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TEXT: Colossians 2:13

SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #8: Debt Canceled

You can't judge a book by its cover.

Several months ago John Piper published a small book called The Passion of Jesus Christ. When I saw the cover, I thought it was a cheap way of capitalizing on the Mel Gibson movie. When I read the book, I knew I was wrong. The book corrects the movie! While the film shows the suffering of a man crucified, the book explains why the Man suffered on the cross-and what His suffering means to the world.

In fifty short chapters, John Piper explores the meaning of His pain and death. He tells us why God sent His Son to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Jewish council, to the Roman court, and to the cross.

Tonight we come to chapter 7.


Christ suffered and died to cancel the legal demands of the Law against us.

Dr. Piper has a real gift for writing. But in the title of this chapter, his gift has deserted him! The chapter itself is good, but not the title.

Legal demands of the Law is redundant. What other kind of demand can the Law make? It's like saying, The emotional side of our feelings.This annoys me, but does no real harm to our understanding.

But the other word does. Piper says Christ suffered to cancel the legal demands of the Law. What does he mean by 'demands'? I looked up the word in my dictionary and, among the meanings I found are these:

To 'make demands' is to insist on something; a 'demanding person' doesn't ask politely for things, he expects them, he orders you to provide them, and so on.

What does the Law demand? In a word, obedience. Have the sufferings and death of Christ canceled this demand? No. The People of God, on both sides of the cross, are to obey the Word of God.

John Piper does not believe the cross has freed us to ignore the Law of God or to 'walk in the Spirit' without referring to what the Spirit has told us to do in the Bible!

This is not a problem of theology, but of wording. What, then does he mean by Christ suffered and died to cancel the legal demands of the Law against us?

He means the death of Christ has canceled the penalty of the Law that was against us. A law without penalty for breaking it is no law at all. The father who says he is very strict with his kids, but does nothing when they disobey him, is very loose. In theory, he has rules, but in practice he doesn't. It's not long until the kids know it, and even if they love him, they will ignore the phony rules whenever it suits them.

The Law of God has penalties attached to it. By 'Law of God' I'm not discriminating between the Mosaic Law and any other. Way back in the days of Noah, God instituted the death penalty for murder.

Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood will be shed.

The Law of Moses was far more detailed. If a rustler stole your ox, he had to repay you fivefold. If he took off with your sheep, he had to give you four sheep in return.

The penalties for breaking the Law of God in nature are harder to pin down, but Paul says they are still in effect. Romans 1:27 says that men who leave their wives for unnatural vices will,

Receive in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

As far as I know, the scholar A.J. Froude, was not a Christian, but he read his history with care, and came to a sound conclusion,

'One lesson, and one lesson only, history may be said to repeat with distinctness: that the world is built somehow on moral foundations'.

He was right. Many judgments fall before the Final Judgment. Unless we want to be like Job's three friends, we have to beware of calling every mishap a 'judgment'. But the fact remains, disobedience has consequences. Penalties are still attached to the Law.

And all these penalties-John Piper says-have been canceled by the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what the chapter is about. And, despite its unfortunate title, what a chapter it is!


Piper begins the chapter with a stinging rebuke.

What a folly it is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons.

First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don't honor God in the way we do them. Do we fulfill the command to serve people 'in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ' (I Peter 4:11)?

What then shall we say in response to God's Word? I think we shall say nothing.

The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It is because the record of our debt has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.

There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds, along with the just penalties they deserve, must be blotted out-not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.

If you talk to a hundred unsaved people (who believe in God) 98 of them will hope they're going to heaven because their good deeds will outnumber their bad-or, maybe outweigh them.

This is not entirely bad. On the positive side, they believe God keeps a record of what we do and that what's on the record will determine where we go when we die. So far, so good.

But, on the negative side, they suppose their good deeds are greater than their bad ones, and that all they need is 50% + 1. to make it to heaven.

They're wrong on both counts!

Without faith it is impossible to please God. This means the unbeliever never pleases God because, being an unbeliever, he has no faith. This does not mean all unbelievers are equally bad or that pushing an old lady under a bus is no worse than helping her across the street. But it means neither wins God's approval. Not because He's against helping old ladies across the street, but because He's against doing it without faith!

This means: If a sinner is saved by doing more good than bad, then he cannot be saved for even his good is bad!

Thankfully, this is not how God saves sinners-by looking at a balance sheet and saving the ones who have more on the credit side than they do on the debit side.

No, God saves sinners by giving the balance sheet to Somebody Else and making Him responsible for it!

That Somebody Else is our Lord Jesus Christ. He took over our debts and paid them off-on the cross. For the penalty of sin is death, which He accepted in our place.

Therefore, There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Underline the word, 'no'. Our Lord did not die to reduce our debts to God, but to pay them. Not to soften our punishment, but to cancel it.


If Piper begins the chapter angry, he finishes it hopeful.

The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was 'nailed to the cross' (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. And faith in Him is my only way to God.

What was nailed to the cross? A Man, of course, who is also God. But not only was He nailed to the cross, but in a mysterious way, so was my criminal record-a long list of the bad I've done and the good I've left undone. That also walked the way of sorrow and was set up on a hill that was shaped like a skull.

The bill you cannot pay has been torn up. The noose tied for your neck has hanged Another. The penalties of the Law have been canceled, abolished, wiped out.

Your sins will be remembered in heaven, but they won't be used against you. They'll be used for Christ. They'll make you love Him more than you otherwise would, and thank Him forever, without fatigue or boredom.


John Piper has made his point and made it well. But he left something out, and maybe you're wondering about it. If the consequences of our sin have been wiped out, why are so many of them still with us?

A man drinks heavily for thirty years. The doctor tells him he has cirrhosis of the liver. The man goes home, confesses his sin, puts his faith in Christ, and never takes another drop. Has the Lord forgiven him? He has. Will the man still die of drinking too much? He probably will.

So.is he still bearing the penalty of his sin?

No he isn't. For Christ's sake, that man is not guilty of drunkenness and is not being punished for his sin.

So, what's happening with him? He is being disciplined by his Father, and not condemned by his Judge. The discipline, though painful, is good for him. And it's taking him to God and not to the hangman.

Every penalty has been canceled-in this life and the next. Not because we don't deserve them--we do, every one of them we deserve. But because Jesus Christ suffered and died to cancel the demands of the Law that were against us.

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