The hand was stretched out before me, palm up.
I searched through my assets, frantically counting up my balances. What I could do to satisfy the demand? Nothing. Nothing of substance to present as a token of my credibility; any promises that I would pay when I had the chance were mocked and rejected.
And so my collector gathered up my holdings in one swoop, picking up every representation of value and worth I had held on to so dearly, handling my goods like they were a hindrance to him. And banished me from his presence.
I felt like the Monopoly guy, which was appropriate, because that was the context for this exchange. Due to rolls of the dice which deposited me on poor investments and those pesky spaces that squeeze every nickel and dime out of you, I had neglected to expand my portfolio to include hot properties or multiple lending opportunities, so I was found wanting when the rent was due.
As I watched the rest of the game from my position of defeat on the sidelines, I recalled a clever performance that one of my children’s classmates had done years earlier while they were still in grammar school. The project was sort of a “show and tell”, bouncing off of a literature unit on the resourcefulness of a certain young man and his cat and the biblical lesson of wise investment of talents.
The student came to class with a napkin, which obviously made it look as though he just remembered the assignment during lunch and came up with the skit on the day it was due. Maybe so, but regardless, the resulting hilarity has resonated in our family for years since.
Synopsis: There was a fair young maiden who was falling behind on her accounts, including, most tragically, her rent. Her landlord was a dastardly fellow who skulked and sneered at her whenever she ran into him in town, and who frightened her terribly when he would show up to collect. [Scene: Imagine the rails of train tracks receding into the distance, melodramatic theater music played on an organ in the background]
Villain [Placing the napkin under his nose as a mustache, and snarling in a fiendish voice]: You must pay the rent!! You must pay the rent today!!
Damsel in Distress [Placing the napkin in hair as a bow, and batting eyelids and lisping in a high-pitched voice]: But I cannot pay the rent! I cannot pay the rent today!
Villain [napkin as mustache, more forcefully and dastardly, twirling the edges of the mustache]: You must pay the rent!! You must pay today!! Or else!
Damsel in Distress [napkin as hairbow, voice higher pitched, in distress with free hand fluttering]: I can’t pay the rent!! I can’t pay the rent today!
Hero[napkin as bow tie, spoken in a Dudley-Do-Right voice]: I’ll pay the rent!
Damsel in Distress [napkin as hairbow]: My hero!
Villain [napkin as mustache]: Curses! Foiled again!
What a perfectly simple skit for children to do on the spur of the moment! And what an eloquently simple parallel to Jesus’s gospel!
When I, the sinner in distress, was found without sufficient funds to pay my rent, I stood with my pockets exposed, empty, nothing of merit to toss to my creditor. Paraphrasing Jonathan Edwards, “I contribute nothing to my salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” The Lord Jesus covered every single penny in my accounts due—not a Monopoly portfolio to clean out, but the debt of holiness to pay, which I could never do. The ticket I need to win the game is perfect righteousness, and I will never possess that on my own. It must be paid with the price of Christ’s blood and secured with his resurrection, for only a perfect man can answer the call for that debt.
- Hebrews 5:9 “. . . and being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
- Hebrews 10:14 “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
- Hebrews 12:2 “. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
- 1 John 4:17 “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”
If you wake up one day and realize the party in the pig sty (Luke 15:11-32) has racked up a huge bill and you are unable to pay your rent, the Deliverer will meet you at the door when the collector comes. He is magnanimous in his generosity to cover your debts. He is the only one who can truly save the damsel from her distress.
Christian, you are not a damsel in distress.
Though you may feel depleted in your accounts, overwhelmed with a heavy weight of sin, who you are is one alive from the dead in Christ.
When it feels like there is no undoing the shackles of sin and death, here are three things to remember:
- There is not the littlest bit of debt still in the account to pay. It’s been wiped clean, and He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and death and transferred you to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
- Sin shall not have dominion over you. Though you may still wage the war within your flesh, the Lord commands “Don’t let sin have reign in your mortal body” because in him we are not bound to sin’s realm—we have the Spirit and a new identity, so we are able to obey that command! (Romans 6:12-14)
- You belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that you may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4), and gain an inheritance that is secure and grander and more abundant than you could ever imagine, for “now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10b)
In a single day I can forget all this and revert back to the damsel in distress, the reality of who I am drowned out by the whispering lies of the Adversary. Before I arise from slumber, my heart loads up with worry over decisions my kids make and my mind swirls with bitter thoughts toward a sister in Christ. Flickers of envy because others seem more successful invade my thoughts, and explosions of anger well up when my expectations aren’t being met. Before noon, I feel defeated. I am weighed down by the burden of sins that cling to me like a stench. “Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!” (Romans 7:24)
You too may feel defeated, but it is the work of our Enemy, the Slanderer, who conspires to deceive us into believing we are hapless and hopeless and can wish for no better than to crawl into the kingdom with nary a talent to show our Master, hiding behind the door, sure that sin will undo me again today. He is a usurper. He comes to collect on an account that is not his to manage! He is indeed a dastardly villain, demanding payment on an already paid debt, bullying and deceiving and belittling. But note this:
His success depends upon the “miserable maiden in distress” forgetting who she is.
“Our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For the one who has died [i.e., us in Christ] has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
Christian, under grace, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). Who has delivered me from this body of death? The new law over my members, the law of the Spirit, pronounces me free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death!
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:2–6)
The old me is dead and buried with sin. The new me is alive in Christ, resurrected in him. I have been set free from the defeat of sin and am empowered to set my mind on the things of the Spirit, to bear the fruit of righteousness which produces hope. Though we traverse this present age of suffering and temptation, we are given eyes to see “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18) Yes, this is a future glory, but it is also a present promise and reality.
We are free from being typecast as the damsel in distress. That’s not your story anymore and it’s not mine. Jesus our Hero has paid the bride price, and it was very great—much too great for the prize to be a defeated, discouraged, withering, and wilted damsel still acting as if she’s shackled to her old master Sin. His love is for a bride who loves the gracious and pure bonds of righteousness that unite her to Him.
Of all the lives I could have led—whether in misery or success, wealth or want—they would have all led to eternal burden under a relentless taskmaster. But I don’t owe the debt collector anymore. I don’t have to feel trapped in a cycle of anger, frustration, pride, envy, or self-preservation, fearful of that knock on the door or the consequences of an unpaid debt. I am able to identify the lies of the villain Satan and joyfully banish them to oblivion. I don’t owe him a dime. I never did, for it wasn’t his holiness I’d transgressed anyway. That damsel in distress is not who I am on this side of regeneration, for I am washed, I am made new, I am able to walk in the Spirit in newness of life, able to walk in righteousness.
I live here in the house of the Lord for free now, rejoicing in the unfolding display of mercy and goodness and bountiful love deposited on one who was once not worthy even to tie my Beloved’s sandal. Able to bear fruit for God. Able to love others. Able to be content and patient. Able to ask forgiveness when I stumble, knowing it is fully mine.