Summary: We are justified by faith, not by works. God’s grace is freely credited to us.
It’s been said that more Americans are in debt these days than ever before. Many blame credit cards as the culprit. It is easier than ever for people to spend and it’s easier than ever to put off paying the bill. “Buy now! Pay later!” That seems to be the basis of our economy these days.
It’s no wonder people rack up astronomical debt, and with the current credit system (interest rates, payment schedules, etc.) it can take someone an average of 20 years to pay off just one credit card debt. It’s also not surprising that many lending agencies have sprung up, which are devoted to decreasing one’s debt. Some offer to consolidate your bills for you. Others might suggest a “low interest loan” to help pay off your bills (get into further debt to pay your debt). And then others encourage you to tap into your home’s equity to pay off those pesky bills.
God handles a lending agency of his own. Only he doesn’t merely take care of high spending on credit cards or home improvement projects. God takes care of the ultimate debt. GOD OFFERS US THE ULTIMATE CREDIT ADVANCE! Our Lord 1) absorbs the debt of the law, and then 2) offer the gift of salvation in its place. 1) He Absorbs the Debt of Sin
This section of Scripture ought to hit us right between the eyes! It’s as if the apostle is giving all of us a wake up call. He’s reminded us that we are in dire straits spiritually. We have all racked up an exorbitant debt before God. The apostle Paul reminds us of this fact in Romans 3: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23). This is a debt that is common to all people. Every person is born owing God. And this debt increases throughout our lives, as sin increases more and more.
The problem is that all of those sins – our failure to love God first, our failure to love one another – are credited to our accounts. It’s as if God did a credit check on each of us and found that we have fallen short. We are buried under a load of sin. The interest rate of guilt forces us to fall even deeper into spiritual debt. We’re spiritually bankrupt and we know it. The guilt we feel causes us to loathe ourselves, to become depressed, and to despair.
As it is, we are so desperate to try and get out from underneath this debt of sin we’ll try anything, and so we foolish humans devise a payment plan of our own. We try to access God’s ATM, convincing him that he should give us a loan on his grace. All the while, we promise to pay him back. We fool ourselves into thinking that we can earn God’s grace and somehow pay off our debt of sin.
People in Paul’s day had such foolish notions. The Jews turned to Abraham as a shining example of someone who was right with God. “If anybody had a clean credit history with God, it was Abraham!” so they argued. After all, his life was full of righteous works. He obeyed God, so he must have earned the right to be forgiven.
That notion began to mushroom in their minds, and they applied that flawed thinking to themselves. “If Abraham could earn heaven by his good deeds, (and he certainly appeared to be a righteous man, just look at his life), then I must be able to as well; after all, I’m a descendant of Abraham”, so the Jews thought. Now, Abraham was the father of the Israelites. He was the head and wellspring of the Jewish nation and life. So the Jewish people thought that since they were descendants of Abraham they had an automatic connection to God’s grace and a clean credit history in his eyes.
They thought that their nationality would give them instant access to God’s grace and favor. This thinking is nothing new, however. The notion that we can somehow earn our salvation is as old as time itself. Every human being is born with this flawed opinion. We’re even guilty of it. “I’m a German Lutheran,” or “I’m an Italian Catholic and my whole family is, too.” We cannot access God’s ATM of grace with merely a church membership card. We can’t access God’s grace with our own sense of “goodness”, either. “I try to live a good life, so God ought to let me into heaven” -- that thinking won’t cut it either when God makes his final credit check at the end of time!
The apostle Paul cuts through all of this silliness. He tells us where to look so that we can be certain of a clean credit history before God. We don’t look to ourselves. We don’t look to our ancestors. We don’t look to anyone: “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” “Look to God’s Word,” Paul says, “trust what God tells you.” What did Abraham do to earn heaven? He did nothing. He simply believed the Lord forgave him, and God credited Abraham’s faith to his account.