The concept of debt and paying off debt is a biblical principle, that we can see paralleled in our everyday lives. Whether through credit cards, finance to buy a car, home loans, student loans etc, we all have a basic understanding of debt and the requirement to pay it off. Scripture tells us in Romans 1:20 that everything in the earth is a parable, to give an understanding of the kingdom of God. For example, the Tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build, was a shadow (parable) of the spiritual temple; the body of Christ (Hebrews 8:5). Thayer’s Bible Dictionary defines a parable as “an earthly story, with a heavenly meaning.” (1) So, with the understanding that everything on earth is a parable of the Kingdom of God; what is spiritual debt, and how do we pay it off?
In Matthew 6:12, Jesus says “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In other translations the word here for ‘debt’ is ‘sin’ and the Thayer’s Bible Dictionary defines debt as “metaphorically offence, sin”. (2) The Apostle Paul when writing to the Romans, stated “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). If we read this closely, Paul shows us a parable here; that sin is wages. He’s telling us that when we are in sin, we are in debt to Satan, because Satan is the epitome of death (See Hebrews 2:14).
One of the most prominent Early Church Fathers, Origen, stated:
We are all indeed creatures of God, but all of us, one and all, have been sold through our sins and been separated from our own creator by our sin. We are God’s, therefore, because we have been created by him; but we have become slaves of the devil, because we have been sold by our sins. (3)
Here, Origen is confirming what Paul says above in Romans 6:23; that we are indebted to Satan by our sin, and our sin is what separates us from God. Scripture tells us that light (truth) does not have anything in common with darkness (sin). (2 Corinthians 6:4).
The Apostle Paul is saying above that those with sin, are indebted to Satan. If we all take a good look at ourselves, we would all be able to see there is certainly still sin in all of our lives. So, let us take a deeper look into what the Bible says sin is.
The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter of the law kills (death, sin), but the spirit gives life (truth, freedom, righteousness). We read above in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin are death, so the letter and sin are clearly related and interchangeable in Scripture. In Matthew 23:27 Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Jesus is saying on the outside the scribes & Pharisees appear sinless through their actions in observing the Law, but their heart is full of sin. Our understanding begins in our heart, and from there flows our actions (See Proverbs 4:23), so our understanding must be pure, for our actions to be pure. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus warns “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” These were two such incredible statements for Jesus to make, because the scribes and Pharisees were keepers of the Law (Torah), so there must be a deeper understanding behind what Jesus was saying.
The scribes and Pharisees were observing the Law by the letter; they were performing and teaching all the outward actions of the Law, but not understanding the deeper meaning, the ‘spirit’ of the Word of God. The Complete Word Study Dictionary defines “the letter” as: “the literal sense and outward ordinances of the law” (4) Therefore in the scriptures above, Jesus was showing us that the scribes and Pharisees were ignorant of the right interpretation, therefore they were in debt to Satan. We can’t dismiss these scriptures, thinking Jesus was only speaking to the scribes and Pharisees 2000 years ago. We can all have a scribe and Pharisee understanding in us, if we don’t have a deeper understanding of Scripture and remain with a literal interpretation of the Word. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus states: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The word fulfill means to “fully preach” (5) and “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be.”(6) Jesus came to open the veil (Hebrews 10:20) and teach the deeper (spiritual meaning) of the Law. Without the right interpretation (righteousness) of the Word of God, we remain in debt (sin) and cannot enter into the Kingdom.
Now that we have the understanding of what spiritual debt is, how can we pay off our debt?
Earlier, we read in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that Paul says, “the spirit gives life”. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 the Apostle Paul tells us that the spirit searches the deep things of God. The word for “deep” in the Thayer’s Dictionary is “bathos” and it speaks of “the secret, unrevealed purposes of God” (7) or “mystery” (8). In Ephesians 3:1-5 Paul says that God made known His mysteries to His holy apostles & prophets, through the spirit. The revelation / unveiling of the mysteries of the Word of God, through the teachings of a true Apostle is what brings about the right understanding of the Word. This right understanding is what pays off our sin debt. Romans 6:18 shows us that the antithesis of sin is righteousness: “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Jesus said “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). The word “free” means to “set at liberty: from the dominion of sin”. (9) In John 14:6 Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me…”. We read earlier how Jesus came to reveal the truth through the spirit of the Law of God, because He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). So again, we can see that the truth is the right understanding of the Word of God and ignorance (of the right understanding) of the Word of God is what true sin is. Therefore, knowing the deeper meaning of scripture is what sets us free from sin and thus we are no longer in debt to Satan.
Origen confirms this with the following statement:
What is it which sets us free from sin? Knowledge of the truth, of course! This is what Jesus said to the Jews: “If you believe my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (10)
With the weightiness of the consequence of not understanding the deeper meaning of scripture, let us push on in truth, so we can have our debt paid in full and be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Amen.
1) Thayer’s Dictionary for “parabole”, Strongs ref: H3850
2) Thayer’s Dictionary for “sin”, Strongs ref: G3783
3) Origen, Spirit & Fire
4) Word Study Dictionary for G1121 for “letter” “gramma”
5) Strong’s Dictionary for “fulfill”, ref G4137 “pleroo”
6) Thayer’s Dictionary for “fulfill”, ref G4137 “pleroo”
7) Thayer’s Dictionary for “deep”, ref G899 “bathos”
8) Strong’s Dictionary for “deep”, ref G899 “bathos”
9) Thayer’s Dictionary for “free” G1659 “eleuthero”
10) Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010. (unless otherwise stated)