Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 4:1-12 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Paul quotes Psalm 32 in his explanation of what a person who lives by faith looks like as opposed to how a person trying only to keep the law of God looks. This is the verse he quotes: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
Paul’s reference to this text reminds us that forgiveness is key to our understanding of what it means to be right with God and with one another through a life of faith versus works.
Key to this and to our relationship with God is understanding the difference between having a debt forgiven and paying off a debt.
If you steal a hundred dollars from me, or if you borrow it from me with a promise to pay it back, you owe me a debt of a hundred dollars. Now there are two ways to settle that debt. You can either find a way to get a hundred dollars and pay me back or, for whatever reason, I can cancel (forgive) your debt. If you pay me back, we are all square. But what if you can’t? What if you’re so destitute that you can’t find a way to pay me? At this point, in Paul’s era, I could have had you thrown into debtors’ prison. And there you would have had to sit, separated from your family, until the debt was paid. (There was a currency amount assigned to each day in prison until the debt was fulfilled.) In this case, it costs you, the debtor, an awful lot to pay a debt owed.
I could forgive you the debt you owe me. If I were to forgive you, your debt would be cancelled. You wouldn’t owe me a thing. It would be impossible for you to pay me back because you don’t owe me anything anymore. Any attempt to pay me would be ridiculous, because there is no debt. In this case, there is a cost, but the cost doesn’t fall on you. In this scenario, I bear the cost of your debt.
So let’s change the hundred dollar debt to a trillion dollars. If you don’t pay me a trillion dollars, you go to prison for the rest of your life. Hopeless, right? That’s where we find ourselves in relation to God. We’ve hopelessly blown it. There’s no way we can do anything to pay God back. Our debt is too massive. Off to debtors’ prison with us for . . . eternity?
God realizes how futile this is, so He has forgiven us our impossible debt. And He did this before we were even born (Revelation 13:8). Forgiveness is solely up to the forgiver. And when forgiveness is extended, that’s what we call grace. Did it cost God something to forgive us? Absolutely. It cost Him the life of His Son. That’s why Paul teaches in Romans 4 that both Jews (God’s chosen people) and Gentiles (not God’s chosen people) stand on level ground. All owe an impossible debt. Yet all have been forgiven. All have received grace. All can accept it through faith. There is no advantage to either Jew or Greek.
Recalibrate: If we can’t earn our way into God’s good graces, why do good works?
Respond: Thank God for His forgiveness as much as you would thank your mortgage holder if they forgave your mortgage debt.
Research: Understand the psychological advantages to forgiveness by reading “Forgiveness: The Key to a Happier Future.”
Remember: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3, NIV).
Mark Witas is the lead pastor at Pacific Union College Church in Angwin, CA. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Mark has served as a youth pastor, Bible teacher, college and academy chaplain, and lead pastor in the United States and Canada for the last 33 years. He has also authored four books: Born Chosen, Live Out Loud, Portals, and Just Jesus.
Play a game of happy/sad faces with your little one. Cover your face with your hands and when you raise your hands up show a happy face. When you lower your hands, make your face sad. Add the sound affects that go with those faces and see how your little one responds. Say, “I love you when you’re happy and I love you when you’re sad. Nothing can change how much I love you. Jesus loves you even more than I do.”
Today you will need a bowl half filled with water, a pepper shaker, and some dishwashing detergent. How clear is the water? Can you see from the top to the bottom? If your bowl is glass, can you see through to the other side? Take the pepper shaker and put three shakes of pepper into the bowl. How far does the pepper spread? Can you see through the water as well as before? Now, take your dishwashing detergent and put one drop into the bowl. What happened? Forgiveness is just like this drop of soap. It pushes back all the pepper as if it were never there. All we have to do is ask Jesus to forgive us and He will do the same for us. Then we are able to see from top to bottom and side to side the beautiful plans God has for us. What kinds of plans do you think God has for you?
I don’t like owing people money. In my whole life, I don’t think I have ever borrowed money from someone personally. However, I do have a large debt that is always in the back of my mind. Two words, words that many of you will soon learn of, haunt me: Student loans. Sometimes when I think about the massive amount of money I owe in relation to the small amount I am able to pay each month I get discouraged. How will I ever pay this debt off? Regardless of how I feel, I know that if I pay the loans faithfully, they will eventually disappear. Every member of the human race has a massive debt owed to God. Many people try to work off their debt through good deeds or right behavior. I want to tell you today that salvation is a gift that you will never be able to afford. But that is actually good news! You can’t afford it because it is free. There is nothing you can do to purchase it, pay for it, or deserve it. Take a moment to accept that free gift once again.