John Ortberg tells the following story:
In May 2009, my family was in Azusa, California, because one of our kids was graduating from Azusa Pacific University. My wife, Nancy, was going to speak at the commencement ceremonies, so she and I were invited to a special gathering of about 50 people—people from the graduating class of 50 years ago and a few faculty members. During the gathering, John Wallace, the president of APU, brought out three students who were graduating that year and told us that for the next two years, they were going to serve the poorest of the poor in India. These three students thought they were there just to be commissioned and sent out with a blessing—which they were. But then something happened that they did not know was coming. John turned to them and said, “I have a piece of news for you. There’s somebody you do not know—an anonymous donor—who is so moved by what you’re doing that he has given a gift to this university in your name, on your behalf.” John turned to the first student and said, “You are forgiven your debt of $105,000.” The kid immediately starts to cry. John turns to the next student: “You’re forgiven your debt of $70,000.” He then turns to the third student: “You are forgiven your debt of $130,000.” All three students had no idea this was coming. They were just ambushed by grace—blown away that somebody they don’t even know would pay their debt. The whole room was in tears.
This is a parallel to God’s action in Christ for us, except of course the magnitude of our debt was much greater. We owed a completely unpayable debt because of our sins. The accumulated weight of our wrongs put us into a ‘debtor’s prison’ from which there was no escape. There was nothing we could do to pay off the debt. Good works couldn’t do it. Bible knowledge couldn’t do it. Seeking to live a moral life couldn’t do it. We were still massively ‘in the red’ and completely unable to dig our way out.
But then came Jesus! While we were still sinners, he paid our debt. While we were still enemies, he paid our debt. While we were ungrateful, he paid our debt. He redeemed us. 1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”