8.01 Man’s Problem

SIN DEBT and SIN NATURE

The Question asked is sin a legal debt to God?

Sin is a legal debt to God.

Sin is breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4).

SIN DEBT

The Law is exemplified in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and contains such things as “do not lie, do not steal, do not commit adultery, honor your father and mother,” etc. 

When someone breaks any of God’s laws, he has sinned; and the result is a punishment for breaking the law.  After all, there is no law that does not have a punishment.  So, when anyone sins, there is a legal debt to God because it is God’s law that he has broken.  In fact, consider how Jesus equated sin with legal debt.

Matthew 6:9-13-1 Luke 11:2-4-2
9 “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 2 “Father, hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 2 Your kingdom come.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 3 ‘Give us each day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts [epheilamata], as we also have forgiven our debtors. 4 And forgive us our sins [hamartia],
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ 4 For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’ ”

SIN DEBT Explained

The word “debts” in Greek is ὀφειλήματα, opheilamata, and it means a legal debt. 

The word “sin” in Greek is ἁμαρτία, hamartia

Please consider the definitions of the words below. 

  DEBT, Ephemilamataὀφείλημα, ατος, τό

• debt; (1) literally, what is owed debt, sum owed; in a broader sense of what is due obligation (RO 4.4); (2) morally, of guilt incurred sin, offense.”1)Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

• “Two occurrences; AV translates as “debt” twice. 1 that which is owed. 1A that which is justly or legally due, a debt. 2 metaph. offence, sin.”2)Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

ὀφειλήa, ῆς f; ὀφείλημαa, τος n: (derivatives of ὀφείλωa ‘to owe,’ 57.219) that which is owed–‘debt, amount owed.'”3)Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

  SIN, Hamartia, ἁμαρτία

• “ἁμαρτία, ας, ἡ sin; (1) of an act, a departure from doing what is right, equivalent to ἁμάρτημα sin, wrongdoing (1J 5.17); (2) as the moral consequence of having done something wrong sin, guilt.”4)Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

• “ἁμαρτάνω [hamartano /ham·ar·tan·o/] v. Perhaps from 1 (as a negative particle) and the base of 3313; TDNT 1:267; TDNTA 44; GK 279; 43 occurrences; AV translates as “sin” 38 times, “trespass” three times, “offend” once, and “for your faults” once. 1 to be without a share in. 2 to miss the mark. 3 to err, be mistaken. 4 to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong. 5 to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin.”5)Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

• “ἁμαρτάνω; ἁμαρτίαa, ας f: to act contrary to the will and law of God–‘to sin, to engage in wrongdoing, sin.’”6)Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Also, Paul deals with sin in a legal context as well.  Consider Colossians 2:14 below, which I’ve listed in different translations and underlined a particularly important set of words.

having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” 

In each translation the underlined words are a single word in Greek: χειρόγραφονcheirógraphon.  It means . . .

Cheirógraphon, “A document, esp. a note of indebtedness, is written in one’s own hand as a proof of obligation.7)Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.

Cheirógraphon, “strictly handwritten document; in legal matters a promissory note, record of indebtedness, bond.8)Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Cheirógraphon, “a handwriting, what one has written by his own hand. 2 a note of hand or writing in which one acknowledges that money has either been deposited with him or lent to him by another, to be returned at the appointed time.9)Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

So, according to Colossians 2:14 Jesus “canceled out the certificate of debt.” 

In other words, he canceled out the handwritten note of legal indebtedness. 

This is proof that sin is a legal debt; and since it is God’s law that we have broken when we sin, it is a legal debt to God.

So we truly have a dilemma and we have a sin debt and we can not pay this debt by any means!

Sin is expressed as debt is a true metaphor because duty neglected in relation to God is a debt owed to him, one that must be discharged by paying a penalty.10)John W. Ritenbaugh “An Unpayable Debt and Obligation” http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/1043/Unpayable-Debt-Obligation.htm

Luke 7:41-50

Interestingly, in the model prayer (Matthew 6:12), sin is expressed as debt. It is a true metaphor because duty neglected in relation to God is a debt owed to Him, one that must be discharged by paying a penalty. All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We are all under a peculiar form of indebtedness that we cannot pay and still have hope!

Simon and the woman each portray a class of sinners. Though all are sinners, some have incurred more debt through the way of life each has lived. Some are outwardly respectable, decent, and clean living, while others have fallen into gross, sensual, and open transgression. In this regard, Simon was a great deal “better” than the woman, who was coarse and unclean. She had been wallowing in filth while he attained civic respectability through rigid morality and punctilious observance of civility. He had far less to answer for than she, but he had also received a great deal more from his morality and righteousness than she had. God is not so unfair as to withhold blessings from people for the right they have done. Yet, regardless of the relative size of each one’s debt, neither was able to pay it!

We all are sinful and stand in the same relation to God as these two debtors. One’s sins may be blacker and more numerous than another’s, but upon considering degrees of guilt and the complex motivations behind each one’s sins, we may not be so quick to judge the woman’s sins worse than Simon’s. From this perspective, they were equal. His sins were clothed with respectability, but he still could not meet his debt. Jesus says, “They had nothing to pay.” That also precisely describes our position in relation to each other.

What does this mean practically in regard to Jesus Christ and our sins? No depth of guilt, no amount of tears, self-flagellation, or discipline, no amount of repentance can work this into a payable debt. Some of these are certainly required of God and are good to do, but forgiveness, the payment of our debt incurred through our personal sins, is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). It comes by God’s mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:7). We absolutely cannot pay it ourselves and still have hope of eternal life. If it could, God would owe us something—He would be indebted to us! That will never, never be.

The sin-debt that each person owes to God absolutely cannot be worked off. 11)John W. Ritenbaugh The Christian Fight [Part Four] http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/1335/Christian-Fight-Part-Four.htm

Romans 6:23

One of the most basic truths in God’s program involves the fact that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The death we are intended to understand is the second death. There are only two ways to satisfy this basic truth: First, all humans must be paid that wage because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Second, another, an innocent One on whom death has no claim because He never sinned, must pay that wage in our stead, substituting His death for ours.

We find both aspects applied to practical Christian life in Romans. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is essential that we thoroughly understand that Christ died, not merely as a benefit, but for us, that is, in our place. His death substitutes for our well-deserved death, which we earned through sin. Earlier, the apostle had written in Romans 4:1-5:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

When confronted by such scriptures that cannot be broken, our only possible conclusion is that the sin-debt that each person owes to God absolutely cannot be worked off. It is so huge and serious that an already sin-defiled person cannot pay it off. Once a person sins, his debt is absolutely irredeemable by anyone or any action except through death. Either each individual pays for himself, or Christ pays in his place. These are the only acceptable payments.


Related Topics:

What is sin?12)http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/001.html

Who needs to be saved from sin’s penalty?13)http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/002.html

What are the consequences of sin?14)http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/003.html

What does god offer to save us from? “Sin Debt15)http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/004.html

SIN NATURE Explained

What is the sin nature?

Message of the Cross

References   [ + ]

1, 4, 8. Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.
2, 5, 9. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.
3, 6. Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
7. Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.
10. John W. Ritenbaugh “An Unpayable Debt and Obligation” http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/1043/Unpayable-Debt-Obligation.htm
11. John W. Ritenbaugh The Christian Fight [Part Four] http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/1335/Christian-Fight-Part-Four.htm
12. http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/001.html
13. http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/002.html
14. http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/003.html
15. http://dailybread.com.au/6000/300/004.html