Most people I know live with some amount of debt. For some, the debt might be comparatively small, but for others, the debt is pretty substantial once you add up credit cards, personal loans and a mortgage. A lot of people in our society will spend their entire lives in debt and never know what it is like to live without owing anybody anything.
Maybe that’s why we find grace such a difficult idea. As people who can spend most of our lives paying off our debts, the idea of someone paying our debts for us so we can live a debt-free life seems completely unrealistic. Even if someone was to be generous enough to pay off our debts, it would just mean that we would feel indebted to that person. It can seem that we’ll always be in debt and nothing will ever change that.
I don’t know how literally Paul meant us to take his advice to ‘owe nothing to anyone’ (v8a NLT). In some ways, it makes sense for us to control our degree of debt so it doesn’t overwhelm us. However, Paul seems to have something in mind other than sound financial advice. As he goes on to talk about our ‘continuing debt to love one another’ (v8b NIV), Paul appears to be talking about something other than our bank loans or credit cards.
There was a time when we were all in debt to God. Each and every day, God freely gives us everything we need for life just because he loves us. Our problem, though, is that we tend to use the good things God has given us selfishly, more for our own benefit and pleasure rather than to help and bless others. We misuse or even abuse God’s gifts to us in a whole lot of different ways.
When we do, we owe God. This debt is something we can never hope to repay, because even if I was able to use God’s gifts properly from this moment on for the rest of my life, I would still owe him for the ways I misused them already today.
That’s where God’s grace steps in. God himself pays our debt in the person of Jesus who paid what we owe by giving his life for us on the cross. When Jesus died in our place, he paid in full everything that we owe God in the past, present and future. His sacrifice clears our debt with God so we can now live debt-free with God. It would be amazing enough for someone to step in and pay off my mortgage and other financial loans for me. However, the debt we had with God was so much greater that only the death of Jesus could cancel it. The good news of Jesus is that his death on the cross was payment in full for everything I will ever owe God because of my sin.
This good news is liberating for us! Imagine someone paid off all of your debts – what would you do with the money that you had been using for your repayments, or the time and energy you were using to generate that income? You would be free to use those resources any way you wanted!
In Romans 13:8 Paul is saying that God doesn’t need our time, energy or money because Jesus has paid our debts for us. Instead of using our freed-up resources in self-indulgent ways, Paul is telling us that God wants us to use our time, energy and money to serve, bless and love the people around us. I have heard it said that God doesn’t need our time, energy or money because all of heaven and earth are already his; however, the people around us need those resources which are freed up when Jesus makes us debt-free with God. There are people who need our financial resources because they have none of their own. There are people who need our energy because theirs are either very low or even non-existent. Sometimes the most valuable thing people need, especially those who are closest to us, is our time. In lives that are often dominated by the busyness that comes with working hard to pay off debts we accumulated to buy things we don’t really need, one of the most precious gifts we can give is time for our families, with friends, with brothers and sisters in Christ who might need a shoulder to lean on, and ear to listen to them, or just to check in with how they’re doing.
Because Jesus has paid our debts to God, we can now live in debt-free ways. I’ll leave it with you to decide how much Paul is talking about finances, but what’s more important is that we can live with a debt-free attitude in every aspect of our lives, no matter how large our mortgage or credit card debt might be. Having a debt-free attitude means living every day and in every situation like we don’t owe anybody anything because everything we have is a gift from a God who loves us and who has given his best to set us free. When we trust this good news, we are liberated to use what God first gives us to serve, bless and love other people. When we live with this focus on others and how we can bless them with God’s gifts to us, we learn how to live in faith and love.
More to think about:
- What would you do tomorrow if someone paid off all your debts for you today? How would you use your time, energy & finances that were freed up because your debts had been paid? Would you use them for yourself? Or for others?
- In your relationship with God, do you tend to think that you owe God, either for wrongs you have done or because of what Jesus has done for you? Why do you think that?
- Why do you think Paul says to ‘owe nothing to anyone’ (v8 NLT)? Do you think he is talking about money? Or something else?
- How would you feel if someone paid all your debts for you – joy? relief? free? How can they describe the Christian life when we believe that Jesus has paid our debts to God for us?
- Paul writes that Christians have a ‘continuing debt to love one another’ (v8b NIV). How might your day be different if you used what God has given you to love the people around you in the freedom that comes from the faith you are debt-free with God?