Unable to Pay

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41–42).  

- Luke 7:36–50

The question, “What do we do with our guilt before God’s law?” assumes that we all have, in fact, broken the Lord’s commandments. As Christians who are faithful to the Word of God, we understand that this assumption is taught throughout the Bible, and it is particularly evident in Romans 3. In this chapter, Paul argues that the Creator indicts all men, Jew and Gentile, for breaking His law, reminding us that “none is righteous, no, not one” (v. 10).

However, Scripture is not the only testimony to our universal guilt. All of the major world religions, for example, recognize that humanity has not done what is right, though they differ with the Bible on the idea of original sin and other matters. Moreover, our awareness of guilt shows up even in our everyday language. How often is the phrase “nobody’s perfect” used to justify a mistake or explain away more egregious violations of moral standards? Only a delusional few would ever claim that they have never done wrong.

Unfortunately, this universal recognition of our fallenness does not necessarily translate into an accurate understanding of the Lord’s character. Our tendency as fallen creatures is to look around us and, seeing other imperfect people, believe that God is going to forgive us simply because we are all in the same imperfect boat. How many people think that the holy Judge of all creation will rule in their favor simply because they are not as wicked as someone like Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, or Joseph Stalin?

However, God’s law is an expression of His character, and, since His character does not change (Mal. 3:6), His standards cannot be lowered. Our Father in heaven is infinitely holy; therefore, any transgression of His will incurs an infinite debt. We are debtors who cannot pay, an image Jesus uses to depict guilt and forgiveness in today’s passage. 

When other people confront us with our misdeeds, we often try to justify our sins. But on the coming day of judgment, God’s glory and perfection will be so evident that our mouths will be shut (Rom. 3:19). Before the Lord of all, no excuse will stand.

Coram Deo

Paul wrote that the Mosaic law served as a “captor” or “custodian” (NASB) until Christ came (Gal. 3:23), since one of its aims was to accentuate sin and drive people on toward faith in God for forgiveness. None of us can do enough good to make up for even the smallest sin, and it is easy even for those who affirm justification by faith alone to think they can repay their debt to God by themselves. Let us never think our own good deeds can cover over our bad ones.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 12
Ezek. 16:59–63
Luke 20:19–26
Rom. 2:1–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.