In a world stricken by economic and health crises (like those created by the COVID-19 virus these days, for instance), generous people and organizations will often step up and help out those without the resources to get through.
Sometimes, this takes the form of donations (whether money, food, or other provisions), but other times, it looks like canceling debt (whether past or present). For instance, a creditor tells a person or organization that they don’t have to pay a bill, whether delaying it for a while, or freeing the debtor from ever having to pay it back. Or, a landlord tells tenants that they don’t have to pay rent while out of work.1
I find this example helpful when considering how God forgives my sins. We may have memorized the following verse from the illustrative prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, which we call the Lord’s Prayer:
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:12 NIV
Whether you translate these as “debts”, “sins”, “trespasses”, or “wrongs”, we all need to be forgiven for our sins. If not, we will have to settle our debts when we pass from this life into the next, and (since “you can’t take it with you”, as some say) our only remaining possession left for us to forfeit will be our soul. Certainly, this is not the outcome that God wants for any human being that He created, but our choices must be accounted for in the universal balances of right and wrong.
I am thankful that God (the Father) sent Jesus (God the Son) to provide payment for my debt. I have given over the penalty of my sin to Jesus, who already settled my account. Now, any good things that I do can be a credit in His name, while the eternal cost for any future sins that I still commit has been pre-paid.
Still, when I pray for God to forgive me for my recently-committed sins, the concept of incurring debt is helpful for me to think of how my sins (against God, others, and myself), and the sins of others (also against God, themselves, and others, including me), incur a debt.
When someone sins against me, I am tempted to keep that debit on their account, and hold their offense against them. In my anger or frustration, I want them to reach out to me and apologize, then make things right. Because of my sinful nature, I want to keep them perpetually in my debt, owing me something for the wrong that they have done, until they have paid me back. Maybe I want to reserve the right to bring up their past failures whenever I want, just to proclaim my superiority or to extract a win over them in an argument (even one about something totally different).
With God’s help, I try to keep these periods of temptation and unforgiveness as short as possible. If the temptation can be squashed right away, then I – and the other person – can move on, and get back to doing good things for God. On a bad day, though, this is harder for me, but I ask for God’s help a lot on this topic.
When I think about my sin as a debt, though, it becomes much more clear that when I am asking for God to forgive me, I am calling upon Him to remember that my debt for sin has been paid for (obviously, He already knows that, so part of this effort is probably also about me remembering this point). When I am tempted to not forgive others, thinking of the cost of my sin reminds me to not be like the servant described in Matthew 18:21-35, too.
In addition, forgiveness restores closeness a relationship. We can probably all think of cases where one friend or family member loaned something to another (like money, or a lawn mower), and the relationship got tense while the debt of repayment remained outstanding. The person doing the loaning may get a little impatient when the item isn’t returned in time, and the person who is responsible to pay it back knows it. So, the two find it more difficult to have a polite conversation, and may avoid each other intentionally. Paying back the debt (or sometimes forgiving it) can restore this rift.
I remember that when I confess my sin to God, and repent from it, I can also improve my fellowship with Him. I have fewer reasons to avoid Him, somehow thinking that if I don’t confess my sins, He doesn’t notice them. (Note that, in this relationship, God is unchanging and perfect, so the only party that can be less than perfect is me.)
I pray that your sin-debt is paid for. If not, Jesus has already settled your account, but you need to claim His payment for your personal debt of sin, before you find yourself having to cover the cost yourself. Please do so today. Contact a pastor or friend who can tell you more, or let me know if you have any questions.
Jesus was great at covering others’ debts (just like in Matthew 17:24-27, although our souls are worth infinitely more than a coin). Let Him cover your debts today, and live in a restored relationship with God as a result.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- If you feel stuck in a situation where someone will not release you from what you owe, even when disasters prevent you from paying, I pray that God will provide for you. That includes God-inspired guidance (for both you and your creditor), provision (for your needs and theirs), and a divine restoration to occur within the Body of Christ, where I hope that both of you will end up. ↩
6 thoughts on “Debt Forgiveness”
This post is a helpful way to remember what sin really creates – a debt we cannot pay that results in wages we don’t really want. My only suggestion is to make the wording of one sentence a bit different: “I remember that when I confess my sin to God, and repent from it, I also improve the relationship between Him and me. ” My relationship as a son can never be improved upon. So I struggle with the way you said this. I get what you are saying, but just thought you might want to modify “improve the relationship” part of the sentence. I’m not trying to be critical, but wanted you to know that I carefully consider what you communicate. 🙂
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Thank you for your suggestion! Let me take a closer look at that paragraph after work today and get back to you.
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OK, after a longer-than-usual work day (a sprint cut-over), I’ve had some time to think about your comments. I do appreciate your insights into the details of these postings, and every one makes me think. In addition, because of the higher standard to which teachers of God’s Word are held, accuracy and clarity are important to me.
After wrestling with my interpretation and yours (which I consider to be reasonable and correct), I believe that there are two definitions of “relationship”: First, there is the actual, inherent connection between two people. This is the permanent (or, between we human beings, sometimes semi-permanent) definition of how two people stand with respect to each other. I agree that we are immutably the creation of God, and can be adopted as His children. Things like that don’t change as a function of our day-to-day behavior or actions. I certainly don’t want to suggest that this definition of relationship varies between us and God.
However, what is sometimes described as our “relationship” with someone else is perhaps better defined as the “relationship quality” (I found that term in a published paper, while trying to analyze the best way to express my thoughts on this matter). I have remained my parents’ son, even when I did things that justifiably earned their displeasure, for instance. The quality of my relationship with them (and other family members) may ebb and flow, but we are still related. Some would say that my relationship with relatives has changed in quality over time, but it has not changed in substance.
This “relationship quality” was what I was trying to capture in that paragraph. God loves us constantly, and our standing with Him doesn’t waffle with the weather. Even though God is a constant, though, I am a variable. I want to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, but my achievement of that varies from day to day. This is where confession and repentance help me better live up to my side of the relationship.
I know that there are some good wordsmiths who read these articles (including yourself), and would welcome suggestions on how to better articulate this. I’m happy to make the update, but I’m still trying to get the words right.
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After a fresh look, I took a shot at updating that paragraph (and the preceding one). Suggestions are still welcome, though!
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What I find interesting is that the word I would have used is the one you used. I always appreciate a well-written blog, and your blogs are always ones I appreciate and find helpful. Thanks for writing and communicating truth.
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Thank you for your kind words. I know that you will continue to be blessed by God’s Word, and I pray that I can continue to help, in some small way. Keep those questions and comments coming!