by Heath Taws
The USA is currently 18 Trillion dollars in debt. The average American owes 15k in credit card debt, 48k in student loans, 168k in mortgages, and 27k in auto loans. This doesn’t include debts we owe to friends and family, our debt to society, favors, promises made, back taxes, and things we have borrowed and have yet to return. (It also doesn’t include the astronomical spiritual debt that all of us owe the second we come into this world.)
And the crazy thing about debt, is that it really just creeps up on you. There are all sorts of hidden fees, and unexpected expenses, and by the time you realize what has happened, it’s too late; you are in over your head, and drowning in debt.
And yet, we are sort of in love with being in debt, aren’t we?
You will say, “That’s absurd! Nobody loves debt?”
And I think on the surface that is absolutely true.[ene_ptp] But I am talking about the very core of who we are as sinful humans with sin-sick souls.
Our sinful natures tell us that slavery, submission, and debt, are our only options in life.
Our sinful natures love being in debt, because the thought of true freedom terrifies us.
Think about “repeat offenders,” or, “career criminals.” Why do they choose a lifestyle that always ends in jail time, submission, and oppression? For many of these men and women, jail is the only life they have ever known. They get released, and immediately commit a crime in order to get put back into jail.
And this is sort of all of us, isn’t it? We don’t really learn from our past mistakes, so we keep making war, keep getting into debt, and we keep touching all those things that our parents told us not to touch.
Being in debt or owing something is comfortable because it gives us something to work for. It gives us a reason to wake up in the morning, to try and save, a purpose in life; a goal if you will. People who find themselves “free” also quickly find themselves panicking at the lack of structure and goal oriented living. They don’t have to work because they no longer have debt to pay, and they really don’t have to even get out of bed if they don’t want to. They are free to do as they please, and for many people that is absolutely the scariest thing they could ever imagine.
My cousin once told me that he was, “Scared to death of Heaven.” When I asked him why, he responded, “Because I have no clue what I am going to do for eternity.”
In Heaven, we will be truly free. No schedules, no meetings, just 24hr recess, and that freaked him out. (It’s interesting to note that 24hr recess sounds like heaven to a kid, and hell to a “productive” adult. It’s no wonder that Jesus says we must come as little children.)
And that is why freedom is so scary. If I am left to my own devices, no structure, no debt to pay, nothing to work for, who knows what I would do. I could try and accomplish something great, but if my resources were virtually limitless, I would probably end up in rehab from excessive living like so many “free” people in our society do.
Think about those who win the lottery. Did you know that 70% of them eventually go bankrupt?
It’s because our sinful natures don’t know what to do with freedom. It freaks us out.
Even when our sin seems to tell us the opposite, and encourages us to crave power and wealth, we soon learn from those who have it all that power and wealth can many times be a form of debt in itself.
Consider the wealthiest people alive today. Having vast amounts of wealth doesn’t necessarily mean you are debt free, and it certainly doesn’t make you truly happy.
Every year we read reports of famous rich people, both Christian and non-Christians, committing crimes, suffering from addictions, going bankrupt, having affairs, owing millions in taxes, and being found dead from suicide.
And every time we read these reports we tend to have three responses:
- We are flabbergasted because we thought they had it all worked out, and yet somehow they are/were unhappy.
- We are flabbergasted because we thought the mask they wore was actually who they truly were inside.
- We are flabbergasted because they should have known better and it’s ultimately all their fault/hollywood’s fault/the Church’s fault/their parents fault/Obama’s fault.
With the first response, we are tricked because in our eyes they were “debt free” and they didn’t seem to realize it.
With the second response, we are surprised because they pretended to be “debt free” and yet secretly lived a life full of debt.
And with the third response, we are delighted, because we love to watch famous rich people crash and burn, and then come up with reasons for their train wrecks.
In all of this, our sinful nature is the true enemy.
This is ultimately why the Gospel is foolishness to the world and to our sinful ears.
The pastor stands at the pulpit and says, “I am here to tell you that Christ has paid your debt, and those who the Son sets free are free indeed.” And on the surface that all sounds great because we all hate debt, and nobody likes living in debt, and we all want freedom, right?
But at the core of our sinful natures we are squirming in the pews every Sunday. We are repeat offenders, and all we have ever known is jail. The thought of being truly free terrifies us because that would mean we would have to finally live on the outside.
And besides, we have all heard that nothing in life is truly free. Our sin makes us natural skeptics, and so the gospel message of freedom sounds too good to be true. There has to be a catch. What does Jesus really want from me? Doesn’t He actually just want to take away my freedom, and restrict my behavior?
That sort of thinking has come from years of Christian legalism which has really harmed the Church as a whole. The problem with legalism is that all of its power got taken away right along with death’s 2000 some years ago at the cross. Legalism doesn’t change hearts, but the Gospel does.
Wearing a “true love waits” ring is not a reasonable form of birth control. You could have one on every finger, and in 9 months that baby is still gonna be there. Instead of another lecture, that teenage girl and boy need grace, love, and good news. They need freedom, not more iron bars.
Okay, so what about those who accept the gospel message of freedom? Do they actually feel free? Not really, at least not on their own, because their sin wants to stay in debt. They want to pay something, they want to work. Unless the Holy Spirit enters into that jail cell and says, “I can bust you out of here, but you have to trust me,” they will never leave.
Christians sit at the dinner table with God, and when the check comes, they try to reach for it first.
Christians wake up everyday and look in the mailbox for bills that will never come.
Christians get on the treadmill of works, trying to burn off sin calories, even though the liposuction has already taken place.
If I am being honest, I wake up everyday and I try and earn God’s affection. Not only that, but my own salvation. I know that Jesus has set me free, but I don’t feel that I deserve it (which I don’t) so I try to work to earn it (which I can’t) in order to relieve my guilt (which is always with me). I understand grace, but it can’t really be amazing grace if its free, can it? Nothing good in life is free. What you pay is what you get.
And everyday as I am working to earn my salvation, I ultimately end up sinning all throughout the process, thus adding more sin calories to work off. It is a never ending cycle of work, and debt, and more work, and more debt, and at the end of the day I’m exhausted and I think, “Surely, God is disappointed in me. How much more grace can God afford to spend on sinful old Heath?”
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
This never-ending cycle has to end, and for me, and for you, it only ends when we are reminded of the Gospel. It ends at the cross of Christ, where we throw ourselves down, sweaty, tired, and exhausted from all of our work, and we finally rest.
Jesus has stacks on stacks of grace to give out, and when He enters the club, you better believe He makes it rain grace.
I remember growing up and reading the verse about storing up treasure for yourself in heaven. I never understood that verse until I actually was old enough to have money, and also have debt of my own.
You see, when you live in debt, there isn’t much saving or storing up that takes place. You can’t really save up money, because you are always paying off a loan, a credit card, or some other form of debt.
But what Jesus is saying in that verse is this, “since you are now free and your debt has already been paid, you are now able to store up treasures in Heaven. You are finally free to work on that nest egg. You are finally free to enjoy living.”
How much better does an expensive steak taste when you know you don’t have to pay for it? You can order anything on the menu, because the bill is covered.
Before we knew Christ, we stored up wrath for ourselves, as we accumulated more and more debt. After Christ, we are set free and our debt is paid once and for all on the cross. We are now free to store up treasures in Heaven, and also to withdraw the good works that God has deposited for us in advance.
The transition is from slave to son. It is from outcast to in-law. It is from living in debt, to living debt free.
This is what an exhausted debt-drenched world needs to hear.
My sinful nature will always be with me in this life, but the more I hear the gospel message, and the more I taste the freedom that only Jesus offers, the more I long for Heaven.
Everyday the Holy Spirit coaxes me closer to that door, closer to my freedom, and closer to the ultimate freedom that Heaven will bring. In the meantime, I can experience tastes and glimpses of that freedom here and now. His graces and mercies are new every morning.
If you want a religion that tells you to work harder, do more, and earn your way to Heaven, there are plenty of those out there.
If you want a religion where God has already done all the work for you, and now tells you to rest, enjoy Him, and live in freedom, then have I got some good news for you.
Stop living in debt, and be free. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, and once He sets you free, you are free indeed.
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