I hope the following sentences don’t describe you: Your credit score is in the tank. You have maxed out the limits on your credit card or cards, and you are behind on your monthly payments. You took out loans that you haven’t paid back, and the bills that you do pay are usually late.

It is so easy to get into debt, and it often seems close to impossible to get out from under it.

What can you do? That kind of debt sounds hopeless. You might gain some encouragement from those stories about people with horrible credit who got their act together. They disciplined themselves for years and gradually got their financial houses in order.

We all have another kind of debt, though, and it is much worse than financial debt. We owe to our Creator God pure love and allegiance and loyalty, but instead we have gone our own way. We have filled our lives with sin, and we owe God the penalty for that sin. That enormous sin debt will separate us from God not only in the future, but also now as it blocks the warmth of God’s presence in our everyday lives.

You may be thinking, “Compared to the average sinner, I’m not too bad.” That may be true, but because God is absolutely holy, living with Him forever requires absolute perfection too. Jesus told us that “… you are to be perfect, AS your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Wow! I know that my best efforts will never make me that good. (Also, see Leviticus 19:2.)

Since God will not allow lawbreakers into His glorious presence, just one sin disqualifies us for heaven. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

I see three ways we might react to God’s demand for perfection.

First, we can determine to be more religious and to become better people, hoping that we may eventually do enough to please a holy God. That only leads to exhaustion because we will never know if we have done enough. It’s like being on a hamster wheel. Lots of effort, but no progress. We not only continue to fall short of God’s glory, but we also have a backlog of past sin that we can’t erase.

Another way to respond to God’s perfect standard is to disbelieve what He has said. Someone said, “Heaven is a perfect place for perfect people, which leaves us in a perfect mess.” Since God’s requirement of absolute perfection sounds so unreasonable, why not just consider it unfair and assume that God must be more accommodating? In other words, try to make God into what you want Him to be so you will feel more comfortable.

The third solution to the problem of God’s standard that we must have perfect holiness is tucked away in a phrase many of us have repeated hundreds and hundreds of times: “… forgive us our debts…” (Matthew 6:12).

God’s holiness demands that sin be paid for before it can be forgiven. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. “[God the Father] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our attempts to be righteous are worthless. Only the perfect righteousness of Christ will do. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The suffering that Jesus endured means that we can only be made perfect in God’s eyes when it is “… as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Forgiveness is all about the righteousness of Christ. It is not based on our righteousness.

Complete and absolute forgiveness of our sin debt is available only to those who ask for it, and who turn from following their own way and follow Jesus. The Bible says that forgiveness is given to “… a person [who} believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth, he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10).

I don’t know your credit score, but without Christ, I know that your spiritual credit score is zero–and so was mine! When a person repents of his or her sin and puts faith in Jesus Christ, then that spiritual credit score becomes eternally perfect! The good news of the Gospel is that “… the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17).