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JOHN PEARRELL: Jesus died to pay our debt of sin

Anyone who has been in church for any length of time is familiar with Christ's final seven words which were uttered from the cross, probably the most familiar phrase being, "It is finished." (John 19:30).

Many people misunderstand that phrase, thinking that Jesus was saying in effect, "My life is over; I'm done."

That is an understandable misunderstanding when we realize that immediately after uttering this last phrase, the Savior died. But that is not what the phrase means.

In the original language, that phrase translated "it is finished" comes from one Greek word: tetelestai. Tetelestai (pronounced, te-tell-is-tie) was a term used in the markets of the day. The word literally means, "Paid in full." If you had purchased an item at the market, the merchant would give you a bill of sale which had the word "tetelestai" stamped across it.

When Jesus utters this phrase from the cross, he was saying that the full price for redemption had now been paid.

Talking with an individual about God's marvelous gift of eternal life, I decided to try to illustrate what it meant. I said, "Think of it this way: suppose some wealthy benefactor picked your name out of the phone book and said, 'I am going to pay all that man's debt and not only that, I am going to make it so that he never experiences debt again!' How would that make you feel?"

To my surprise, the man answered me, "I wouldn't accept it!" I wasn't quite sure how to respond.

I asked him why he would refuse such a gift and he went everywhere from explaining that he believed in paying his own way, to saying that there would have to be some hook involved, some hidden scheme in such a gift.

Try as I might to explain that I was only using this as an illustration, this man never saw it, never backed down, wouldn't even consider such a possibility. He went as far as saying he would go back to all his paid creditors and demand that they re-instate his bills.

Most people don't respond that way. Most respond by realizing how incredibly freeing such an experience would be.

You and I owe a debt to God we could never repay. It is a debt accrued through sin. Sin is not only doing things we shouldn't do, but sin also is an inability to do the things we should do.

Those who think that they can work their own way into heaven by being good enough, well, the Bible tells us what it would take: "For Moses wrote that if a person could be perfectly good and hold out against temptation all his life and never sin once, only then could he be pardoned and saved." (Romans 10:5, The Living Bible)

What we could not pay, God himself assumed. He took my sin debt, paid for it in full, and then credited Christ's righteousness to my account. He does that for all you will come to Him by faith.

Sadly, like the man in my illustration above, there are myriads of people who, while they might accept the generosity of an unknown benefactor financially, they refuse to accept the generosity of the loving God spiritually. Instead of discovering the freedom of debts forgiven, they insist on paying their own way.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington, GA.. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org