Penance v. Grace — Is it Really Finished?

A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

John 19:29-30

They are last words of our Savior uttered moments before giving up His spirit for the world, “It is finished”.  You have probably heard or read them many times before, but do we really understand what they mean?  I wonder if we really look at what Jesus was talking about on the Cross whether our view of the idea and practice of penance as playing any role in the worship of Jesus Christ would change?

After enduring the suffering and agony of crucifixion to pay the price for our sins, Jesus choice of wording is very important for our understanding of the significance of the Cross.  Tetelestai, translated as “It is finished” is an accounting term that could also be translated as “paid in full” when referring to an outstanding debt.  Which debt?  Not Jesus’ for sure as He owed no debt to the Father and had no sins to pay for since He is the perfect Lamb of God.  Rather, the debt being paid was that of mankind.  The debt owed for all of the sin that man has done over the ages and will do until Jesus’ return.  Jesus paid for our sin on the Cross in full.  This is God’s mercy and God’s grace poured out on the undeserving.  “Paid in full!” He was declaring for now and eternity.

So, the question then is where does the idea of penance fit in if we take Jesus’ words as true.  The debt has either been paid in full, with payment finished or it isn’t.  Is there anything we can do to add to what Jesus paid for our sins?  Is the debt really not paid in full?

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