t planning to get him or her a gift, but now we feel compelled to reciprocate.
Or, maybe someone offers to pick up the check, and we keep a mental tally of whether or not we have returned the favor with enough good deeds in return, to “offset” that kindness. An episode of the old sitcom, “According to Jim”, made fun of this as, “The Marriage Bank” – a principle that my wife and I call upon (jokingly) on a periodic basis.
But, keeping score in a relationship isn’t healthy, and when one party in a relationship is always winning, the other must be losing, and that’s no way to get along.
The Bible offers a different system of obligations, which is both freeing (because we don’t have to worry about keeping score), and challenging (because we always have more to do).
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:8 NASB
In this sense, nobody is winning or losing. After all, how can we be losing when Jesus has secured our future? And, how could we imagine being better than someone else (or “winning”), when we’re all sinners saved by God’s grace?
Keep “score” according to this verse, and everyone will win.
On the other hand, in addition to remembering that life isn’t about keeping score, sometimes we may also be trying to catch up from an unfathomable deficit. We somehow think that we need to earn God’s favor, or become “good enough” to get into Heaven. Even Christians who [correctly] understand that their salvation isn’t a function of their actions, still feel like failures when they sin.
We should still try not to sin. Our stubborn sinful nature is not an excuse. In fact, our goal remains to not sin at all. (By the way, the challenge not to sin is independent of whether or not one has chosen to follow Jesus. However, accepting Him and restoring that relationship means that – as I understand it – we get some extra help, in the form of the Holy Spirit. See John 14:16-17.)
My point is that we shouldn’t let our sins consume us. They are always there for us to fight against, but once we have accepted Jesus’ payment for them, they don’t have to define us, anymore.
If we feel like we need to “pay Jesus back”, we may as well give up; we’re not paying back that debt. After all, if we could pay for that debt, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus’ sacrifice in the first place. However, it is still appropriate to live in obedience to Jesus, both out of gratitude, and because we realize that this is what making him Lord of our lives means.
Live for Jesus. Serve Him. And, accept His gift for what it is…a gift you cannot repay, but which can be received with sincere thankfulness.