“A Throw-Away Phrase”
Dear members and friends of our ELS:
A lexicographer has defined a cliché as “the lubricant of language, summing up a point by easing transition in thought while often adding a seasoning of humor.” Clichés are disdained, but rarely avoided by each of us. Many phrases, in fact, quickly lose the intended comical appeal when sensibly analyzed. Shall we say, they are “weighed in the balance and found wanting?”
Here is a cliché that easily rolls off lips, but comes up deficient theologically: “You’re goin’ to have hell to pay!” We hear it often. Has it come from our own mouths? Said in anger? Meant as a warning? Trying to send a message how reckoning is coming and consequences will be severe? Unless such and such is done, then—as the saying goes—you know where payment will have to be made.
We must acknowledge how even one sin, great or small, brings with it the consequence of eternal punishment. The wages for sin is always death and the souls who sin shall die. The Law does not mince words. Punishment is severe for every transgression before our holy and just God.
There are, however, two false assumptions in the “hell to pay” cliché. The payment for sin is never to hell or to Satan or to fate. Every necessary payment for sin needs to be made only to one spot—the seat of holy justice. The ransom payment necessary to release any sinner from the expected and deserved punishment must be rendered to God himself as the One to whom we must all give an account (Romans 3:19).
More egregiously, the “hell to pay” cliché disregards what has already occurred. It throws aside the best news ever recorded! It overlooks why Christmas means so much for our world! God’s own Son came in the flesh and with his holy life went before the justice bar of the heavenly Father in our place! The message of Christmas, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Easter combine to bring the announcement from God himself: There is no more hell to be paid for any sin! The hell punishment every one of us deserved has been taken care of by our God-Man Substitute. We have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Tampering with another cliché and trying a sanctified twist, we can say to one another, “You get what He paid for!” Because Christ’s hands were raised at Calvary, we by faith in Him “win hands down!”
Have a blessed Christmas, everyone!
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President
“A Throw-Away Phrase”