There it was: a letter from the UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT! I guess the government puts these things in uppercase letters to make them seem ominous and imposing. Well, this was ominous all right—section 727 of title 11, United States Code, blah blah blah, meant that my former employer wasn’t going to pay me the $900 back salary he owed me!
I had earned the money, I begged for it, I even contacted the other employees about bringing suit against him, but suddenly it was over. The judge decided that there was no way this company could pay its debts. They were free to move on as if nothing had happened.
Bankruptcy protection is a good thing in most cases. The alternative could be prison or a lifetime of indebtedness. One problem, however, is that there remains an injured party who has lost time or capital in service to the now bankrupt party.
Bankruptcy in the personal and business world can be a sobering matter. It can cause one to seriously look at his financial ways and habits. It can be a second chance at success. It can be a way of putting aside the burdens of debt that weigh so heavily, and freeing us up to move on.
There is bankruptcy protection in the spiritual realm as well. The Bible tells us that we are debtors: to God, to the Law, and to our fellow man. And it is impossible for us to pay these debts. We are bankrupt!
God has given us life and breath and riches we don’t deserve. In return, He rightfully expects us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Regretfully, we have all fallen short of those two commands (Romans 3:23). Just like I expected to be paid the full measure of what my employer owed me, God expects to be paid the glory and obedience He deserves. Only we have squandered our capital, just like my employer.
Right after Jesus forgave the sinful woman who ministered to him in the Pharisee’s house, He told the guests a parable to prick their indignant consciences (Luke 7:36-50). He spoke of two debtors, who owed the banker a large and small sum, respectively. The banker forgave them both. Jesus compares the debts to sins. Elsewhere, including the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-14), sin is compared to a debt that needs forgiving. Other passages (e.g., Matthew 18:21-35) indicate that we cannot pay the debt we owe God and are, therefore, facing an everlasting prison term.
Thankfully, the cost of that debt was paid by the only one who had sufficient funds: Jesus Christ. He alone had the holy perfection, the sinlessness, the innocence, that God could accept. In fact, he had enough spiritual capital to pay for the sins of the en-tire world: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
When Christ died on the cross, he exclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The word he spoke, tetelesthai, was an accounting term meaning paid in full. He was telling the world that the sin debt was paid, and that God was satisfied. He proved it by walking out of the grave three days later.
However, all is not necessarily well. God freely offers salvation from eternal punishment to all through this payment, but it must be personally received (Romans 6:23). Had someone stepped forward and put enough money in my employer’s bank account to pay our salaries, that wouldn’t have helped us. We would have each individually had to take that money. It is the same with salvation—the payment is there but we have to accept it by faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
To not accept this gift is to say that you think you can pay the debt yourself. We try to pay it by being a good person, performing religious rituals, claiming a religious heritage, helping people, turning over a new leaf, and myriad other inventions of the human mind. Sorry, but the Supreme Being Court does not accept pennies on the dollar! The only compensation God will accept for right standing before Him is accepting the payment that He made in His Son on the cross. We can only throw up our empty hands in faith and ask for mercy. And He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
There is no greater feeling in life than to know that a burden of debt has been relieved. Shackles are broken, second chances are given, and our futures are secured. Yes, there is an injured party, but that party willingly bore the nail prints for our relief. Yes, there is still a debt, but it is no longer a burden. Although salvation is a free gift of God, we still owe Him our love. And this we willingly give when we see how much we owed and how much He paid.