By Jim Denison (revised)

Debt paid in full

Robert F. Smith
Billionaire Robert F. Smith

There are more than four thousand colleges and universities in the United States. I'm guessing that none of them heard a commencement address quite like the one delivered at Morehouse College recently.

Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor known as the wealthiest black man in America, told the crowd that he would pay off the entire graduating class's student debt. The Morehouse president called Mr. Smith's generosity "a liberation gift, meaning this frees these young men from having to make their career decisions based on their debt. This allows them to pursue what they are passionate about."

Mr. Smith's gift may be worth about $40 million, according to Morehouse officials.

Imagine that you were one of the 396 young men offered this gift. I can think of three reasons you might decline Mr. Smith's remarkable generosity.

You could do so out of a self-reliant determination to pay your debts yourself. You could refuse to feel indebted to Mr. Smith. Or you could consider yourself unworthy of such grace.

Now let's consider Smith's gift as a parable.

I know my sins and failures, my guilt and shortcomings and weaknesses. I know how unlovable I truly am. You may feel the same way about yourself. Our sins are a debt to a Holy God that we can never repay, no matter how hard we "work".

But Jesus has paid our debt in full on the cross, dying to pay for our wrongdoings, that we might be liberated from having to make decisions based on our faults, past, addictions and hurts.

"For our sake [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, many people struggle to accept God's grace. Either they think they can pay their spiritual debts themselves and earn their way into heaven, or they don't want to be indebted to God and (literally) owe Him their lives (which we all do anyway). But for some, it is just hard to see themselves as worthy of such love.

It helps to remember that God's love for us is not based on our character but on His: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). As a result, we can do nothing to deserve or to lose His love. We just have to accept it.

I wonder if the way many of us devalue ourselves is limiting God's ability to change us and use us. Our performance-based culture teaches us that we are what we do. But nothing we do is good enough to earn the approval of a perfect God.

So we settle for things and addictions and cheap thrills rather than seeking the true satisfaction and lasting joy that God offers us.

Jesus taught: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). To be "poor in spirit" is to admit how desperately we need God. When we do, we make Him our king and experience the "kingdom of heaven." And we are "blessed" with His best for us and through us.

Would you ask God to give you a glimpse of what He could do with your life if you gave it to Him? If you give Him all you have, you will receive all He has for you, and live your best life.

If we are not "poor in spirit" today, nothing will change. If we are, nothing will remain the same.

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