Creditor Identity

If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him in the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

He said to the multitudes also, "When you see a cloud rising from the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming,' and so it happens. When a south wind blows, you say, 'There will be a scorching heat,' and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you don't interpret this time? Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? For when you are going with your adversary before the magistrate, try diligently on the way to be released from him, lest perhaps he drag you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will by no means get out of there, until you have paid the very last penny." (Luke 12:54-59)

Commerce demands payment of every last penny of debt. Why?

If you don't pay off the last cent of a mortgage, you lose the entire house and property. Why?

This is law, part of the system called the flesh. It has to do with identity and relative value according to the flesh way of measurement and valuation. It is based on the world's counterfeit system of justice.

According to debt identity, so long as you owe the slightest amount of a debt, in reality you are obligated for the entire value according to loan contracts. An equity loan means the creditor can claim the entire asset in full, even if the remaining debt is only a few cents on millions of dollars of original funds borrowed. This is entirely stacked in favor of the rich and powerful against the rest. Yet this is how Satan designed his entire system to function.

In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God, and defied His will, Satan exulted. It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven. Because he, after his rebellion, had been banished from heaven, Satan claimed that the human race must be forever shut out from God's favor. God could not be just, he urged, and yet show mercy to the sinner. {DA 761}

Why did the debtor in the parable from Matthew 18 refuse to accept and embrace the forgiveness freely given to him? What led him to ask for time to pay off the debt when it seemed impossible? More importantly, what was the underlying view of reality upon which he based his life and his relationships to others? In other words, what were his real motives for his decisions?

If you are not familiar with this story, it comes in the context of the rest of the chapter where Jesus is talking about offenses and forgiveness. This story is the grand finale of His teaching on all this.

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I don't tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven. Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn't pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and kneeled before him, saying, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!' The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt." (Matthew 18:21-27)

Just a few clarifying notes about this story. First, a talent was the equivalent of over 15 years of an average man's wages at the time. That means that this man owed over 150,000 years worth of wages. Now that is a stunning amount of debt. No wonder it says he couldn't pay.

Second, notice that the man never asked for or evidently didn't even think about asking for forgiveness. He asked for patience, which in effect was to ask for more time. Time! Imagine that. He evidently believed that given enough time he could find a way to pay off that enormous debt and fully intended to carry out his plan. He just needed a bit of 'grace' from his creditor and everything would work out.

Is it possible that to ask for forgiveness was beyond the scope of his belief system? Did he even think it was possible to be forgiven? If not, why not? This is key for us to take into account, because many of us are plagued with thoughts and doubts that God can be just and still show us favor. Remember what Satan had urged in heaven? We see and feel those same sentiments all throughout history.

An underlying issue that goes far deeper than merely financial obligations is the problem of our own sense of worth and identity. A problem uncovered in the story of this debtor is about what defines us in relation to others. This debtor was freely given forgiveness even though he never asked for it. Why? And did he believe it? Well, there is obviously more to this story.

But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you!' He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due.
(Matthew 18:28-30)

To believe and accept the forgiveness given to him would mean giving up the only identity he trusted to define his worth and reputation as a creditor. It challenged his very basis of what gives a person status and value in relation to others. It threatened to undermine the very power he relied on to leverage his relationships with others for his own advantage.

Accepting forgiveness for his own debt would require that he embrace an entirely new identity based on what the king said about him rather than his own reputation as a creditor. The king was clearly his creditor, but by changing from debt-collecting mode to freely forgiving his debt, the king was pulling the rug out from under this man's entire financial career and calling into question the legitimacy of what this man had relied on to stay at the top of society. What was being exposed by this were his abilities and financial acumen and the reputation he had so long built up for himself as a creditor.

If this man were to embrace forgiveness of his own debt, it would destroy his credibility, detract from his honor and neutralize the very authority he needed to collect on the many outstanding debts others owed to him. In other words, his entire financial loan empire was at stake and he evidently believed it was too costly to ruin his reputation and power by accepting forgiveness for himself. So he chose to refuse to accept the words of the king because they would prove the ruin of everything he had relied on to define himself. He had too much invested by this time to give it all up now, so rather than embrace an entirely new paradigm of reality and relationships, he chose to cling to what he had always believed as the more honorable path and to do whatever it took to pay off his debt himself.

But I want to flash back to the very first words of this story to highlight what this man was really choosing to do. the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. The word accounts here is translated from the Greek word logos which means words. In other words, the real debt this story is referring to is a debt created by words, not money. Jesus is talking about offenses, slander, misrepresentation, character assassination. This was the nature of the real debt this man was dealing with. And the king's attitude according to Jesus, was a deep desire to reconcile. What does that say about the King of heaven of which this is all about?

Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

Notice in the first passage quoted above that this same word is used by Jesus. First be reconciled to your brother before presenting a gift to God. Jesus came for the express purpose of reconciliation, or in other words, repair of a damaged or even non-existent friendship with God. This King was so intent on reestablishing a close relationship with this servant that no matter how large and impossible the debt might seem, for him it was worth absorbing in exchange for restored friendship and trust. This was the highest priority of the King and it applies to every one of us. But it takes two to complete a reconciliation and restoration of friendship. If it is blocked by unwillingness to believe on the part of the recipient there is nothing more that can be done. Trust has to be willing or not at all.

This poor servant chose to spurn belief in the very existence of forgiveness in order to focus all his energies on doing whatever it took to call in all the loans he had underwritten in a valiant attempt to pay off his own debt. He would demonstrate to others what he believed was the responsible thing to do, he would set an example of integrity for all his debtors by doing whatever it took to pay off his debt (never mind it no longer existed). By setting this example he would show that he expected no less from others who owed him. He had to maintain his reputation and identity as a man of integrity based on enforcing agreed upon contracts based on the rules of commerce. He would meticulously enforce the letter of the law rather than humble himself for the sake of repairing any relationship.

If this man had truly accepted and embraced the forgiveness freely given to him, he could have immediately become an ambassador for God and entered into the ministry of reconciling others to God just as he had experienced. It would have become his new and true identity instead of being known as a ruthless debt collector. He could have been the source of joy for many and become the most loved servant as he spread the wonderful news that everyone was forgiven without having to jump through any hoops to earn it. But instead he determined to enforce the system of law, the system known as the flesh that runs on selfishness and went out to spread the message of fear, intimidation and forced compliance to the rules of commerce.

The problem is, the entire system of variable value upon which all commerce is predicated is an illusion and undermines healthy relationships. It denies and even defies the kingdom of grace, of unconditional love where people live free of offenses. Without offenses debt cannot exist, and without debt the entire system of commerce collapses. This is why the kingdom of heaven is such a threat to the kingdom of law based on debt and punishment. Unconditional forgiveness is a javelin striking at the very heart of the kingdom of commerce. Unconditional forgiveness is a spoiler, for it neutralizes the power relied on by all who live to collect on debts in order to define their position in society.

We now begin to see more clearly the underlying principles that distinguish between the kingdom of love and light in contrast to the kingdom of darkness and debt. How does this look in our world today?

Think about the financial, social and legal structures in our world and consider what principles they enforce. What entities are dedicated to enforcing the system of credit and debt in our society? Why is it so vital that these entities meticulously enforce the laws even while the laws often are so unfair and biased? What is going on in the name of law and order that leaves so many feeling like victims?

Bankers and brokers depend on ruthless debt collectors to maintain their power and wealth. Force, intimidation, threats, evictions, imprisonment, liquidation, fines – all these and more are tools whereby the hierarchy of control over society is enforced in order to prevent any from imagining there is any other option. The principle of love, of freely receiving and giving that marks the kingdom of heaven, is a mortal threat to the very foundations of commerce, for such thinking erodes fear, the very thing required to maintain control and domination.

The principles of commerce are designed around exploitation, though often they are portrayed as the opposite. Selfishness is the fuel that motivates all commerce while the kingdom of God is founded on selfless service for others, trusting entirely in the constant care and protection of a loving Father. The two systems are entirely incompatible with each other. There can be no compromise between the kingdom of love and light and the kingdom of darkness and force.

Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, "I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You aren't able to serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)

The world's version of justice has more to do with enforcing punishments for crimes – and debts – with emphasis on balancing imaginary scales of justice more than any concern for the good of those caught in its cogs. The spirit of commerce elevates law above concern for others, and religion has come to reflect this same disposition in how it claims God relates to sinners. Religion insists that God is bound by law to punish every sin, and that not to do so would be an injustice. Yet we fail to see that this is Satan's version of justice, not God's. In doing so we give priority to the accuser's ruthless system over the revelation of God's heart through Jesus Christ. Through supporting the principles of commerce in every area of our lives, we defame God's name by even insisting that Jesus came to pay off a debt required by the law demanding full payment for our sins. And we insist that even God Himself cannot circumvent or ignore this demand without breaking the law according to religious teachers and leaders.

All of this injustice done in the name of commerce can arouse in us feelings of resentment, bitterness and anger over the obvious abuses done in the name of law or in upholding of ruthless contracts. There is no doubt that greed and exploitation are operative all around us and that this causes untold amounts of misery and suffering. Yet allowing ourselves to become upset over the abuses of power we see proliferating all around us is itself a trap of the enemy. For such reactions most often are based on desires for revenge against the perpetrators of injustice which itself is predicated on the very same false paradigms of reward and punishment that undergirds the counterfeit system of commerce. Thus in protesting violence, abuse and injustice we resort to relying the same system against those abusing it.

In Romans 7 we find a vivid description of the despair one feels when living under the system of legal obligation. Throughout Scripture much is said about law, and we struggle to understand the place of law in our lives. There is so much confusion about the role of law and so much abuse done in the name of law that it is hard to know what to do. We feel compelled to uphold the idea of law and order, yet we see it leveraged and abused so much that we want to see law enforced against those using law to exploit others. Yet is this the answer? Will simply getting more laws or better laws really solve the problems?

Many insist that what is needed to solve the problem of sin and evil is for the ultimate law enforcer to finally show up and forcibly impose his penalties and rewards on everyone based on his supreme law so that no one can resist. This is a common thread that runs through most of the religious world, that there is a day coming when the great irresistible force finally will show up and compel everyone to get their just dues, like it or not. Many long for such a day of judgment, imagining it as the means of escaping the systemic abuse they suffer here on earth. Others try to put it out of their mind knowing they would likely be in line for severe punishments.

But is this God's solution to the sin problem? Or has the false system so saturated our thinking that only its solutions seem viable to us? How much have our ideas about how God operates been tainted through conditioning by the system of commerce? Is it possible there could be another way of living entirely outside of commerce, where value and identity are not dependent on who we are relative to everyone around us on a scale of debts and credits?

Closer to home, is the kingdom of God so vastly different from what we have long presumed that participating in it might require a death to our whole way of perceiving reality and what defines us as an individual and part of the human family? What is God's solution?

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don't walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2)

The law of sin and death is the law of commerce, that every sin must be punished and every good need must be rewarded. This is how our world operates and how religion paints God out to be. But the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is the only way to escape this law of sin and death, for it gives us an entirely new reality in which to live and love and connect hearts with others and our Creator.

What I am coming to realize is that the problem of commerce mentality runs so deep that unless we take seriously all the words of Jesus it will be impossible to see any viable alternative to how we have been conditioned to think and live. It now begins to make more sense why Jesus confronted Nicodemus so long ago, an expert in religion, but a religion rooted in the principles of the ways of commerce, where identity is derived from one's relative position on imaginary scales that defines value artificially.

The same came to him by night, and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can't see the Kingdom of God." (John 3:2-3)
Jesus answered, "Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can't enter into the Kingdom of God!" (John 3:5)

What is this Jesus is talking about? We struggle to define what it means to be born again, to be born of water and spirit. We patch together clever clich├ęs about what that means, yet we still find ourselves lacking in how to make sense out of much of what we see or read. That is why Jesus said that until one is born into an entirely new paradigm of reality it will be impossible to even see the Kingdom of God, much less enter into it. Why? Because the Kingdom we need to embrace means the death of everything we have relied on to define us, everything we depend on to give us value, position and identity.

The stark difference between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God goes to the very core of how we perceive ourselves and our worth, which is where the core of our problem is and where it must be addressed before we can be restored. Its all about what we believe about identity and where it comes from.

At the deepest level of every human being is an insatiable craving to belong, to connect at a deep level of intimacy and knowing with someone, to be valued, appreciated and loved unconditionally. Yet in all our attempts to satisfy this intense craving that haunts us incessantly, we so often continue to feel empty and are tempted to become cynical that it is even possible. So many come to settle for cheap substitutes in place of deep satisfying relationships, thinking that this is as good as it gets.

Jesus came to reestablish the Kingdom of God here on earth. He did not come to bring more power to enforce our system of control, hierarchy and law. Rather He came to restore what was lost originally when our first parents brought in the false system of identity that we have been using ever since. He came to restore us to living as family instead of artificial external corporate life. He came to reconnect us to the Tree of Life. But to do so requires that we renounce and reject our dependence on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that currently defines us and that relies on law enforcement and the relative commerce mentality to define our value and identity.

Jesus said that because we receive freely we are to give freely.
Jesus said that we are not to lord it over anyone but to serve each other in love and humility.
Jesus said that we are loved and accepted and valued unconditionally, not by earning or deserving.
Jesus said our identity is realized in believing that we are God's children, nothing else.
Jesus demonstrated what being human looks like, and He alone is authorized to define our identity.
Jesus even offered His own life to satisfy all our demands for debt liquidation, leaving us no excuses.

The only question left is, who are we going to believe.

Elijah came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you waver between the two sides? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." The people answered him not a word.
(1 Kings 18:21)

We are free to choose who to serve, who will define us, who we rely on to give us value and worth.

The history of Baal is strikingly close to looking and sounding a like Jesus. The significant difference is that Baal demanded 'justice' and required payment for debts induced by offending him.

Jesus offers us life, peace, rest and love. He even pays off our false debts we imagine have to be paid before we will even listen to Him, hoping we will then wake up and change the way we think.

The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
(John 10:10-11)

The ultimate thief has pulled off the ultimate heist – theft of all of our identities. Jesus laid down His own life to show us our true worth and in so doing earned the right to alone define who we are in Christ. We are unconditionally forgiven, not because Christ paid our debt to satisfy a blood-thirsty God, but to remove the veil from our thinking that prevents us from seeing that God never holds onto offenses to start with. Yet for us to embrace and experience this new-to-us reality, we must choose to believe God is not, and never has held, anything against us. We are loved and always have been. Yet that love can only bring healing and life inside of us as we choose to believe and embrace it.

One more note about the story from Matthew 18. Most people assume that once the first debtor was called back in for accountability after sending his fellow servant to prison for an unpaid debt, that the King 'unforgave' him. Actually the opposite is true – a very key point in this story. You see, God's forgiveness, like His love, is unconditional and irrevocable. He even reminded the man of the fact that he was still forgiven while speaking to him.

Then his lord called him in, and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn't you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?' His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don't each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds." (Matthew 18:32-35)

So, did the man suddenly owe the debt all over again? Or is this saying something very different?

A close and accurate examination of the story will reveal that the only debt left in existence at this point was that of the second servant from whom the first servant was demanding full payment. Since this is the case, what the master is really explaining to him is that until he did the same as what was done to him, he would remain in torture. And that torture would not be coming at the hands of the King but from his own heart, for that is the unavoidable outcome of violating the law of love.

Elsewhere Jesus corroborated the same principle that can be seen here.

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness liberates the one forgiving most of all. That is the real message of this story.

Too bad that debtor refused to believe in the healing love the King longed for him to know. The story could have turned out very differently, and the man would have enjoyed sweet companionship with not only the king but many others instead of remaining isolated while attempting to enforce his own standards of value on them, all the while resisting the very truth that could have set him free.


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