By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
This question is an important one given that it highlights our problem as sinful human beings. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As sinners before a holy and righteous God, we have accrued a debt before him due to our rebellion. Sin is often equated with debt, especially when one reflects upon the Lord’s Prayer. In some translations, the prayer reads “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Or again, in Colossians 2:14, when speaking of the atoning nature of Christ’s death on behalf of sinners, the apostle Paul writes, “having canceled out the certificate of debt…having nailed it to the cross.”
If sin is equated with debt in the Bible, and the Bible further teaches that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), then it follows that what we must do in order to pay the debt of our sin is that we must die. Our sin separates us from a holy and righteous God. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that God is also Just: “For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense…” (Isaiah 61:8). Or again the scripture reads, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Colossians 3:25). Or again, “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all his ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” (Deuteronomy 32:4). God’s holy, righteous, and Just character forbids him from allowing sin to go unpunished. His perfect justice demands payment for breaking his perfect law which is itself a reflection of his own holiness and perfection. Perhaps there are other religious perspectives in which their God or gods can simply forgive without fulfilling the demands of a perfect law, but the God of scripture is always faithful to his own character and will not allow injustice to prevail or diminish his own holy law as though it is no big deal when sinful creatures blatantly break it.
The death required for having sinned is highlighted interestingly in the story of Genesis. Upon sinning against God having eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve recognized their own nakedness and shame (Genesis 3:10). In recognizing this, they made for themselves clothing of fig leaves to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). However, later we see that God replaces their clothing of fig leaves with clothing of animal skins: “The Lord God made garments of skin and clothed Adam and his wife” (Genesis 3:21). Where did God get this “skin?” The presumption is that God killed an animal so as to provide the skin for clothing to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Notice the internal indirect reference to death (of the animal) to cover up the sin and shame. This passage implicitly teaches that the wages of sin is death; however, in God’s mercy, he covers the shame of Adam and Eve.
The only way to be saved from our righteous judgment that we deserve is to partake of the means that God himself has provided. And what is that means? Or, better yet, who was that means? Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. The bible says in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” The reason we need Jesus in order to be saved, is because Jesus is the means whereby our sins can be forgiven, or our debts paid. When we trust in Jesus Christ and find him to be our perfect savior, we receive mercy and grace, while the justice of God’s law is fulfilled with the perfect death of the Lamb of God on our behalf.