Select Wisdom Brand

Paying Penance?

Psalm 25:18
Look upon my affliction and trouble and forgive all my sins.

Mark McGowan, a graduate student at Goldsmiths College in London, became overwhelmed one day with $24,000 of student debt and decided to do something about it. In an act of self-sacrifice and great determination, Mark got down on all fours and pushed a peanut with his nose all the way from his front porch to the home of the Prime Minister. His journey took eleven days! A picture of McGowan, with his nose bandaged and his face to the ground, along with his story, was picked up by newspapers throughout England, and he quickly became a pop icon. He successfully raised public awareness of the financial needs of graduate students throughout England, and he had done it in an impressive, though slightly disturbing, way. But despite the many people who were impressed by his gesture, the Prime Minister unfortunately wasn’t one of them. He informed McGowan that the school bills would still have to be paid in full.

Mankind believes a great debt, whether spiritual or financial, can be eliminated by great sacrifice. Is it possible for believers to fall into this kind of thinking, after having been released from our sin debt by faith in the cross work of Christ? Do we faithfully avoid the trap of believing that God’s forgiveness for daily unfaithfulness comes by acts of penance and self-sacrifice? We all face the temptation to “pay” for our sins. We might not push a peanut with our noses for eleven days, but we’ll give a little more in the offering plate on Sunday or try a little harder to contain our temper, consoling ourselves that God might grant us favor. Those things may be good deeds that make us feel better about ourselves, but they can’t change the way God feels about us. His thoughts about us are sealed forever and are inconceivably wonderful to Him.

Having adopted us as sons and daughters, removing from our record the stains of sin, He has already washed us clean and placed us in Christ, without any lingering condemnation. We now await our glorification and coronation as co-regents with Christ. In the meantime, don’t lose sight of your place. Stop clinging to the cross of Christ with one hand while holding on to acts of penance with the other. Don’t strip from God the praise He deserves for having paid for your sins in full.