The subject is suggested by what the apostle writes to the congregation of Rome, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” (8:12).
Before we proceed, Christian young men and women, read those words again, carefully, prayerfully. Memorize them, will you? Then you will have them with you always. Read them; memorize them as the Word of God to you. They are so important, so vital to our subject of “Christian Living”.
We are debtors. That settles the matter. That takes it out of our hands. Whether or not we shall live Christian lives is not for us to decide. Christian living is a solemn obligation, a question of personal, spiritual indebtedness.
A debtor is one who owes something, who is under some obligation to another, either because of money borrowed or services rendered. Such a debt may be strictly financial or a debt of gratitude—it makes no difference.
Such debtors are we, says the inspired writer. To live scrupulous, consecrated lives is just as much a debt as anything we may owe in this life. It’s simply something that must be paid. And if those who are remiss in their temporal obligations are aptly called dead-beats, what are we if we are delinquent with respect to our obligations to the everlasting GOD?
“We are debtors.” Of course! We could never be anything else.
This is due, first of all, to the simple fact that we are creatures, and always the creature is indebted to his Maker. God alone can never be indebted to any one, because He is GOD, eternally self-sufficient, the overflowing Fount of all good in Himself. No one can ever contribute anything to Him or His cause. The creature, on the other hand, can never be anything else than a debtor, simply because he is a creature, as dependent as God is independent, as insufficient as God is all-sufficient, as empty as God is full. All that we are and have is received from a source outside of ourselves. We should never forget this.
Besides, there are all the concrete benefits, which our God has bestowed on us. In the first part of this beautiful eighth chapter to the Romans the apostle had mentioned some of the cardinal ones. There is the great and basic blessing that there is no condemnation, no guilt, no sentence, no punishment for them who are in Christ Jesus. There is the kindred blessing, that we have been freed from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ. Also, we possess that Spirit as the Spirit of the risen Lord and this Spirit is preparing us for a glorious future, wherein we shall live forever with the Lord, fully glorified according to body and soul. How unspeakably wonderful! What abundant reasons for saying, “Therefore brethren, we are debtors.”
Think of all the benefits we experience daily! We have everything: faith, hope, eternal life, the Word of God in our homes, the preaching, the sacraments, the knowledge of the truth as few people may possess it, daily access to the throne of God, Christian homes, Christian parents, Christian schools, the Christian church, the promise of everlasting glory, heaven, Christ, God Himself in all the riches of His grace. And nothing of ourselves.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.” Don’t you see now why you have nothing you can call your own? Sometimes it is said of a man who is under the overwhelming influence of another: that man can’t call his soul his own. That’s literally and absolutely true of the creature in his relation to his God. Your soul is not your own; your body is not your own; your money is not your own; not one moment of your time is your own; nothing is your own. It all is and remains the Lord’s. That is certainly true of you, covenant young people, who bear the seal of God’s covenant on your foreheads and are the recipients of so many favors.
This also answers the question: To what extent are we debtors? What do we owe? In the words of the apostle Paul, quoted above, the answer is given directly: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not…., to live….”
We do not owe just a part of our lives. This obligation cannot be met by paying a sum of money to this cause or that. Christian living is not a question of a prayer now and then, a bit of Scripture reading a few times daily, an hour in catechism or society once each week or a few hours in church on the day of the Lord. You do not fulfill your covenant obligations by simple adherence, formally, to some spiritual practices, or by mere abstinence from one form or another of worldly amusement. As though things like these may atone for whatever else you may see fit to do in the way of carnal indulgence in the things of the flesh.
We owe our very lives.
Christian living demands our all—or nothing. What is rightfully God’s He will share with no other. He will not be served in company with Mammon. Not only because it is spiritually, psychologically impossible to serve two masters, but also because God will not be mocked in that way.
Christian living is a matter of heart and soul and mind and will, of eye and ear and mouth and hand and foot, of all our desires and affections and inclinations and motives, of all our time and opportunities, money and goods—that, or nothing.
Finally, to whom are we debtors? Who is the creditor in this case?
As such there are two possibilities and only two: we are debtors either to the “flesh” or to the “Spirit”.
Both are mentioned repeatedly by the apostle Paul. By “the flesh” is meant the entire nature of man, body and soul, as that nature is under the dominion of sin and Satan; the sinful nature as it is the instrument of sin. “The Spirit” here refers to the Holy Spirit.
It is to either of these that we can be and are debtors. Not to both. Not to neither. Ethically these are the only masters, the only spiritual principles. Either the flesh rules over us or the Spirit. Either the flesh is our standard, or the Spirit. It is either to the flesh or to the Spirit that you say: “All that I am I owe to thee.”
Another time, D.V., we shall discuss the question: to which of the two are we obligated to consecrate our lives, our all?