2 Corinthians 5:18-20
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
I would like to tell you a story. Consider it a modern-day parable, if you will.
A man worked at a bank for more than 20 years. During his employment he managed to embezzle 10 million dollars. By the time the bank discovered his thievery, the man had spent all of the money he had stolen. Still, he asked the bank officials to give him time to pay back the debt, knowing he would never be able to do such a thing. Off to prison the man went. A week later a stranger paid the man’s debt, the charges were dropped, and the man was set free.
Jesus also told a parable about a man who owed a large sum of money in Matthew 18:
23 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
Now let me tell you the rest of my story.
The bank worker did not know that his debt had been paid. When the prison guards tried to release him, he refused to leave for fear that something worse than life in prison would befall him because of the debt. Instead, he wrote a letter to the bank officials begging them to forgive the debt but they told him, “We cannot forgive your debt because someone else already paid the money back for you. You don’t owe us anything.” The man never knew who paid his debt. He didn’t want to know – he was afraid if he left the prison the stranger who had paid such a large sum of money would ask something outrageous from him in return for the money. He wasn’t interested in owing anyone anything and chose instead to live out the rest of his life in prison, refusing to believe he could ever truly be free.
I’ll bet many of you reading this have been taught that your sin has incurred a debt to God that someone has to pay. The Gospel according to modern American Evangelicals goes something like this:
The sin-debt you owe requires payment in the form of punishment which will appease the wrath of a holy God. If you will just believe that Jesus died in your place and took the full measure of His Father’s wrath on Himself, then He has paid your debt and taken your punishment. If you refuse to believe this then you must pay your debt to God in hell for all eternity.
In other words, modern Evangelicals believe atonement looks like my parable about a debt requiring payment, and that Jesus’ death paid the debt for anyone who believes. Your belief is your get out of hell free card, but it really wasn’t free, because Jesus actually paid the debt by suffering the wrath of God on your behalf and now you owe Jesus – belief, allegiance, obedience, whatever He requires in return – nothing is free in the economy of debt & payment.
That cycle of debt-payment is exactly how this world works.
But, according to Jesus, that’s not how God’s Kingdom works.
In Jesus’ parable, the slave’s master forgave or absorbed his servant’s debt into himself without any payment in return. The master took a financial loss and required nothing in return from anyone. No one paid the slave’s debt to the master.
I have never read anywhere in the Bible or elsewhere that forgiveness requires payment before it can be given. In fact, payment and forgiveness are antithetical to one another. Yet, over and over I have heard it taught in churches that Jesus’ death made it possible for God to forgive us. As if God had to be paid in order to forgive. Really?
If God was paid, then He didn’t forgive … He got paid. If Jesus paid your sin-debt to God, then the Father has nothing left to forgive. Jesus paid your debt to God’s wrath and the Father has been appeased.
But is that what really happened? Is that the Biblical definition of atonement? Not according to Matthew 18. Notice how Jesus begins this parable:
The Kingdom of heaven is like …
You want to know how God’s Kingdom works? It looks like a master who does not get paid, but forgives out of compassion and mercy. It looks like grace instead of ‘payback required.’
… reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them …
God either forgave your sins or He got paid. You cannot have it both ways.
(To be continued…)