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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Even within the evangelical community, there has been debate over the last decade on the crucial biblical teaching of justification. Luther called justification “the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls,” so we want to make sure that we put up fences to protect this precious truth.

What is so precious about justification? We could recite a long list to answer this question, but I want to focus in on one particular reason why this truth is precious, namely, it is the spark which ignites the fire of love for Jesus in the hearts of sinners like you and me. Let me show you this from Luke 7:36 – 50.

Luke portrays this episode in the life of Jesus as an example of how He befriended sinners. The scene is set at the home of a Pharisee named Simon who had asked Jesus to share a meal with him. As Jesus takes His place at the table, a woman, whom Luke notes is a notorious sinner, comes forward and anoints His feet with oil. As she is doing this, she begins to weep, wipe his feet with her hair, and kiss them. On many levels this is an extraordinary display of love for Jesus, but as Simon the Pharisee watches this scene unfold, he is filled with disgust and disdain, both for the woman and for Jesus.

Ironically, in God’s good humor, Simon mutters under his breath his doubt of Jesus’ status as a prophet, and Jesus, perceiving his thoughts, tells a parable to pierce to the heart of Simon’s self-righteousness. He says, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

The question Jesus uses to conclude the parable is funny, isn’t it? We might expect Him to ask, “Who will be more grateful?” or “Who will be more happy?” But He asks, “Who will love the moneylender more?” We don’t typically equate love with banks or loan officers, even those who forgive debts. The oddity of Jesus’ question serves to highlight the issue of love for the moneylender. Why does Jesus do this? It is because the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Simon begrudgingly gives the correct answer: “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Jesus continues on to make sure the point is clear. He points to the woman’s extravagant display of love for Him, and compares it to Simon’s indifference and hostility. In other words, this sinful woman had loved Jesus with her whole heart, while Simon had showed no love for Jesus. By this Jesus shows that the self-righteous Pharisee had actually failed at the Great Commandment, while this notoriously sinful woman actually fulfilled the Great Commandment.

Notice who Jesus is claiming to be. He is the moneylender. The one who forgives the debt of sin. The object of the Great Commandment. In other words, love for Jesus equals love for God.

Next comes the punchline. Why did the woman love Jesus while Simon the Pharisee had not? “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” There is a direct correlation between the forgiveness of sins and love for Jesus. The fruit of justification is white hot love for Jesus that translates into the costly, sacrificial devotion displayed by the woman.

Do you want to stoke the fire of love for Jesus in your heart? As you fast during this season, consider the depth and breadth of your sin. Meditate on the fact that it would be absolutely impossible for you yourself to pay the debt of your sin. Then dwell on the fact that your sins were placed upon the head of Jesus as He hung from the cross. The Moneylender Himself absorbed your debt so that you could go free.

Jeff Ballard
Ministry Fellow at Cornell