Issue #682 -------
November 19, 2015
He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay.
Ellis J. Crum (1928-2011) editor/publisher
Sacred Selections for the Church
On Monday, October 17, 2011 at 8:15 p.m. in the city of Kendallville, Indiana, an elderly disciple of Jesus passed from this present life at the age of 83. His name was Ellis J. Crum. Most likely you have never heard of him, although he was dearly loved by many, both in this nation and abroad. He had lived in Indiana since 1958, but prior to that he had preached the Gospel in California, Connecticut, and Canada. He also made several missionary trips to Africa, as well as directing tours to the Holy Land. Additionally, he was the editor and publisher of the beloved hymn book titled "Sacred Selections for the Church," which was very popular and almost the standard hymnal among many Churches of Christ (my own faith-heritage). He was an active member for many years of the Kendallville Church of Christ. I have called your attention to this brother in Christ in this current study because of a well-known hymn he chose to place within his hymn book, a hymn which happens to be one of my favorites. It is titled "He Paid A Debt." It is most often characterized and identified simply as an "American Folk Hymn," although there has been much speculation over the years as to who actually wrote the words and composed the melody (a few even suggesting Ellis J. Crum himself). Whomever the author and composer may have been, we can all nevertheless thank this devoted disciple for preserving it for us in his hymn book. The words from this piece that are particularly poignant are: "He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song: 'Amazing Grace.' Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay." What a powerful truth is conveyed in these few words!
The cost of redemption was too high for any of us to pay, either for ourselves or for anyone else. "No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him, that he should live on eternally; that he should not undergo decay, for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever" (Psalm 49:7-9). It was a debt we could not pay. But, thanks be to God, the debt has been paid. It was paid once for all by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Another beloved hymn, "He Bore It All," expresses this truth this way: "My precious Savior suffered pain and agony. He bore it all that I might live. He broke the bonds of sin and set the captive free. He bore it all that I might live. I stood condemned to die, but Jesus took my place. He bore it all that I might in His presence live." This is a classic Stamps-Baxter hymn, written in 1926. For generations our spiritual forefathers have been singing this gospel truth: Jesus "took my place" and "bore it all." These hymns reflect what I believe to be a timeless truth: the sacrifice of Christ was substitutionary in nature; He "took my place" and He paid in full the penalty for sin. I dealt with this truth in quite some depth in Reflections #152 ("Paying the Debt for Our Sin: Was the Crucifixion of Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin?"). I would urge you to carefully consider what I presented in that article, for it will have great bearing on the present study, especially with respect to the question as to whether or not our Lord's payment for sin was total or token in nature.
The legalists have a very hard time accepting the truth that our debt is fully and finally paid by Christ Jesus on the cross. It is their conviction that they must assist the Lord in making that payment. He pays part; we pay part ... and our part is paid through our obedience to some list of commands inferred (assumed) from the NT writings. Such a legalistic, patternistic perspective is deadly (as Jesus told the legalistic religionists in John 5:39-40), for it essentially declares God's gracious gift of His Son on the cross to be insufficient to fully pay the debt that we owe. It is up to you and me, therefore, according to this twisted theology, to supplement the payment that Jesus was incapable of fully providing by His sacrifice. That is about as close to an "abominable heresy" as any dogma can get! For such people, Paul's words in Colossians 2:13-14 are truly a thorn in their flesh, for this passage clearly refutes their theology. The apostle writes, "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross" (English Standard Version). Notice a few other renderings of verse 14:
This is far from an exhaustive listing of translations and versions, but it illustrates part of the problem we have when seeking to understand the passage before us. There is tremendous diversity of opinion as to what Paul was seeking to convey. Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), an English writer and theologian, stated, "Various are the senses interpreters give of these words" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. More recently, The Expositor's Bible Commentary echoes the same, declaring, "Paul's vivid metaphor ... has been variously explained" [vol. 11, p. 202]. All of which leaves us wondering: just what exactly was "wiped out, taken away, and nailed up"? Was it the Law of Moses? Law in general (all law)? Was it our sins? Our guilt? The list of charges against us? An "arrest warrant"? All of these, and more, have been suggested over the centuries. For those who insist Paul is speaking of the Law of Moses, one might well ask: which part of that system of law does Paul have in mind? Certainly not the moral law (do not murder, do not commit adultery, etc., for those still apply today). Certainly not the dietary requirements, as Peter would learn from his vision prior to going to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). The legalists tend to believe it was the ceremonial and sacrificial aspects of the Law of Moses that are in view here. We certainly know that under the first covenant (the Mosaic) there were various "regulations of divine worship" (Heb. 9:1), and that such regulation of our worshipful expression was never designed to carry over to the new covenant (Heb. 9:10). Most scholars, however, do not believe this is what Paul had in mind, and I personally concur with that view.
There is no doubt that a system of legal requirements (LAW -- whether the Law of Moses or just law in general), which men were incapable of keeping completely and perfectly, was a motivating factor in Paul's comments in this passage. Where there is law, there will also be the breaking of law; where there is law, there is sin (missing the mark; a falling short of law), and where there is transgression of law, there is punishment. "For the law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation" (Rom. 4:15). "Sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Rom. 5:13). Paul spoke of the inner struggle he experienced as a result of the existence of law: he acknowledged that law was good, but he also acknowledged that because he was human he often failed to live in perfect compliance with law (Rom. 7:14f). "For apart from law, sin is dead" (Rom. 7:8). However, when law exists, sin is exposed; we become debtors to law: it reigns as a master over us. Thus, there always exists a debt we cannot pay, for all have sinned and fallen short of God's expectations, and no man can redeem himself or others from that debt brought about by transgression. As the hymn states, "I owed a debt I could not pay." By breaking law, by being a transgressor, there is a "bill of indictment" brought against me; an "arrest warrant" has been issued. The problem is not with law itself; the problem is that no man can keep it perfectly. "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am flesh, sold into bondage to sin" (Rom. 7:14). Thus, there exists "a certificate of debt" that stands against me: a "written indictment" listing all my many transgressions. Paul was well aware of this indictment against him for his daily violation of divine law, and this elicited from him the lament, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" (Rom. 7:24). Who will take this indictment, this certificate of debt, which stands as a witness against me, and forever destroy it? The answer is: JESUS! "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). "I owed a debt I could not pay." But, praise God, "He paid a debt He did not owe!"
It is this of which Paul speaks in Col. 2:14. I like the way J. B. Phillips rendered this passage: "Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over His own head on the cross" [The NT in Modern English]. Our failure, due to fleshly weakness and inability, to perfectly abide by divine law, stood ever between us and our God: standing as a permanent witness against us, testifying to our mounting sins against Him. Yet, our gracious, merciful, loving Father canceled that debt, and nailed it to the cross of His Son. Jesus took our place, and in so doing canceled the debt. "Christ exchanged places with us, and thus canceled the bill of indictment" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 114]. "The indictment was itself crucified" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 202]. We are now, by the gift of His Son whom we have embraced by faith, under "a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). We are no longer indicted by the "letter of law," but freed and made alive in Christ Jesus to live by the spirit of the law, written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone. It is a new era; a reign of grace. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).
"Law is against us, because it comes like a taskmaster, bidding us do, but neither putting the inclination into our hearts nor the power into our hands. And law is against us, because the revelation of unfulfilled duty is the accusation of the defaulter, and a revelation to him of his guilt. And law is against us, because it comes with threatenings and foretastes of penalty and pain" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 491]. The indictment of law (i.e., that we are guilty and worthy of death) is ever before us if we seek to live by keeping law. However, that indictment is now removed in Christ. "He canceled the obligation for all who repent and believe. He vacated and disannulled the judgment which was against us" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Therefore, in his epistle to the Colossian brethren, the apostle Paul informs us all of the Good News that Jesus took our "certificate of debt," the indictment of our guilt, the document of our digressions, the transcript of our transgressions, and He bore it to the cross. As He died, so died that which was against us. "Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15).
From a Minister in Missouri:
Al, please send me your audio CD of your Sunday morning adult Bible class on "The New Covenant Church: Its Identity, History and Mission." Also, I would like signed copies of your following books: (1) "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace," (2) "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism," and (3) "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." My check is enclosed for these materials. Thanks, and God bless you in your work!
From a Minister in Alabama:
Thanks so much, Brother Al, for your work on your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace." I like the way you went about this study, and wanted to let you know that I found it very helpful. Again, thank you!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I prayed and thanked God for you today, brother, and all the good "counselors," both lay and professional, with whom God has graced my life. May your love and knowledge of the Lord continue to increase, may you be filled up with His power and presence, and may His grace abound to you today and always!
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, I just wanted you to know that because of you and your preaching and teaching over the years I am a better man. I think of you often since moving from Alamogordo, and I really miss you! Love you!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I just finished reading your latest article titled "Betrayed With A Kiss: Reflecting on the Kiss of Judas" (Reflections #681). Brother Maxey, you have such a gift of breaking it all down for us! Thank you!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I just read your latest ("Betrayed With A Kiss"). Excellent study, and extremely interesting! When the versions of the Bible rendered the response of Jesus to the mob in the garden as "I am he," it really does do an injustice to the power of what He really said: "I AM," especially when understood in the historical context. I've never heard the kiss of Judas taught with the view of understanding the Greek words used and how they are used in the context. It's always been presented as a fairly simple "kiss on the cheek." Your study is an excellent demonstration of why it is so important to understand what is actually written in the original and in the context of the time period (historical perspective) before one translates the Greek into modern English. The words chosen by the original writers often have very specific meanings that they understood, but which do not make it through the translation process. Not understanding what the true context of many Greek words is, and how that impacts their meaning and application for us today, has served to promote the modern legalism that has caused so much harm!
From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:
Your Reflections article on the kiss Judas gave Jesus really touched me! As you suggested, the pain inflicted by a stranger can always be just accepted or avenged and then forgotten, but when a loved one or close friend cuts you to the quick, there is no real way to stop the pain! It stays with you all your life, at least in the back of your mind. I have found it much easier to forgive than to forget, for the hurt is impossible to forget. In fact, many times I say I forgive, and act like I've forgotten, but I find I have kept a piece of the hurt in the back of my mind, and I often feel the pain today just as much as I did years ago. Part of the pain is because it was so unexpected (from such an unexpected source -- a loved one; a friend; a brother). I love you, brother. Please keep up the good work you do!
From an Author in Arizona:
Like your article, Al, I too recognize the difference between enmity of an enemy and enmity of a friend or one's kindred. I know that we both have been through those waters, and we have survived. To God be the glory!
From a Reader in Georgia:
"Do you come to betray Me with a kiss (as a friend)?" Wow! What a thing for any man to be asked by Jesus! It makes me penitent of the times my own conduct betrays my faith. Love ya, brother.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I have been thinking about how God intended for us to use the Bible. In the first place, it did not even exist in the form we have it today for many hundreds of years. Thus, it would have been impossible for the early Christians to use the Bible like many do today (citing book, chapter, verse to establish some doctrine or as proof of some doctrine). Probably most Christians during that time didn't even know of the existence of these various writings that today make up our Bible. So my thought is: how in the world can we today (i.e., those who seek to "restore" the NT church) even start to use the Bible as some kind of book of legal regulations which we must follow to the letter (a "pattern") in order to be pleasing to God? The early church didn't do so! In the first century it is estimated that only about 10% of the population was even literate, so they couldn't have understood these writings even if they had them. Thus, I have a hard time with those today who tell me I'm going to hell if I don't follow their plan/pattern (which is assumed from their own interpretation of the Bible).
It is generally known by most disciples (although largely ignored by sectarian extremists and hardened legalists/patternists) that the early church did not possess "the Bible." In fact, it was not until the early 300s A.D. that the completed canon of OT and NT "books" (writings) even existed, and it would be many centuries after that before people would even have a copy in their possession. Some disciples in the early centuries would have been aware of various writings and letters (epistles) from various sources, such as the apostles, but it is also quite likely that most had never seen a copy. They most certainly did not view these scattered documents as a source for establishing binding LAW for the church. The early church was guided by divine principles, not humanly divined and devised patterns elevated to the level of LAW (impacting both fellowship and salvation). Sadly, I fear that over the centuries the Bible has come to be venerated as THE source book for establishing religious dogma, and the more we make it so, the more we become a fragmented and feuding family of the Father. Like Jesus told the legalists and religionists of His day, they were searching through the Jewish scriptures furiously seeking to find the source of their salvation (largely in laws that must be kept), and they had completely failed to perceive that the Way, the Truth, and the Life stood right before their eyes (John 5:39-40). The Scriptures are not our source of life (so stated Jesus), but rather reveal the One who is that source of life! Our redemption is in the Word who became flesh, not in the words of a book. The latter reveals the former, but mere writings, no matter how true, do not constitute ultimate Truth. Yes, the writings of our present day Bible contain fabulous historical information about God's dealings with His creation, and they reveal His love, mercy and grace. They show us His nature, and challenge us to reflect that nature in our own lives (with the help of the indwelling Spirit). But these writings are NOT, and were never even intended to be, a book of LAW. "Restoring" the New Covenant church is not about imposing ancient patterns and practices upon modern day disciples; rather, it is about embracing God's gift of grace in faith, and walking in the light thereafter, reflecting the glory of His nature in our own attitudes and actions. -- Al Maxey
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