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Episode: Freedom Equals No Debt

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Too many people these days are drowning in debt – whether it’s a spending spree on credit cards, whether its people in debt to loan sharks, whether it’s simply not being able to make ends meet. People are drowning in debt and surprisingly debt is what Easter is actually all about.

You know as I sat at home in my study earlier this week, getting ready to jot down some thoughts about this whole thing of debt, I let out a big sigh. I was kind of thinking, ‘where do you begin with this whole thing about debt?’ You see debt is a double edged sword, it can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. In fact it goes further than that; debt can be really, really good and it can be really, really bad.

So how can debt be a good thing? Well there’s an old German proverb which goes something like this. ‘Geld macht geld’ which translated means ‘money makes money’. In other words if you have some money it’s easier to make more money and so companies when they have a good business plan, a plan that’s likely to end up with a profitable outcome, they go out and raise some capital.

Sometimes they do that by selling shares in the company which is what a Stock Market float is all about and sometimes they do it by borrowing money, and provided that their business plan is a good one then they’re going to make more money. So debt can be a good thing when it’s about investing into a money making asset.

Borrowing an affordable amount of money to buy a house is in the same category. but for many people debt is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing financially and it can be a bad thing legally. I know a lot of people who have bought houses that are way more expensive than they can afford. And then there’s the colour televisions and all the gadgets and the nice car and furniture and accessories and on and on and on the list goes. Before they know it the credit cards are maxed out and they’re struggling to pay their mortgage.

And you see this happen irrespective where in the socio economic spectrum you look. I’ve seen apparently really wealthy people lash out on ridiculously expensive houses and cars and boats and lavish lifestyles, much of it financed through debt based on an unrealistic expectation that an economic prosperity cycle will go on for ever. Well it doesn’t, it never ever does. Does it? At some point things come crashing down.

And I’ve seen people who are way at the other end of the financial spectrum enticed similarly by baubles and trinkets that they just had to have and then not being able to put food on the table.

Greed – and that’s what over consumption is all about – greed knows no boundary. I know a man who’s counselled dozens of former high flying wealthy executives and business people who had it all and now they’re down to their last few million and they’re at the point of suicide. Gee, you know what, I’d be pretty happy with a few million.

Whatever form debt takes there is only one way to work your way out of it and that way is working your way out of it. Ultimately you have to pay the money back. That can take years; years of hard work and some people never do. Some people have to declare bankruptcy. Some even, as I said, come to the point of taking their own lives.

There’s a form of legal debt too. If you or I commit a crime and we’re convicted of that crime according to the laws of the land, we then become debtors to society. As they say ‘if you do the crime you have to do the time’. A man convicted of murder let’s say might be sentenced to twenty five years in prison. Twenty five years of loss of freedom as a punishment for the crime. That’s a twenty five year debt.

But when it comes to the end of that twenty five years and he’s set free he’s worked off that debt. When he walks from the prison a free man he has paid his debt off. That’s the way things work in this world. A debt has to be paid off. See none of us have much of a problem in understanding that even if sometimes we have a problem with paying our debts off.

Tomorrow is a day that Christians refer to as Good Friday. It’s a day when they remember a man called Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, who claimed to have come to do something completely that flies in the face of what we’ve just been talking about, what we understand about paying off a debt. Have a listen to these two Scripture verses, firstly John chapter 3, verse 16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, so that whoever believes in him wouldn’t perish but would have eternal life.”

And again Romans chapter 3, verses 22 to 25:

“For there is no distinction since all have fallen short of the glory of God but they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”

See, to be justified is to have a right standing with the law again, in this case with God. So the man who leaves the prison after twenty five years, the man who’s paid off his debt to society is said, in legal terms, to be justified. He now has a right standing with the law as though he’d never committed the crime, if that makes sense.

But here, and this is the thing that challenges me about Easter, whatever you believe, wherever you’re at, someone else pays the debt. That’s the point of Jesus dying on the cross. No one ever explained this to me particularly well in my early days and so I’m just taking a moment or two to explain it to you.

God, like the law, is just. If you do the crime you have to do the time and yet because of His love He finds another way to meet the requirements of His just nature. He lets His Son Jesus take the punishment that you and I so richly deserve. We have a word for that, it’s called grace.

If you committed a crime and someone else offered willingly to do twenty five years in prison for you, hey would you be amazed? Would you be blessed? Absolutely you would. That’s what Easter’s about, someone else, Jesus, the very Son of God gets nailed to a cross. He takes the punishment that you and I deserve and so that when we put our faith in Him and what He’s done we receive the free gift of forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life.

Now whatever you do with that that’s entirely up to you, I’m just saying, each one of us needs to make our own choices in life – reject it; accept it. That’s the core, that’s the heart, that’s the crux of the message of Easter – that someone else paid the price.

And that’s why they talk about Jesus as being their Saviour, these Christians, that’s why I call Jesus my Saviour because He saves me from the wrath of God, from the punishment that I so richly deserve for having turned my back on Him. It was an act of supreme love; it was THE act of supreme love in all of human history, 1 John chapter 4, verse 10:

“In this is love. Not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

And as I said what you do with that is totally a choice for you but for me it’s radically changed my life. I guess for many years I kind of realised God was real but deep down I knew if He was I couldn’t ever approach Him because I knew I wasn’t good enough, I just knew and yet when I wrap my heart and mind around the Easter message I finally, finally realised that’s the whole point.

I can never be worthy of God, that’s why Jesus had to die for me, the perfect sacrifice to make me, the imperfect one, perfect in the eyes of God, my debt fully and completely paid. I don’t have to work my way out of my debt with God, indeed I can’t because the hole that I’ve dug for myself through my rebellion, my sin, is way, way, way too deep so instead, for our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The moment I believed in Jesus, the moment you believe in Jesus, the sacrifice Jesus made for us gives us the very same right standing with God, that’s what righteousness means, as Jesus has. Hey that’s an awesome message, that’s the message of Easter and that is why they call it the Good News.

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