Realizing the Depth of Your Debt

I am a Six-Billion-Dollar Debtor.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around it. Every day I repeat the words to myself as I work around the house because I need them to sink in; I need them to be as real to me as the things that I can touch and see. I want to let that truth settle into my soul because when it does, it changes everything.

I’ve read the story many times from Matthew 18. A servant owed a king ten thousand talents. The servant cannot pay his debt, and so the king threatens to sell him and his wife and children to make the payment. The man pleads for the king to be patient, saying that he will pay back the debt. It is a laughable promise, because that ten thousand talents is today’s equivalent of six billion dollars. The king knows that paying back the debt is impossible, and he does something greater than give more time to pay–he forgives and releases the servant from the whole debt. What a startling act of grace! But then the servant goes out and assaults and chokes another servant who owes him a hundred denarii, today’s equivalent of twelve thousand dollars.

Now a debt of twelve thousand dollars is nothing to take lightly, but when you’ve been forgiven six billion, the harshness is inexcusable. Clearly this guy doesn’t get the grace that he’s been given. I could gasp at his forgetfulness of the grace he has received, but I know I’m that man. I owed a debt I could never pay, and it was forgiven by the King of Kings. And yet I’m still so stingy with the grace of God to others.

Sometimes it’s one of my kids, sometimes someone who is struggling with ingrained sin problems in our church. I start to think, “They should get this by now,” or “I can’t believe they just said that!” I think that I would never sin the way that they are sinning.

That lack of patience and mercy can only come from someone who’s forgotten who she really is.  I wear ministry roles and positions of responsibility as part of my identity, wanting to believe there is something good in me despite the Bible’s firm statement that in me no good thing dwells (Romans 7:18). This story is my most basic identity: six-billion-dollar debtor. When I believe that, it reorients everyone else’s sin struggles. I can be gentle. I can be patient. I’m never going to bear with the sins of other people more than Jesus has with me.

Second Timothy 2:24 admonishes me, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Ephesians 4:1-2 adds, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” All this kindness and patience and gentleness can be reached perhaps by clenching your jaw and buckling down, but there is a better way. When you see yourself as a six-billion-dollar debtor who has had all of it forgiven, the kindness and patience just comes. You know with any offense, any disappointment in others, that your patience and forgiveness is just a drop in a bucket compared to the ocean that Jesus has forgiven you.

So I keep whispering it to myself, this true identity. My flesh always wants to believe I have good things to offer, that I’m not “that bad” of a sinner. But when my heart agrees with Jesus, “Yes, I am that great sinner; my debt of sin was piled up further than I can comprehend,” suddenly I have eyes to see the waterfall of grace raining down on me. These children, this ministry, are all undeserved gifts. Today I am getting more than I deserve. Today, by the grace of God, my only debt is the debt of love I owe to others (Romans 13:8). Today no situation will call me to give more than Christ gave for me. This humble confession of spiritual need opens me up to experience the truth of Isaiah 29:19, “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.”

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About Sarah Johnson

Sarah has been a pastor's wife in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in Utah County, the center of Mormonism. She can't think of two more opposite places in the US, but each has been a special joy. She has 5 children and spends most of her time homeschooling and ministering alongside her husband at Fellowship Bible Church. Sarah loves the great outdoors and feeding people and agrees with C.S. Lewis that, "you can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."