I have noticed that the phrase “my debt is paid” pops up quite frequently in modern evangelical worship songs. Just google it and see for yourself.
As a long time evangelical, I know (or think I do) that the “debt” being referred to is the “debt of sin”, which according to Augustine, Anselm & the Reformers, can only be paid if someone undergoes a just punishment for that sin. The problem is that there is scant evidence for this in the Scriptures. For example, when I put “my debt is paid” into internet and Bible search engines I get ZERO results. Putting just “my debt”, “your debt” or “their debt” also failed to produce any hits.
Searching the Bible for the word “debt” by itself does get results. “Debt”, “debtor”, “owing”, “obligation” and “duty” are some of the ways the highest occurring Greek word for debt – opheilo – is translated. Jesus used the word in three parables plus some other direct teachings. The clearest teachings include the following:
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty (opheilo).'”
(Luke 17:7-10 NIV)
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should (opheilo) wash one another’s feet.
(John 13:14 NIV)
Likewise, in their NT letters, Paul and John only teach about owing it (Gk. opheilo) to God and to others to practically serve in love!
Let no debt (opheilo) remain outstanding, except the continuing debt (opheilo) to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
(Romans 13:8 NIV)
They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it (opheilo) to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it (opheilo) to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
(Romans 15:27 NIV)
We ought (opheilo) always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
(2 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)
If he has done you any wrong or owes (opheilo) you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe (opheilo) me your very self.
(Philemon 1:18-19 NIV)
Whoever claims to live in him must (opheilo) live as Jesus did.
(1 John 2:6 NIV)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to (opheilo) lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
(1 John 3:16 NIV)
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to (opheilo) love one another.
(1 John 4:11 NIV)
In summary, I can’t find anywhere in the NT anything about “my debt” (Gk. opheile) being “paid” by Jesus by means of the Cross. In fact, the only people in the NT to compare Jesus’ death with a legal payment of a debt were His Jewish enemies. They argued to Pilate that, according to their Law, Jesus ought (Gk. opheilo) to die because He claimed to be the Son of God! (John 19:7)
So when song writers write “my debt is paid” it reminds me of how legalistic the evangelical doctrine of salvation is. We are first taught that God is legalistic, then taught that He loves us. It’s great that He loves us but a pity we have made the Lover out to be so legalistic!
The love of God is so important, in so many ways! It would take a thousand pages to explain why I find appeals to the Law to explain the death of Christ to be so negative and depowering of the Gospel! Suffice it to say here that the Law (as brought by Moses and many other statesmen & women in other nations) is always lacking in both Grace and Truth (cf. John 1:14).
Now of course the Scripture does speak about Jesus ‘buying’ us:
“YOU were bought with a price…. .” – 1 Cor 6:20
I have no problem singing about that! At the cost (or “price”) of His own life blood, Jesus ransomed and bought – NOT our “debt”, not our forgiveness – but us (ourselves). We were enslaved to Sin (Rom 7:14) and by Christ’s condemnation of Sin in flesh on the Cross (Rom 8:2-4), He showed us the Truth by which we can be free of Sin (and therefore free of having to sin) and fulfill the spirit of the Law which is love. If we believe Christ, by that belief He sets us free.
Being free of committing sin is obviously a hugely practical, attitudinal, behavioural, amazing and joyful state of affairs. To the extent that I, by faith, have been released from Sin, which once enslaved me, by the Son who endures forever – I am a walking demonstration of the transforming power of the Gospel in those who believe (Rom 1:16). Being able to fulfill all of my and God’s moral expectations (Gk. opheilo) to love others… amounts to a display of God’s righteousness in the (new) way of Christ that He achieved “apart from Law” (Rom 3:20-22) in me!
O Christ, our Saviour! You are enabling us to pay our great debt of love, according to your gracious plan in which You created us, in Your image, to love like You do!
Now that really is something for the whole world to sing about!!