Even in this world of bitcoin, electronic payments, Venmo, and credit card readers that plug right into smartphones, there are still some retailers that only accept cash. After my son’s baseball practice one day, I stepped up to the window at an ice cream stand with him, and saw the “Cash Only” sign. It was written very politely, but it forced me to take a mental inventory of my wallet. My cash reserves vary widely, depending on how long it’s been since we visited the ATM, but I’m happy to report that I happened to have enough that day for two servings (one for each of us – not both for me, if that was what you were thinking).
I haven’t always been this prepared. Years ago, Steak ‘N Shake restaurants would only accept cash. After dinner, my wife and I found ourselves out of state and well-fed at one of their restaurants, but without enough money to pay the bill. Rather than wash dishes, the staff allowed me to run out to a nearby ATM, while she stayed behind and talked with the server.
Once we understand our place in the world (as human beings who have fallen short of the standards for which we were created), we can pretty quickly get a good understanding of our debt. The debt we have incurred for choosing to do things that are wrong (i.e., sin) is separation from God, just as the punishment for the first sin of mankind was that things in this world – including us – grow old and die.
But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
Genesis 2:16-17 NLT
(See also Genesis 3:17-19.)
The good news is that God took care of this debt, if we choose to accept His offer. Jesus paid fully for the cost of our sins, and we are now free to follow God – in this world, and for eternity.
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:18-21 NLT
Unfortunately, many of us (including myself, at certain times in our life) worry that we won’t be able to cover our “bill” when we get to the judgement. We are afraid that our sins are just a little too big, or just a little too severe, and that we won’t get into Heaven. I’ve felt the pain of that fear (see My Testimony).
Getting back into a good relationship with God, though, isn’t about collecting enough good deeds in our spiritual wallet to pay for miscellaneous “bills” we have incurred. There is no “toll” for us to pay (leaving us looking for change in the glove box or the bottom of a purse) at the gates of Heaven. There is a great cost for us to be redeemed, but it has already been covered.
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
1 John 2:1-2 NLT
Certainly, if we sin after accepting Jesus’ payment for our shortcomings, we should confess those sins to God (as best as we are able). It is often appropriate to try and make things right with others, and it is always appropriate to try and do better (especially with the Holy Spirit’s help). However, these sins don’t rack up extra “charges”; there is nothing additional that we have to cover – whether with good deeds, apologies to God, or trying to go “above and beyond” normal righteousness. They are all taken care of.
So, live freely, and celebrate the gift of God’s forgiveness through Jesus. Once you have accepted Him and obeyed His instructions (see Acts 2), don’t live in fear that a mistake or a sin will cause you to come up a few dollars short in the final tally.
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away —all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
Acts of the Apostles 2:37-40 NLT