C-17°|F1°The debt that religion can never repay The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18 is about more than just unforgiveness. It encompasses lessons about sin and grace and there is also a gospel message to be told. In teaching this parable, Jesus presents debt as a metaphor for sin and trespasses, not just against God but against our neighbour as well. He illustrates this by depicting one debt between a servant and master; and another between servants. In His description of the debt the servant owed the master, Jesus portrays an impossible amount. It was a quantum that the servant had no way of repaying. The master's mercy to forgive this insurmountable debt was Jesus' way of illustrating to us the grace of God to forgive us of all our sins and also to let us know that the debt we have no way of repaying is repaid for us. The universal consciousness of sin If we were to compare different moral understandings of cultures in the world we would invariably find striking similarities to the Ten Commandments. Whether Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist or Hindu, we all recognise that killing and stealing is wrong and we all know that children should honour their parents. The Bible tells us that God wrote His laws into the hearts of men and having received this law, man instinctively obey them (Romans 2:14-15). Man's response to sin Although man had received God's laws, we did not receive a solution to sins until Jesus came. Without knowing a saviour, we could only make what we could of the rules written in our moral conscience. And with sin consciousness came also a natural desire to be in some way made right or justified; and perhaps when left to our own devices, man invariably added more rules and tried harder. I have been made to understand that the Jews practice 613 laws and the Pharisees have added thousands more ordinances. Muslims have many similar laws and believe that salvation is only possible when a scale balancing one's sins against good works tips in favour of the works, and even then one has to stand before God who will judge the balance and decide. If I'm not mistaken, the Buddhists have 227 laws for men and 311 laws for women but this can be condensed within five basic precepts that mirror the Ten Commandments. I don't know why there are more laws for women; don't ask me (go figure!). The concept of Karma which is common in Asian religions expresses life as a cycle of rights and wrong. In the cycle of life, which is thought of as suffering, sins are accumulated and must be atoned for in order to attain nirvana or enlightenment. There are others who subscribe to the notion of reincarnation and belief that sins have to be paid back through many lifetimes. Religion's answer to sin If we look to religion for answers, we will invariably find a system or a structure of rules. There would be some combination requirements to chalk up good deeds; for sacrifice; to observe of a set of guidelines; or some spiritual discipline. And somehow a "god of a religion" is often perceived as a deity that needs to be cajoled to receive favour and appeased to avoid wrath. In a religious system, man has to perform. Religion's answer is to work off the debt of sin and its system is always about having to attain, strive or endeavour towards some golden standard and then maybe - yes, maybe - one might make it. Without knowing Jesus, what else would man conclude but to attempt the attainment of righteousness by flesh? But the reality is that we will always sin Religion imposes a multitude of do's and don'ts. Anyone who diligently tries to follow these rules and who is honest in self-reflection is soon frustrated. Guilt often follows and frequently self-condemnation for being unable to measure up. But really, we are human, we all will eventually slip-up. The truth is that despite our best intentions we can never actually stop sinning. Try as hard as we might, it is impossible to maintain constant freedom from sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Sooner or later we sin in our deeds by commission or omission, in our words and even our thoughts. And according to the Word of God we sin even when we simply fail to do what we believe to be good (James 4:17). Recognising this, the Apostle Paul admits this as his human condition in Romans 7:14-24 and readily calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The reality of life is that we have a sin nature and our deficit of sin is something that grows even as we try to overcome it. Its rate of increase far outstrips our best efforts to be righteous. We continuously accumulate sin-debt and it builds up into an insurmountable sum that is impossible for us to repay. We just cannot stand before God with all our unrighteousness (Psalm 130:3-4). Amazingly (but not unexpectedly) the insurmountable debt of sin is exactly what Jesus was illustrating to us in the Parable of The Unforgiving Servant. The Value of the Impossible Debt To work out the value of ten-thousand talents (Matthew 18:24), we may borrow a clue from Matthew 20:2 where we are told that one denarius is the value of a labourer's day wage. Historically, we also know that one talent equals 6,000 denarius and with some straightforward arithmetic, we work out that the value of 10,000 talents is equivalent to 60,000,000 days of wages. Let me repeat that - sixty million days of wages! To appreciate this in a personal context, simply compute the value of your own daily wage and multiply that by 60,000,000 and you should have a figure that runs into billions. Alternatively we can express the debt this way. Assuming a man lives to 100 and worked every day of his life (just as an illustration); we would calculate that he has 36,500 working days in his lifetime. If we divide 60,000,000 by 36,500 we find that the value of the debt equates to 1,644 "lifetimes" of wages! An eternity for all intents and purposes - tell this to someone who believes in reincarnation! Again, to appreciate this figure in a more personal context, simply multiply whatever the number of years you would regard as a fair life expectancy by 1,644 and you'll get a good idea of the period in terms of calendar years. And we should not forget that the number of "1,644 lifetimes" is based on an unrealistic assumption for ease of calculation. In truth the actual figure would quite easily double that. No matter how we want to look at it, we can safely assume that the value of the debt that Jesus intended to illustrate in the parable is a value that is impossible to repay. This reflects the truth that we can never repay our debt of sin. Try as we might by any means to justify ourselves or obtain righteousness, it would be in vain (Matthew 5:20). It is impossible for us to be free from this debt except to be simply released from it like the servant in the parable (Matthew 18:27). Are we strangers to God? Consider this for a moment. Would you let a complete stranger into your house and give him a room to live in indefinitely? Would you do it because he flashed you his credentials and showed you his resume? What if he brought out newspaper clippings of the wonderful charitable deeds he has done in his community? What if he began telling you about all the things he has done for you even though you never asked him to? Is there anything he can do to convince you that he is good enough to live with you in your home when he really is a stranger to you? You'd probably sooner think, "What a creep!" and shut the door in his face (and that smirk of self importance) than you would listen to another word of his lofty self-promotion. Well, God might probably be thinking along the similar lines about letting someone into His home for eternity - though of course, He'd have more mercy and patience and not be so quick to shut the door. You know, He is after all the Creator of the universe and Heaven is His abode. Being our Sovereign God, He certainly has the right to set whatever conditions He pleases for entry into His home. It is not hard to appreciate that God doesn't want us to justify ourselves to Him. He is an omniscient God. There isn't anything about us that He doesn't already know. We are His creation and He sees that we are all messed up. But Heaven is a perfect place and our God is a Holy God. We cannot come into His presence without holiness. So in God's unfathomable mercy He sorts out this problem for us by giving us his only Son to die on the cross so that we may be redeemed. The sacrifice of Jesus takes care of all of our unholiness. All of our sins, our debts are wiped clean. All we have to do, in fact all we can do, is simply to accept Jesus (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10). The sole criterion that God requires for us to gain entry into His home is to know and receive His Son. This criterion is based on relationship. If we know His Son and receive Him, He knows us and receives us also. Religion will never be good enough, only Jesus is We can stop all our pretence of religious strife and simply come to Him as we are. Our continuous struggle with sin is no surprise to Him and He is ready to receive us in any condition. After all, He provided the means for us to be forgiven and reconciled. When we accept this provision we can confidently place ourselves under His searchlight of examination, loving correction and be transformed. It is not about having to meet standards of righteousness first in order to be accepted but rather, we are first accepted so we can continue working on the standards and grow spiritually. He even provided us with a Helper to do all that. Religion didn't pay the debt of our sins - Jesus did - and we should make Him, not our goodness, the focus of our life. Religious endeavour will never be good enough. Salvation is by grace.
Hey brother . . . you don't speak often but when you do it is a blessing. Thanks for the good word.
[quote] Religion didn't pay the debt of our sins - Jesus did - and we should make Him, not our goodness, the focus of our life. Religious endeavour will never be good enough. Salvation is by grace.[/quote]
Brother, that sums it up perfectly.
This is an exceptional blog and a beautiful presentation of the gospel
You have blessed me tremendously, thank you.