ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
THE SIN DEBT IS PAID
"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?" -Romans 8:33
These words echo from the pen of the Apostle Paul like a trumpet blast in the day of battle as Paul presents both a question and a challenge: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
Paul's mind was settled, the sin debt had been paid. According to Paul, for any creature to charge God's elect with sin was unethical conduct in the realm of spiritual redemption. Who shall! To do such a thing was to go beyond the elect and virtually point an accusing finger at God, for Paul answers, "It is God that justifieth"; Jehovah has paid the debt! To "lay any thing to the charge of God's elect" is to accuse God of neglect in the highest sense; to say He is not a responsible creator; He can not take care of His own family; He can not be trusted with a debt. Therefore, we must say with Paul, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
There are few things which annoy us more than to be charged for a debt that we have already paid; to be charged twice for the same thing. But it occurs quite frequently. Invoices and checks are lost, payments are never posted, while people are charged again and again for the same merchandise, benefits or services. It seems, for some businesses, this is the intent. If they can receive double payment
they are glad. You will never hear a word from them. So by experience, most of us have learned to keep records and carefully document those invoices we have paid to avoid being charged twice for the same debt. But what about spiritual debts? Does this overcharging occur in the realm of spiritual redemption? We can be sure that it does! Why else would Paul write, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
Have you ever been charged twice for the same debt in the area of spiritual redemption; charged for sins that Jesus paid for upon the cross? Many have. When I was a teenager, I attended a meeting and the preachers theme was "The Blood of Christ". At the close of his discourse, he held his hands behind the podium and suddenly raised them for the whole audience to see. They were blood red! Apparently, he had some kind of ointment that he smeared upon his hands to make them red. When he produced them before the audience it created both a surprise and a fear: the blood is on your hands; you must pay or burn.
A friend of mine was sitting behind me. I saw him streak past me like a bolt of lightning. He knew he was a sinner. I, too, knew I was a sinner and that there was power in the blood of Jesus Christ. Although I did not know how to get to heaven, I trusted that these people knew, and I must respond to their instructions if I was ever to see the Lord in peace. I went forward and told the preacher I wanted to be baptized and do whatever was required to go to heaven. I knew I needed to pay for the debt of sin in my life and he told me how to do it. I responded. They charged me and I paid them.
After I had complied with their instructions and become a member of their congregation, several things continued to bother me, things that burdened me before I joined. One was this: I still felt to be just as much of a sinner as I did before I joined. The burden of sin was still there even though I became more faithful in my attendance and devotions. Another thing that bothered me was the small price that they charged for heaven. Although I was told that I had paid my debt, I felt that what I gave was not enough. Could I go to heaven, gain all the glory and riches that are there, live with the Lord world without end, pay off all of my sin debt, by just one small act of my free will? Somehow, this seemed like an unfair exchange. I felt to be a hypocrite; that I had shortchanged God.
In my own heart, I felt that if I were to gain such great and grand blessings, I should at least live a perfect and consecrated life from then on. That, too, bothered me, because I knew that I couldn't. I expected peace, but I found that the weight became greater. I was overcharged and I knew I could not pay.
I feel that there are many others who have had this experience. They have been charged for a debt that Jesus has paid for. They have heard false professors, though sincere in their efforts, saying and teaching things that contradict one another, things that are not consistent. They have never been pointed properly to Jesus Christ, the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" -John 1:29. They have been told, as I was, to look everywhere but to Christ for salvation: look unto your baptism; look unto your acceptance; look unto your repentance; look unto your good works; look unto your religion; look here, there, and everywhere. But what saith the prophet of old? "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" -Isaiah 45:22. According to Isaiah, there is "none else", no other person or place to look for salvation than to the Lord. Where are you looking? Can you say with Paul, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect."
Through wisdom, God knew that this overcharging would occur and the Holy Ghost inspired Paul to pen these words. Even when the blood of Christ was fresh upon the cross, men rose up and said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" -Acts 15:1b. These men would overcharge the elect. They were no different from men today who would require, not only the blood of Christ, but also certain works of the Law for the salvation of the elect. And even though the list of works has changed over the centuries, they remain to be works. Whether we speak of circumcision, keeping the commandments, baptism, acceptance, or repentance, anything that the creature can due must be defined as work (Romans 11:6). Where you find one thing that one man can do that another man can't do you will find a work.
When these men began to teach this doctrine of salvation by works, what was the response of the Apostle Peter? "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" -Acts 15:10-11. Peter would lay nothing to the charge of God's elect. He believed and taught that his salvation, as well as the salvation of others, was by the grace of God, not by the works of the law.
This overcharging has been going on throughout the ages. Was this not the experience of John Bunyan's "Christian", in his book, "Pilgrim's Progress", written in the 1600's? Christian was a man who had a great weight on his back: the Lord had shown him his sin. On his journey to the Celestial City, he met Worldly Wiseman who instructed him to go to the city of Morality and find the house of Legalist to get the weight off of his back? His skill was to help men get the burdens off of their shoulders. According to Mr. Worldly Wiseman, "he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens." The path to Legality's house was hard by Mt. Sinai. But when Christian came to the house of Legality, "it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the wayside, did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head;...his burden seemed heavier to him, than while he was in his way. There came also flashes of fire out of the hill, that made Christian afraid that he should be burned." Even though the names and faces have changed, Bunyan's classic depicts the same overcharging that we find in Acts 15, the same overcharging that Paul lifts his pen against. Christian represents many who have been falsely instructed that the way to get the burden of sin off of the back is by fulfilling the law. And Peter said this concerning the law: "neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." Christian, too, found that he could not live up to the law if he was honest about it. He, too, was overcharged.
What a relief of soul it is to a struggling sinner when he first finds out about grace; that the debt has been paid through the blood of the everlasting covenant. When one can sing without hesitation:
"Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow."
Just as Christian, many who have been overcharged have been blessed to see the sufficiency in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is indeed a blessing when one sees Jesus as the surety for their debt and can be as bold as Paul and say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
THE SECURITY OF THE ELECT
Paul's challenge, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect", follows a cadence of security texts for God's redeemed family. Oh beloved, pause for just a moment and listen through the pen of the apostle, as his intensity heightens, as he mounts on eagles wings and makes a public declaration of those that God predestinated to live with Him in glory (v29); those that He called by His grace(v30); those that Jesus justified upon the cross(v30); and the glory that He has bestowed upon His elect (v30). In rapid succession, Paul fires assurances, warranties and promises in the face of Satan and all of his accusers. We must ask the same questions, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" Paul can go no higher. He must burst forth and give God and His Son all of the glory: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" He then climaxes his cadence with our text, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." But even here, Paul can not cease to publish the security of the elect. He leaps from great-truth to great-truth as he exalts the Lord and speaks of the death of Christ (v34); the resurrection of Christ(v34); the position of Christ(v34); the intercession of Christ(v34); the eternal union of Christ with His redeemed family(v35); the faithfulness of Christ(v35-39); the victory the elect have in Christ(v37); and the eternal love that God has for His redeemed in Christ(v38-39). These glorious texts are void of human merits. No wonder the elect have found such security in them throughout the ages. My pen must rise with Paul's, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect."
DID WE OWE A DEBT?
Yes, there was a debt, a great debt. In fact, the greatest debt ever laid to the charge of mortals: the debt of sin. Not only are we sinners in Adam, we find sin and lust in our lives every day, for "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" -I John 1:10. But for the elect, this debt was justified by Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary. Is there a conflict between these two great truths: that the elect are yet imperfect, prone to sin, but yet standing before the throne of God as just and Holy? No, not when we see the elect as David did, of whom Paul quotes, "Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" -Romans 4:7-8. There is a difference between sinning in this life and having those sins imputed to one eternally. Without the blood of Christ, all sin would be charged to mankind eternally. But there is a special people whose sins are paid for; a people who stand before the bar of divine justice as though they had never sinned. And who is that man (or woman) that David speaks of, that man "to whom the Lord will not impute sin?" It is the man that Jesus died for upon the cross! Those whose sins have been paid for: the elect. We must see the elect through the eyes of a loving Father and Christ as the full payment for their sins. Yes, in this world the elect do sin and fall short of the glory of God. But for these chosen of God, they are judged as children and chastened in this world for their sin, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" -Hebrews 12:6. Eternally, their sins can not be laid to their charge, Christ has born their sins for them. Their elder brother has trod the winepress alone, He has "entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" -Hebrews 9:12. No other creature under heaven stands in such an honored place, not even the angels who left their first estate, whose sins stand ever before them. No other creature can send forth the challenge, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
WHAT WAS THE PRICE?
What was the price? What would cancel the debt of sin imputed unto the elect? After all, their sin is great. Paul gives the answer in the preceding verse: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"-Romans 8:32. Yes, free to us, but costly unto the Father. The price was His Son! The debt was so great that the payment required to satisfy the demands of God's righteous law was unavailable to mortal man. Not only was the price unavailable to mortal man, the debt was greater than man could comprehend for:
"Angelic minds cannot explore
This deep unfathomed sea
Tis void of bottom, brim, or shore
And lost in Diety
That sacred flood, from Jesus' veins
Was free to take away
A Mary's or Manasseh's stains
Or sins more vile than they"
All the kingdoms and treasures of this earth would never pay for one single sin. The sins of the elect were paid for "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" -1 Peter 1:19. More precious than rare gems, honored and beloved of the Father, the blood of Him who created all things was required to cancel the debt. If the debt is cancelled, if the elect are redeemed, who would ever dare to "lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
IS GOD SATISFIED?
Is God satisfied with this payment, or does He continue to send statements out to the elect to pay a portion of the debt? It seems to some that God is not satisfied. They will charge you for something that Jesus has paid for if you allow them. They portray the King of kings and Lord of lords as a fretful Saviour, shedding tears in heaven because something remains to be paid. But what saith the accountant of all things? "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities" -Isaiah 53:10-11. Isaiah says that God is satisfied. Quite contrary to the god that much of the world depicts. Isaiah could see a debt cancelled. And since it is God who exacted the debt in the first place, we can safely say that it is settled. If God is satisfied, should we not be?
There are many accusers who would tell us that the blood of Christ is not sufficient; that we must add something to it; that we are not secure. Unrepentant sin will always point an accusing finger at us. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, will rail upon us. False professors overcharge the elect every day. But we must remember that we have the legal document in hand which testifies of our pardon from sin; that the debt has been paid. The Bible is full of promises and guarantees which forever stand as a testimony that God is satisfied. Have you looked for such promises?
What a comfort it is, when we have paid a debt; when we get the legal papers from the bank showing that our debt is paid. Nothing else can be laid to our charge concerning this particular debt, we have the title in hand. What a comfort it is for a sinner, when he too, can read his "title clear to mansions in the skies". It is then, and then alone, that one can "bid farewell to every fear", "smile at Satan's rage", and "face a frowning world". It is only then that one can stand in the face of Satan and say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"
WE COULD NEVER PAY
Why was our precious Lord Jesus brought down from glory to suffer the agony of the cross? The Bible gives us many reasons, but one that is most often forgotten is this: the elect could never pay for one sin. They have nothing to pay with. Some think they can trade their righteous acts for their sin. They feel that if they can do enough good to outweigh the bad they will gain a mansion in glory. But God's mansions are not for sale. They never have been. They are received freely as an inheritance. How dare any offer them for a price when it is not theirs to sell.
And what are we offering to God when we offer Him our good works to pay for our sin? According to Isaiah we are offering God filthy rags. Isaiah says that "all our righteousness are as filthy rags". - Isaiah 64:6. This does not mean that God is not pleased with our good works: our repentance; our baptism; our faithful acts; our deeds of charity. What it means is this: our righteousness can never pay for one sin. By these actions we show who we are and we please our Lord.
I knew a man who owed his boss a sum of money. Having no money to pay off the debt, he offered the man an old guitar in payment for the debt. This was not in the original agreement, and to say the least, a poor substitute for the debt. But the example is the same. When we offer God our righteous efforts in exchange for our sin we are doing the same thing. Not only was this mode of payment not in the original agreement, it is a poor substitute for the price that was originally required. Yes, righteous activity is pleasing to God and profitable for us all. But to offer these unto God to pay for sin is the same as offering God filthy rags. Let us approach God as the songwriter has suggested, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling."
FOUR PROOFS OF PAYMENT
If Paul's cadence of security texts were not enough, in verse 34 he gives us four proofs of payment. The first proof of payment is this: "It is Christ that died". Yes, the price that was demanded has been met. The substitute for us all. The only one who could bear the sin of the whole elect: the just for the unjust. It was not a man; it was not Peter, Paul or some other Saint, it was the Son of God.
Our second proof of payment is this: Christ has risen from the dead, "yea rather, that is risen again." Notice the forcefulness of Paul's words, "yea rather". Indeed, the death of Christ is a powerful argument in favor of the elect, but the resurrection is greater proof of God's acceptance of Christ's offering for sin. We generally receive more comfort at the cross that at then empty tomb, but Paul says this is an even greater argument. Yes, Christ was delivered for our offenses, but he was equally "raised again for our justification" -Romans 4:25.
Our third proof of payment is the position that our crucified Lord now occupies, "even at the right hand of God." The "right hand of God" is the place of the chosen (Matthew 25:33), the position of authority (John 5:27), and the position of power (John 17:2). Can you find security, knowing where Christ sits today?
And finally, we find security knowing that Christ "maketh intercession for us". Today, Christ stands between yet imperfect children and a perfect Father; between God and man. He continues to go between heaven and earth. He is there when we pray, when we sin, when we seek, when we cry, in all things. He is indeed, a friend who "sticketh closer than a brother."
As we view all of these promises, can we not find comfort and consolation in Christ as the full payment for our sin? Can we not say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"