A Debt You Owe But Can Never Pay


I was raised in the church by a frugal mother and father and introduced to the Lord through weekly church attendance and participation in children’s and youth programs. I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a twelve-year old.  By today’s standards, my parents never had much, but they used their resources wisely and managed to stay within their means. For them credit cards were non-existent and credit accounts were sparse as each account had to be negotiated on a business by business basis.  This meant that most of their expenditures were made with cash.

My mother managed the money for our family as my father worked endless hours (65-70 per week) at his job. I well remember my Mom’s money management system, the box of envelopes, each marked with a different name.  In each envelope she would place bills and coins as she saved little by little in advance to pay the light bill, phone bill, the gas bill, the Rich’s department store bill, the doctor bill. Each bill was paid in cash, sometimes to collectors, sometimes at special neighborhood pay stations, sometimes at the local department store at the intersection of Candler and Glenwood Roads. Checking accounts were not a luxury my family had at the time. Somehow Mom always made ends meet and it was a direct result of her incessant frugality.

The envelope system was Mom’s form of budgeting and it seemed to work quite well. There were no envelopes for impromptu stops at coffee stops, bakeries, eating out, movie nights, etc. Instead Mom had a little “coin purse” about the size of the palm of your hand. I am sure that it never had more than a few dollars total in it at any time. That is where our entertainment money came from for movies and Sunday afternoon Dairy Queen visits. The rule was … no money in the purse, then no movie or soft serve that week. Most of the time my Mom could raid the coin purse and give me fifteen cents for the movie … ten cents for admission, and a nickel for candy. Popcorn was a dime, so I would have to skip that. I would often see Mom move money from one envelope to another and wondered why she was doing that. Juggling the money in her envelopes and moving the envelope forward or backwards in the cigar box was a regular ritual. Sometimes when the coin purse was empty, I would hear the envelopes rattling and mysteriously Mom would appear with the fifteen cents for the movie. I never really understood what she was doing until later in life as an adult with my own bills and often had to “borrow from Peter to pay Paul.”

My parents needed every penny they could get our hands on to pay for basics so I never received an allowance. My parents simply couldn’t afford it. Instead, I started earning my own money as a nine-year old with the help of my Dad. I started working at the grocery store on Saturday as a “bag boy” where my father was the meat-market manager. Dad had a special “in” with the store manager, Mr. T. A. Nash. Dad and Mr. Nash were bird-hunting buddies. Even at such a young age, as a courtesy to my father Mr. Nash gave me a chance to prove I could work. I was the youngest of about ten bag boys, most of them related to store employees or important customers. I sacked groceries and helped people to their car with their bags. Bag boys worked for tips. Some Saturdays I would make a whopping five to ten dollars! But the usual take would amount to around $3 after spending fifty cents for lunch. On a good day my father would take me to the Pick-Rick Cafeteria nearby where we would purchase a meat, three vegetables and iced tea for $1.15. Dad never asked me to pay for his lunch, but he would always expect me to pay for mine out of my accumulated tips. He was teaching me a lesson … that my successful work and earnings correlated directly to the necessities of life … if you want to eat, then you work to pay for it. Unfortunately, a lot of parents today never let their children learn that lesson by experience.

Digressing a bit to the life of a bag boy, a usual customer tip was a dime. A quarter tip was considered to be exceptional. The bag boys quickly learned who were the quarter tippers. Some of us learned to sort of hang back and watch the growing lines at the register to see which line our favorite customers would pick … especially the ones that were quarter tippers. Some customers would even request a specific bag boy. Each bag boy had his favorite set of customers and he expected to be their bag boy every time that customer shopped. If another bag boy tried to horn in on “their” customer a minor scene would sometimes occur prompting a reprimand by Mr. Nash. But each of us had our special customers and it was an unwritten law that we didn’t encroach on each others customers. Many customers couldn’t afford to tip. Nevertheless, we were trained to be courteous, treat each customer with respect, and encourage them to “hurry back to see us.” After the store closed for the day we were expected to stay over for an hour to help mop the floors. That made for a long twelve-hour day on Saturday.

To a ten-year old boy, $10 was a fortune. By the age of twelve I was paying for my own clothes and many of my other necessities. My mother helped me open a savings account at the local Savings and Loan and insisted that I save all but $1 a week. I remember that passbook. It would go up each week I worked and especially during the summer when I worked forty hour weeks sometimes making $30 of untaxed earnings. By the time I reached the age of fifteen I had accumulated over $700 in my savings account. That was a fortune for a teenager. At that time, my mother and father’s yearly earnings amounted to less than $5,000 a year. Accumulating a rainy day fund for them was very difficult.

I have often said “Mom could make the buffalo on the nickel holler because she squeezed each coin so hard.” I am sure that saying wasn’t original with me. But I thought so for a long, long time.

My Red Uncle Sam Bank still in the possession of our son.

My Red Uncle Sam Bank still in the possession of our son.  Hopefully he will pass it along to his son or his grandson.

Before I turned nine, the $1 gifts from my grandparents, aunts and uncles for my birthday and Christmas constituted my main source of spending funds. And even then, my Mom would encourage me to save that for the future. One year at Christmas “Santa” gave me a red metal savings bank in the shape of a cash register to encourage me to save. The bank would accept nickels, dimes and quarters.. You inserted the coin into a slot and pulled a lever down. The bank mechanically processed the coin dropped it in a secure drawer, and reflected the new total in the cash register window. The only time you could open the cash drawer was when it reached a total of $9.99. So once you inserted a coin it would not be available for me to spend for quite some time.

My Mom and Dad taught me valuable life lessons … love the Lord, respect and be courteous to others, do an honest day’s work, save for a rainy day, keep your word, don’t spend unless you can pay for it, pay your debts.

As a senior adult these lessons are still valuable to me today.  I love the Lord and try to be respectful and courteous to others.  I give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and save for a rainy day and retirement.  I avoid making rash promises, honestly attempt to do what I say I am going to do, and pay all of my debts on a timely basis. But even with all of this, I have come to the full realization that there is one significant debt that escapes MY ability to  repay, no matter how hard I try.  I am speaking of A Debt I Owe, But Can Never Pay!  It is what Christians refer to as the “sin debt.”  Consider these scriptures that describe how the sin debt we owe can be paid in full.

Scripture: (all NASB unless otherwise noted)

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

1 John 3:4 – Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …

Romans 6:23  – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 1:7 – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

Romans 5:20 – The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

Romans 4:5 (ERV) – But people cannot do any work that will make them right with God.  So they must trust in him. Then he accepts their faith, and that makes them right with him. He is the one who makes even evil people right.

Matthew 26:28 – for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 2:13-14 –When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Acts 10:43 – Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16 (KJV) – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


So what exactly is the sin debt?  People groups from all over the world have their own way of dealing with the sin debt question.  Some don’t believe in a sin debt at all preferring to believe that living a good life and doing good works will get them to Heaven.  Christians who believe that the inspired Word of God, the Holy Bible, is true and without error and written by God through man generally agree on this scenario:

  • Sin originated in humans with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they were deceived by Satan, rebelled against the commandment of God and partook of the forbidden fruit as described in Genesis 3.
  • The original sin of Adam and Eve has since passed from generation to generation. When we were conceived we were already sinners by inheritance (Psalm 51:5).
  • Even so, we also continue to sin by breaking God’s Laws (1 John 3:4).  ALL of us are guilty of sin, not just through inheritance, but through continual transgression (Romans 3:23).
  • Sin has consequences and requires punishment as “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).”  This is what Christians define as the “sin debt.”
  • The sin debt includes both physical and spiritual death and there are no exceptions as ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
  • Every human being owes his own sin debt to God. God requires a righteous and perfect sacrifice as payment for the sin debt and the forgiveness of sin.  No other person can pay your “sin debt” for you … not your spouse, your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your best friend … no other person!  Your sin debt is yours alone and unfortunately you are not a righteous and perfect sacrifice. (Romans 4:5)
  • However, as His creation God loves us.  He is full of grace and loving-kindness (Ephesians 1:7, Romans 5:20) that exceeds all of our sin and guilt and does not want to condemn us to death.  Therefore he has provided a substitute in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus came to earth in the form of a human, lived a perfect life, sacrificed his own lifeblood and died on the cross as an atonement (reconciliation) for our sins.  He rose from the dead the third day, walked among men for the next forty days and then ascended back into Heaven from whence He came.  By this process, Jesus conquered sin and death and became the righteous and perfect sacrifice … the atonement (reconciliation) for the sins of  all mankind required by God.  Every sin, with no exception, is covered by the blood sacrifice of Jesus. (Matthew 26:28, Colossians 2:13-14)
  • Everyone who believes (trusts within their heart) in Jesus can receive the free forgiveness of sin (Acts 10:43).  Only Jesus can pay our sin debt for us.  To “believe in Jesus” we, as sinners, are required to: confess our sins to God, repent (sincerely express regret and ask God for forgiveness) of our sins, and accept the death of Jesus as the payment of our sin debt.  Once this is done, the sin debt is paid, God’s forgiveness of sin is immediate, the “born again” sinner is saved from the consequences of their sin and receives the gift of eternal life.  (1 John 1:9, John 3:16)


No matter how well you handle your finances, save your money for a rainy day, do good deeds, live honestly, and pay your debts on a timely basis, there is still  A Debt You Owe But Can Never Pay … the sin debt!  That debt is the sin debt. The only way for the sin debt to be satisfied and paid in full is by accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Looking back on my formative years with my parents I can truly say that I am grateful for the life-values that I learned as a child and a teenager by observing their example.  There is no way that I would say my parents were perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Each had their significant faults … just like me.  Each were sinners … just like me.  Each gave their hearts and lives over to Jesus.  Each had their sin debt forgiven.  Each received God’s free gift of salvation and eternal life … just like me.

Al Denson (born 1960) is a well-known Christian Artist, Author and Song Writer.  Al has written nineteen top ten Christian songs, seven of which made it to number one.  He traveled with Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, as part of the Operation Christmas Child Ministry and appeared with both Franklin Graham and Billy Graham as part of their crusades.  Al has been nominated for five Dove Awards, winning one for the Choral Collection Album of the Year for his Youth Chorus Book. One of Al’s songs captures the essence of this article.  The lyrics of “He Paid A Debt” are given below.

He Paid A Debt – by Al Denson

There was a time in my life when I longed for peace of mind
I never pondered sin’s price that must be paid
This life of sin took its toll in wasted years, still un-resigned,
But on Jesus, at the cross, my sin was laid

He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sin away
And now I sing that brand new song: Amazing Grace
For Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay

And then one day Jesus touched me
And I knew his life divine
Now he leads me down the path that’s filled with His love.
No more alone, I’ll sing His praise for I feel Him deep inside
Just knowing Jesus is worth more than anything


One day He’s coming back for me
To live with Him eternally,
Won’t it be glory to see Him on that day!
I then will sing a brand new song,
“Amazing Grace” all day long,
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.


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About jimdavenport

Jim Davenport resides in the USA in Northeast Georgia, is a member of a Southern Baptist Church and is a retired Christian business man. Jim and his wife Charlotte have one son and daughter in law, Keven and Amy, four grandchildren – Ashlyn (Davenport) & Josh Murphy, Mason & Rebecca (Knight) Davenport and four great-grandchildren. Jim and Charlotte own a mountain get-away home located on Lookout Mountain in Alabama where they spend many spring, summer and fall days working in their raised bed organic garden. Jim has served as a Deacon and Trustee in his local church most of his adult life and on the Executive Committee and Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees of Shorter University, an intentionally Christian institution located in Rome, Georgia. Jim has a passion for the word of God and has always believed that Christian principles should guide every aspect of his life. He also loves Christian music and often served as a tenor soloist in his church. One of the highlights of his life was the nearly 20 years he spent singing with The Good News, a Southern Gospel quartet. Jim served as an Information Technology professional his entire working career of 50 years holding senior positions in and consulting with hundreds of world-class organizations in the United States, Canada, Europe, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand. Jim remains as President and CEO of InfoSys Solutions Associates, Inc. and is a retired partner of IT Governance Partners, LLC, both of which are “Trusted Advisor” technology and business consulting firms. Jim has authored a number of books available at www.jimdavenport.me/jims-books. His blog has ben read by readers from more than 170 countries. Jim holds both a BS and an MS in Mathematics from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia and completed Management Development Training at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
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2 Responses to A Debt You Owe But Can Never Pay

  1. John Hayes says:

    Your message is so true..Sin debt is a debt we can never repay. We all should b eternally thankful for Jesus Christ who paid our debt for us. Again, thanks for the inspiring and honest message.
    John Hayes


    • jimdavenport says:

      John, you are always so kind with your comments. Thank you for being such a friend and regular follower of my blog. It is always encouraging to me to hear from you. Hope this finds you well and happy. Jim D.


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