A treasure chest

A treasure chest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to wonder why my reactions to difficult people were seldom gracious despite a lifetime as a Christian. Then I learned how the sense of indebtedness can choke out a Christ-like spirit that reacts more graciously.

When people deny us “justice,” no matter how small, we feel entitled because we assume they owe something. We intend to collect, so we act, usually in anger or disgust. The flip side of entitlement is obligation—when we feel we must pay rather than collect.

For example, it’s common to hear that respect is earned, not given. To earn your respect, I must treat you right; if I do, you therefore owe me since I earned it. That’s wages mentality, the opposite of grace, and the point that Paul often speaks of.

Both entitlement and obligation can be lumped together as indebtedness; and indebtedness counteracts rich grace. A high Indebtedness Quotient sets us up for a begrudging sort of forgiveness—not only when we think of God forgiving us, but especially when we need to forgive others.

“You’ve Heard it Said, But I Say to You…”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus covered wages mentality—that is, eye-for-eye thinking—and loving only those who love you (Mat. 5:38-48).

The Christians I know (including me) have tried to spend and give and celebrate how spiritually rich we are before there’s anything in the bank to back it up. Rather than filled to overflowing, we’re up to our religious eyeballs in debt. We’ve remained so drained that we can’t afford to be wronged, or lend without payback, or do much of anything that Jesus says we can do.

The ability to do good without the need for return is a fruit of debt-free thinking. We know about debt reduction or debt-free living as it applies to finances, but I’ve never heard anyone apply debt-free thinking to eternal living, though it’s everywhere in Scripture.

Penny Pinchers?

Here’s one way to test your IQ. Certainly, we owe our very existence to God, but does He expect us to pay Him back? Do we owe Him love, faith, and trust? Is He bent on collecting and does He insist we pay a debt? At one time, I would have answered Yes to all.

But would you want anyone to love you because they owe it to you? Some people might feel this way, but, like miserly Scrooges on a cold Christmas Eve, these are the folks who possess such bottom-line, penny-pinching spirits.

If God were intent on collecting a debt, there’d be no room for grace. Yet God does want fruit. I think the key to making sense of this is that when God gathers for Himself, it’s more like profit-sharing than debt collection. Although there will be a day of reckoning and settling accounts, God is patient and gracious in the meantime.

Besides that, He says we can’t pay—not to hammer into us that we’re guilty of default, but to relieve us of debt. That way, our friendship with Him can’t be cheapened by the grace-killing sense of indebtedness that society is so fond of.

Done With Debt!

Look at Jesus’ many analogies that involve a servant who owes—whether it’s ten thousand talents, a hundred denarii, or a drachma coin. Don’t they all either reduce, exempt, or totally cancel debt? Isn’t that what happened in the parable of the king who cancelled his servant’s huge debt, only to later learn that the servant mistreated his own servant who owed him less than ten bucks? (Mat. 18:23-35)

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Who are these debtors if not the very neighbors and enemies who owe us money, promises, apologies, respect, whatever? Rather than account for every single penny, every eye and every tooth, Scripture indicates that debt-free thinking is the direction we should be headed.

It allows us to partner with the supernatural to express generosity and noble character without faking it or the need for payback. But this new thinking isn’t something we merely get from God or something He does to us. It’s also something we do, like God.

Therefore, instead of trying at the last minute to muster up grace towards obnoxious neighbors, we can start further back with our Indebtedness Quotient. To trust that God has truly cancelled our debts takes guts in a world and religious culture that keeps guilt and shortcomings constantly at the forefront. When that trust is real, it brings new courage to apply debt-free thinking even to people who hurt or betray us.

I find that the lower the IQ, the richer the spirit and greater the freedom to react more like Christ. It’ll be there in “increasing measure” well in advance of when you need it.

Colored Bullseye

Image via Wikipedia

There’s a perception in the church that all people at all times continually “miss the mark” and will always miss it no matter what we do. Straight from the womb, we hear, humanity falls short of God’s perfection, glory, and virtue. There are no exceptions, ever, even after we come to Christ.

It’s based on a partial Scripture: “…there is no one righteous, no not one,” usually coupled with “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Rom. 3:10, 23) Some Christians quote these as if God has nothing else to say.

But, (A.) there’s at least one exception: John the Baptist. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” (Luk. 1:17) And, (B.) nearly every verse on human wickedness is immediately followed or preceded by a contrasting verse of human virtue. The Psalms and Proverbs alone hold dozens of examples of the wicked doing such and such, but the righteous doing something else.

So if there were no one righteous ever, those Scriptures would be false. And wouldn’t it fly in the face of Abraham, Noah, David, Rahab, Job, Mary, Joseph, and others whom God describes as upright, blameless, or righteous?

We can’t use partial verses as the whole truth; and we shouldn’t confuse the words righteous or perfect with “flawless.” That only delivers shame-perpetuating bad news and produces all sorts of treasure-stealing accusations. There’s better news! (more…)