The Gospel is explained financially in Scripture by using accounting terms. The true and greater riches available to us aren’t physical. They can’t be touched, minted, or printed. The best way to appreciate the beauty that takes place when believers put their faith in Christ is by understanding these financial terms. Let’s take a look at each of them so we can better appreciate what Christ has done for us.
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Jesus told us to pray: “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12). He was not referring to anything financial, but spiritual: our sin debt against God. Unlike the debt that we can pay off, this is a debt that we can’t do anything about no matter how hard we work, how much time we’re given, and how wise we are financially. We have this debt whether we’re rich, poor, young, or old. The parable of the unforgiving servant records:
The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.Matthew 18:23-27
The man had a debt “he was not able to pay.” He fell to his knees, begged the master, and he “forgave him the debt”:
- The man represents us, and the desperation and fear his debt caused him represents the desperation and fear our sin debt should cause us.
- The master represents the Lord, and the compassion He felt for this man represents the compassion He feels toward sinners who cry out to Him for mercy.
What did the servant do to be forgiven for such a debt? He did nothing more than acknowledge his debt and humble himself. If a parent had a child who act wickedly, and the child came to the parent humble and broken, wouldn’t the parent quickly forgive and embrace the child like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (who represents God) embraced his son? Luke 15:20 says, “When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” This is how our heavenly Father wants to forgive us.
To redeem means to “buy back from debt.” A redeemer is the one who pays someone else’s debt. Jesus is the Redeemer of every believer:
- “[Jesus] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
- “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The ransom is the payment the redeemer makes to deliver someone from the consequences of their debt. But we can’t redeem ourselves or anyone else because the ransom price is too high:
No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
so that they should live on forever
and not see decay…
Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.Psalm 49:7-9, 11-12 NIV
People might have been rich enough to have locations named after them, but the grave is where they’ll remain because no amount of wealth can keep us from death.
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.Psalm 49:13, 15 NIV
They “trust in themselves,” but the psalmist trusted in the Lord. We can’t redeem anyone, but “God will redeem” through Jesus because He can pay the ransom price:
- “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
- “[Jesus] gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6).
If we owe money, it would be unjust if the debt was never paid. A perfectly just God can’t forgive a debt that is unpaid. Jesus paid the debt when He died on the cross and took the punishment that our sins deserve. This allows God to remain just because our sins are punished. The Greek word translated “pay” is teleo, the same word used in these passages:
- “Does your Teacher not pay [teleo] the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24).
- “Because of this you also pay [teleo] taxes” (Romans 13:6).
Teleo has been found written on papyri receipts for taxes, meaning “paid in full.”John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1421.
When Jesus was on the cross, moments before His death, He said, “It is finished [teleo]! And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). It is as though Jesus said, “I have paid your debt in full so you can be forgiven.”
Impute is an accounting term that refers to moving assets from one side of a ledger to the other:
- “[Blessed is] the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6).
- “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Our unrighteousness is imputed to Christ’s account, and His righteousness is imputed to our account. This is classic double imputation: “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus’s Work and Our Condition
At the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, He returned to His hometown of Nazareth. He visited the synagogue, was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and He read:
The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,Luke 4:18
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
This describes both the beautiful work of the Messiah (preach the gospel to the poor) and the wretched state of unregenerate sinners (brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed). Because “[preaching] the gospel to the poor” is listed first, it is tempting to think that is Jesus’s most important ministry. But Jesus was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor, and the rest of the verse describes what the gospel does for us:
- We are “brokenhearted” over the consequences of our sins, and Jesus is “near to those who have a broken heart” (Psalm 34:18).
- We are “captives” to sin, but Jesus gives us “liberty.” He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36 ESV).
- We are “blind” spiritually, but we receive “sight.” Jesus said, “Seeing they do not see…but blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Matthew 13:13, 16 ESV).
- We are “oppressed” by the consequences of sin, but the Lord is “a refuge for the oppressed” (Psalm 9:9).
The reason we (1) must be redeemed, (2) need Christ’s righteousness imputed to our accounts, (3) have debt, and (4) require a ransom is, simply put, we’re poor. If that were not the case, we would pay our debt and we would not need a Redeemer to ransom us. The Greek word translated “poor” is ptochos, and it means “reduced to beggary, lowly, afflicted, helpless, powerless, lacking in anything.” This is not slight poverty. This is complete poverty, of which Scripture provides a good example:
At his gate was laid a poor [ptochos] man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor [ptochos] man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.Luke 16:20-22
This is poor! I don’t know if there’s a more pitiful description of an individual in Scripture. The way this beggar looked physically is the way we look spiritually. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Polluted garments aren’t worth much. Learning this is our spiritual condition is discouraging until we remember Jesus was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor.
Recognizing Our Spiritual Poverty
Jesus didn’t say He was anointed to preach the gospel to everyone. He said to the poor. This doesn’t mean some are poor and others are rich. Instead, everyone is poor, but only some people recognize it. Jesus taught a parable contrasting two men: one thought he was righteous (spiritually rich), but the other knew he was a sinner (spiritually poor):
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 18:9-14 ESV
The great paradox is this:
- People who think they are spiritually rich and deserving of heaven are the furthest from it.
- People who know they are spiritually poor and undeserving of heaven obtain it through faith in Christ.
In Matthew 5:3, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor [ptochos] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” How can the poor be blessed, and why would the kingdom of heaven belong to them? They are blessed because they know they are spiritually poor, can’t trust their own righteousness, need the gospel, and have nothing with which they could purchase their salvation. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them because they will put their faith in Christ to receive His righteousness and have Him pay their debt. They are the ones of whom God said, “On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit” (Isaiah 66:2).
Jesus made a similar point when He blessed the children who came to Him:
Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.Luke 18:16-17
Children are the premier example of spiritual poverty in that they have done nothing to earn salvation. They receive gifts freely, and salvation is a gift to receive freely: “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
A true Christian is poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.”Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 339 (emphasis added).
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the account with the rich young ruler follows Jesus blessing the little children. This presents a fitting contrast because he was the opposite of a little child. It is as though God says, “Be like these children and not like this man.” The ruler said, “All [the commandments] I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:21). Jesus let him walk away because He preaches the gospel to the poor, and this man thought he was as spiritually rich as he was physically rich.
Imagine a conversation between an evangelist and a man like the rich young ruler:
Evangelist: “Jesus died for your sins!”
Man convinced he’s spiritually rich: “What sins? I don’t have any!”
Evangelist: “We’re all sinners, but God loves you and is willing to give you His Son’s righteousness by grace through faith.”
Man convinced he’s spiritually rich: “No, God loves me because I’m such a good person, and that’s also why I don’t need Jesus’s righteousness!”
In contrast, picture the same conversation with a man who knows he’s spiritually poor:
Evangelist: “Jesus died for your sins!”
Sinner: “Why would He do that for me?”
Evangelist: “Because He loves you and is willing to give you His Son’s righteousness by grace through faith.”
Sinner: “That’s amazing. I’m so thankful He would do this for someone like me.”
Rich in Christ
Did you know the Bible speaks of two births and two deaths? The first birth is when we are born physically. The second birth is when we are born spiritually. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, see also John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9).
The first death is when we die physically, which is experienced by believers and unbelievers alike. The second death is experienced only by unbelievers when they are cast into the lake of fire, which we commonly call hell (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Unbelievers die physically, and then they “die” eternally. But if you experience the second birth, you won’t experience the second death: “Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power” (Revelation 20:6).
Proverbs 11:4 says, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” This refers to the second death, and no amount of earthly wealth can spare us from it. Only righteousness, which we receive from Christ, can deliver us: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is another example of double imputation: Our spiritual poverty is imputed to Christ, and His spiritual riches are imputed to us.