Do You Need to Do Penance? A Pastor’s Response

Do-I-need-Penance

Is it Finished or Not?

Penance is a grave insult to Jesus.  It is rejecting the completed work of Jesus on the Cross in favor of whatever filthy rags you create through your good works.  It is the worst sort of shifting of the spotlight of Christianity from the glory and majesty of Jesus to your own ideas of fairness.  Jesus already paid for your sins.  It is an insult to Him to try to pay Him back.

The ideas behind doing penance seems to make sense.  It is logical to the human mind.  Self punishment fits within most cultures.  The basic idea is drilled into most people since they were small.  If you do something wrong, apologize and make it up to the offended person.  It can be fixing the damage to their car you backed into or cutting the lawn you promised to days prior.  Your failure created a debt that must be repaid for both sides to be even.  It has to be “fair”.  You must earn your way back into good graces.  This is not a bad way to live, in itself, as it insures you seek justice not just forgiveness.

The problem comes when you apply it to your relationship with Christ.  It is like getting a beautifully birthday gift and not opening it.  Sure, the wrapping paper and bow are nice, but you miss out on the best part – the gift.  God’s grace and mercy washed away your sins.  They are dead and buried with the old man.  Don’t pull them out of the grave and serve them.

It is Finished

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

These are some of the last words of Jesus.  He speaks moments before giving up His life for the world. You have probably read them many times.  Do you really understand what they mean?

The answer to these questions is in the words of Jesus on the Cross.

It is finished.

Jesus choice of words after enduring the suffering and agony of crucifixion to pay the price for our sins is very important for us.  Our English translation “It is finished” comes from the word Tetelestai in the original language.  Its meaning goes beyond just the end of something.  Jesus is not just saying that His crucifixion was done.  Rather, the word was also an accounting term that could also be translated as “paid in full“.  When a debt in a ledger book was fully paid off it was marked tetelestai, in other words, the debt was paid in full.  If a merchant received the final payment on an open account then he would note “tetelestai”, the he debt is paid.  His business with that debtor is done.

So what was Jesus talking about?   Why did He use an accounting term at such a crucial time?

Jesus owed no debt to anyone.  He was the perfect man and had no sins to pay for.  He was the perfect Lamb of God so He was not referring to payment on His behalf.  Rather, the debt being paid belong to mankind.  Each time a person sins there is a mark in God’s ledger in heaven.  Since God is a perfect judge that ledger must be balanced in the end.  Crimes must be punished.  Those who are murdered must be avenged.  Those who are raped must have justice.  Every act of rebellion against God must be accounted for with an appropriate punishment if God is truly the judge of all mankind.  This was the great debt that the world was running up with God.  It was all the sin over the ages.  Every single act of iniquity was outstanding on the day when Jesus went to Calvary.

Though You Sins Be Like Scarlet

Jesus willingly chose to pay for all of these outstanding sins.  He balanced all of our wrong doing accounts that day.  God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus in our place.  He became the debtor and paid the debt with His body.  We sinned.  Jesus was punished for it.  This is God’s mercy and God’s grace poured out.  There is nothing more owed to those who believe on Jesus.  He already tore up those old account books for us.

It is finished!

Paid in Full!

Where does penance fit in if we take Jesus’ words as true.Penance

Penance is the idea that we should punish ourselves as an expression of remorse or punishment for our sins.  The dictionary definition is voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.  It comes in many forms, from serving in soup kitchens to saying particular prayers a set number of times.  Neither are wrong on their own.  The problem comes when you think you are paying off your sins through the action.  You do something to make up for what you have done rather than Jesus’ glory.

This is not the Gospel of Jesus.  He came and died for you for a simple reason.  You could never pay off your debt on your own.  All those good works you are tempted to rely on are compared to filthy rags by the prophet Isaiah.  The entire framework of the New Covenant with God is Him willingly doing what you and I failed to do and then saving His children through a free gift.  That work was finished the moment Jesus spoke the words on the Cross.  Do you believe it?

The debt has either been paid in full or it hasn’t.

It is finished or it is ongoing.

If Jesus was punished for our sins, should you then be punished again for the same sins?

Is there really anything you can do to add to what Jesus paid for our sins?

Jesus took all of God’s wrath for you so that you could be set free.  You are not only innocent but entirely removed from that judicial system.  It is as if you were never on trial.

It is finished.  Jesus said it, not man.  Live in peace and security with that promise, Christian!

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