The Kingdom According to Jesus Part I

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I would like to tell you a story. Consider it a modern-day parable, if you will.

A man worked at a bank for more than 20 years. During his employment he managed to embezzle 10 million dollars. By the time the bank discovered his thievery, the man had spent all of the money he had stolen. Still, he asked the bank officials to give him time to pay back the debt, knowing he would never be able to do such a thing. Off to prison the man went. A week later a stranger paid the man’s debt, the charges were dropped, and the man was set free.

Jesus also told a parable about a man who owed a large sum of money in Matthew 18:

23 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

Now let me tell you the rest of my story.

The bank worker did not know that his debt had been paid. When the prison guards tried to release him, he refused to leave for fear that something worse than life in prison would befall him because of the debt. Instead, he wrote a letter to the bank officials begging them to forgive the debt but they told him, “We cannot forgive your debt because someone else already paid the money back for you. You don’t owe us anything.” The man never knew who paid his debt. He didn’t want to know – he was afraid if he left the prison the stranger who had paid such a large sum of money would ask something outrageous from him in return for the money. He wasn’t interested in owing anyone anything and chose instead to live out the rest of his life in prison, refusing to believe he could ever truly be free.

I’ll bet many of you reading this have been taught that your sin has incurred a debt to God that someone has to pay. The Gospel according to modern American Evangelicals goes something like this:

The sin-debt you owe requires payment in the form of punishment which will appease the wrath of a holy God. If you will just believe that Jesus died in your place and took the full measure of His Father’s wrath on Himself, then He has paid your debt and taken your punishment. If you refuse to believe this then you must pay your debt to God in hell for all eternity.

In other words, modern Evangelicals believe atonement looks like my parable about a debt requiring payment, and that Jesus’ death paid the debt for anyone who believes. Your belief is your get out of hell free card, but it really wasn’t free, because Jesus actually paid the debt by suffering the wrath of God on your behalf and now you owe Jesus – belief, allegiance, obedience, whatever He requires in return – nothing is free in the economy of debt & payment.

That cycle of debt-payment is exactly how this world works.

But, according to Jesus, that’s not how God’s Kingdom works.

In Jesus’ parable, the slave’s master forgave or absorbed his servant’s debt into himself without any payment in return. The master took a financial loss and required nothing in return from anyone. No one paid the slave’s debt to the master.

for·give

1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
3. to grant pardon to (a person).
4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

I have never read anywhere in the Bible or elsewhere that forgiveness requires payment before it can be given. In fact, payment and forgiveness are antithetical to one another. Yet, over and over I have heard it taught in churches that Jesus’ death made it possible for God to forgive us. As if God had to be paid in order to forgive. Really?

If God was paid, then He didn’t forgive … He got paid. If Jesus paid your sin-debt to God, then the Father has nothing left to forgive. Jesus paid your debt to God’s wrath and the Father has been appeased.

But is that what really happened? Is that the Biblical definition of atonement? Not according to Matthew 18. Notice how Jesus begins this parable:

The Kingdom of heaven is like

You want to know how God’s Kingdom works? It looks like a master who does not get paid, but forgives out of compassion and mercy. It looks like grace instead of ‘payback required.’

… reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them …

God either forgave your sins or He got paid. You cannot have it both ways.

(To be continued…)

2 thoughts on “The Kingdom According to Jesus Part I

  1. I’m curious how your understanding fits with Romans 3:25-26. This passage doesn’t describe sin as a debt that must be repaid, but it does imply that sin must receive a definite measure of justice. It seems to me to be a similar concept to the debt/payment one. What do you think about it?

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    1. Good question, Rachelle! Thankfully, even Peter said that Paul’s writings were difficult to understand. 🙂 Sorry that you are now about to learn just how long-winded I can be … you might consider a hot cup of tea right about now. *grin*

      I think it’s important to look at these letters as a whole rather than slicing and dicing them as verses. It’s so easy to make a mistake in interpretation when we take a verse or two at a time out of the context as a whole. That said, I’d like to look at the context of the verses you mentioned.

      Chapter 2 of Romans begins this whole section leading into chapter 3. Paul starts with emphasizing that God’s judgment is rendered based on works and then he confronts the Jewish belief that just being born a Jew (& circumcised) was a free ticket “in” (much like Evangelicals who are convinced that “the sinner’s prayer” is their get out of hell free card).

      Then Paul goes into a long section about how everyone’s screwed ’cause we’re all missing the mark (in a shockingly big way). Finally, Paul starts making a distinction between the law and the righteousness of God. Let’s look at the whole section you raised (I think it might be helpful to read the section without verse delineations):

      But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
      Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
      Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

      I think there are three really important points here (definitely more, but I’m trying not to turn this into a book) that relate to your question. First, the righteousness of God is being witnessed APART FROM THE LAW. Remember, the Jewish law was all about sacrificial atonement. But God’s righteousness is demonstrated by His opening the door through faith in Christ and this is APART from any obedience to law. The Jews had come to understand that observing the law was what justified the sinner.

      Second, justification has come through God redeeming us (GOD redeemed us through Christ, the text clearly says) by His grace. I think most of the churched people today think that Jesus redeemed us from God’s wrath by His sacrifice (which would not be grace, but payment for a good work, albeit Jesus’ good work), but the text says God redeemed us. Redeemed us (purchased us back, ransomed us) from who or from what? Certainly you would not use that type of language if you were saying that God redeemed us from Himself. I’ll give you a clue: Who turned their backs on who in the Garden? And another hint: Let me know where Colossians 1 takes you.

      Okay, third point, and where I think you were going: the word propitiation. This word means “appeasement” or something along those lines. The thing is, I cannot find one Scripture that says God is the one appeased by Jesus’ sacrifice. In fact, in both the Old and New Testaments we are clearly told that even the sacrificial system established in the O.T. was not God’s desire and did nothing to cleanse us from sins or our guilty conscience. What if WE were appeased by Jesus’ death? What if OUR violence was shown for what it was, and laid to waste by the resurrection once and for all? What if God’s grace is about His total commitment to love in a non-violent manner whatever the cost to Him?

      What if grace has nothing to do with God’s wrath being appeased so now He can forgive, but everything to do with Him offering His only Son to the mercy of the violence of humankind? What if justice is making all things right (exactly where Paul goes next when he declares that Jesus is the second Adam in chapter 4).

      Final point about Romans 3: Paul is working hard in chapters 2-3 to show his readers that there is no point at which man can boast about his own righteousness. Even the most law-abiding Jew could not boast because the real issue is love. God demonstrated true righteousness outside of the law by loving us to the uttermost – to the point of laying down His life through Christ. This is the Gospel. And it’s the best news I’ve ever heard.

      **disclaimer: I have not studied Romans 3 in many years. Probably so much more in there that could be said … probably didn’t explain what I did have to say very well. But thanks for letting me ramble, Rachelle. I hope this conversation is drawing us all into a deeper understanding of His passion for us. God bless!

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