Our Debt (Romans 13:8-14)

Main Idea: Love.


New believers sometimes ask me if they need to give up certain things as they start to follow Jesus. Do I need to give up drinking, or cursing, or dancing? And it’s certainly natural and even good for a person to ask those kinds of questions. They show that they want to honor God by obeying Him. God saved us by grace, so we should want to honor Him because we’re in His debt.

But in addition to asking what I need to give up doing, we should also ask, “what do I need to start doing?” What behaviors, habits, and attitudes can I incorporate into my life so that I most honor my Savior and Lord?

Only asking about what we need to give up is kind of like how Christian teenagers who are dating often wonder, “How far is too far?” But that seems to be focused on trying to get as close to the line as possible without crossing it. That’s just asking for trouble. When you try to get as close to a line as possible, it’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll cross it. Instead, a better question would be, “How can I best honor God with my life?” Because glorifying God isn’t just about not doing bad things, but actually doing good things as we rejoice in His salvation.

I think most people in the church today are aware of the debt that we have toward God. He made us, so we’re His. We ought to see God as our Master, and yet by sinning, we rebelled against our Master. Even still, God sent Jesus to die for us, so that we would have salvation from our sins. So not only are we in God’s debt because He made us, we’re in His debt because He saves us. We have a huge debt to God that we can never repay!

I think most people in the church are aware of that debt. But I’m not sure many people in the church think often enough of the debt that we also have toward one another, to love and honor your neighbor.

In America today, we like to think that we don’t owe anything to anybody. We like to think that we’re our own boss and that nobody can tell us what to do. And even when we see others do extraordinary acts of kindness, we’re happy for them, but we tend to see that icing on the cake. I mean, I’m happy other people do those things, serving the poor, investing their time and money in people, encouraging people and spending time with them not to get anything out of it, but to love them, we’re happy that people do these kinds of things, but it’s certainly not something I’m required to do. Is it?

Romans 13:8-14. Please stand with me for the reading of God’s word.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:8-14)

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

We have a debt problem in America. And I’m not talking so much about the national debt, but about our own personal debts. I read recently that the average household in America spends 10% more than they make in a year. That’s a problem!

I love this old skit from Saturday Night Live.

It seems so simple, right? Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford, or in other words, don’t spend more than you can afford.

Verse 8 begins:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other. (Romans 13:8a)

Our passage this morning really isn’t about money management, and yet, the first four words of verse 8 tell us to “owe no one anything.” So in order to understand where Paul goes in the rest of the passage, we need to have this firmly established in our minds.

As a backdrop to his main point, Paul is saying it’s good to financially stand on your own two feet. God doesn’t want you to be dependent on others for your daily needs. Now, of course, there are often extenuating circumstances that arise that sometimes mean you may need a little help from others for a season, but at least one financial goal that the Bible tells us we ought to have is that we owe no one anything.

And yet, when it comes to love, Paul says that we should see it as our constant debt to love each other. When it comes to love, we ARE to spend more than we can afford.

I read a story about a police officer named Ryan Holets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. While on patrol on day in September of 2017, he came across a woman named Crystal who was shooting up heroin behind a convenience store. Crystal was homeless and 8 ½ months pregnant.

Officer Holets tried to reason with Crystal, saying, “What are you doing? You’re going to kill your baby!” Crystal responded something like, “I don’t care! I don’t even want this baby! If you care so much about this baby, then you take it!” And at that moment, Ryan felt like God was telling him to do exactly that. So three weeks later, when Crystal had her baby, Ryan and wife adopted the baby and named her Hope.

I’m sure Officer Holets didn’t know if he could afford to love a baby coming from those circumstances. It would be physically and emotionally draining for years upon years. But he did it, remembering just how much God loves him.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Rather than sending Crystal to jail, he helped her get into rehab. He used his own money and resources to give Crystal a new start. Crystal is now clean, and has a relationship with her daughter Hope, and she sees Ryan as her big brother.

In 2018, Crystal was interviewed by CNN, and said she didn’t regret giving her baby to the Holets family, saying, “She’s in a great place…and I trust and have faith that she’s going to have a beautiful life.”

Ryan Holets was also interviewed, and he told CNN, “I, deep down, kind of wished upon a star that something like this could happen. But this kind of stuff only happens in movies and books with happy endings. Usually, in real life, you don’t see stuff like this.”

But does this kind of thing only need to happen in the movies? You know, this kind of thing makes the news because it’s so extraordinary. But does it need to be? Maybe we ought to do extraordinary acts of love and kindness every day, even if we don’t think we can afford to, because we have a debt to love one another.

Verse 8 ends by giving us the reason why we should love each other.

For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8b)

So, who is the One who loves another? We’ll come back to that. But for now, let’s look at how love fulfills the law. Verse 9.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:9-10)

I’ve never taken the time to count them, but one of the most influential Jewish rabbis from the third century stated that there are exactly 613 commandments in the Torah, which are the first five books of the Bible. Of course, there are a few more commands in the rest of the Old Testament, but the Torah contains the Law of Moses, and therefore the bulk of the commands. So there are over 613 commands in the Old Testament. This includes positive commandments to actively do things, such as “you shall honor your father and mother,” and it includes negative commandments to refrain from doing things, such as “you shall not murder.” It’s interesting, though, that most of the commands in the Old Testament are negative rather than positive. Among other things, don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t covet. And don’t, under any circumstances, cook a young goat in its mothers’ milk.

And Paul says that all of these commands are summed up in the command to love your neighbor. But when we read a lot of the commands in the Bible, we might wonder, “What in the world does this have to do with loving my neighbor?”

Well, a lot of the laws in the Old Testament had to do with being a witness to the nations around them. Not cooking a goat in its mother’s milk was probably meant to be a witness to those around them who did this as a part of worship to their false gods. The same thing was true for why they were commanded to not get tattoos or piercings. The people who got tattoos and piercings in those days did so while worshipping false gods. So God commanded the Israelites, “Don’t be like the nations around you, but be a light to the nations, pointing them to the true and living God.”

Now, in our culture, few people get tattoos and piercings in order to worship false gods. It’s mostly just a means of self-expression, like the clothes we wear, so it’s not as big of a deal. But the point is simply this: in everything you do, do it to love God and your neighbor.

Verse 11.

Besides this [besides the fact that love is the fulfilling of the law,] you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. (Romans 13:11)

So what time is it, and how do we wake from sleep?

Some would say it’s talking about the last days, and I think it is, but not in the way that most people talk about the last days. Paul seemed to think he was living in the last days, and he was. We seem to think that we’re living in the last days, and we are. But if that’s true, how did Paul wake from sleep, and how should we, 2,000 years later, wake from sleep in the same way?

Well, what’s Paul been talking about? Love. Love one another. Love your neighbor, for love does no wrong to your neighbor. Love, for love fulfills the law. You see, Paul didn’t suddenly switch topics, he just started talking about the same topic in a different way. So how do we wake from sleep? We love. In fact, I think that’s the answer to how to do verses 12 and 13 as well.

Verse 12 says:

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12)

So how do we cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light? We love. Verse 13.

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

So how do we walk properly as in the daytime? We could answer that with negative commands: not in orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, or jealousy. Or, we could answer it with a positive command. How do we walk properly? We love.

You see, just as Paul wrote in verse 10, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”

I read a true story about what happened to Katy Hurst from Independence, Missouri. Katy had just gotten food from the Burger King drive-through, and as she started pulling away, she saw through the window a man sitting inside Burger King who just looked absolutely crushed for some reason. His head was buried in his hands, weeping, and he just appeared hopeless. She didn’t know who it was, or what his circumstances were, but all of a sudden she felt an overwhelming heart-wrenching compassion for him. So she parked her car, went into Burger King, sat down by him, and asked if he was okay.

Katy found out that he went by the name Pops, and he was a homeless man who was in constant physical pain, and lonely and felt like he had no hope. He told her, “I just want it all to end. I’m ready to give up.” And that’s when she told him, “Today is not the day.”

She took him home, nursed him back to health, and started a fundraising campaign to help pay for his medical needs. She was able to raise $14,000 for him, which allowed him not only to pay his medical bills, but also get some decent clothes, and a place to stay, so that years later he’s happy, healthy, and working a paying job. And it was all because Katy saw him in his need and didn’t just drive on by.

Now, there are a lot of commands in the Bible commanding us to do exactly what Katy did. Colossians 3:2 tells us to:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts… (Colossians 3:2)

Katy did that. Romans 12:15 tells us to:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

And Galatians 6:2 tells us to:

Bear one another’s burdens… (Galatians 6:2)

Katy those things. And Proverbs 14:31 says:

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)

And Katy did that, too. And without even trying, Katy fulfilled the law. But when Katy Hurst saw Pops in Burger King that day, she didn’t think about any of those commands. She simply saw him in his need, and responded with love. Love is the fulfilling of the law.

But there’s actually a small danger in saying that love is the fulfilling of the law. We could be tempted to define love however we want, and claim that we’re perfect in God’s eyes because we just love everyone all the time. But the Bible doesn’t give us the right to define love however we want to define it. In fact, Paul tells us exactly what it looks like to live a life of love. Verse 14.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

You see, putting on Christ means taking off sin. Jesus doesn’t just desire to be your Savior, He desires to be your Lord. And until He’s your Lord, He’s not really your Savior, because Jesus desires to save you FROM your SIN.

So loving others is not the icing on the cake. It’s part of the cake! And it’s not something we should fight against, but embrace as our lifestyle as we follow Jesus.

Jesus said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

Did you catch that? Jesus fulfills the law. He’s the One who fulfills the law.

The end of verse Romans 13:8 said:

For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8b)

You see Jesus, being the One who fulfills the law, is the One who loves another. We might do so imperfectly, and we should certainly never give up trying to do it, but Jesus does so perfectly. Jesus is the One who truly loves another. And He did it by allowing Himself to be crucified on a cross.

And that rightly makes us feel like we have a huge debt to God. And yet, because Jesus died on the cross, God tells us, “Your debt is canceled.”

Colossians 2:13-14 says:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

Your debt is cancelled. We feel like we owe something to God, and yet because Jesus died for us, God tells us, “You don’t owe Me anything, except that you love each other.”

Have you received Jesus so that your debt is cancelled? Listen, you can’t possibly pay your debt to God. You can’t be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness. You can’t love Him enough or serve Him enough or love people enough or serve people enough. Our sin is too great. But there’s good news, because God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

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Bible Passages: Romans 13:8-14
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