Over one million people a year file for bankruptcy in the United States. I wasn’t a finance major in college, but I did stay at a Holiday Express one time — so even I know that’s a lot of people.
But there’s more to it than just numbers. Behind the numbers are individual stories of dreams unfulfilled and families torn apart. Perhaps a little shame and regret might be mixed in. The ripples of bankruptcy extend to friends and neighbors, employees, and beyond.
I’ve never filed for financial bankruptcy. But I have been bankrupt. Spiritually bankrupt.
The people who are spiritually bankrupt far outnumber those who file for financial bankruptcy. They come in all shapes and sizes. They live in “super zip codes” and blue-collar neighborhoods. They are doctors and dock workers. The spiritually bankrupt often appear to be successful. Their kids win awards. From the outside, it’s not always easy to spot the spiritually bankrupt.
But the outside can be deceiving.
Jesus dealt with people who spent countless hours polishing the outside of the cup. Those who polished the outside of the cup were often the people you would want for neighbors — honest, hard-working, and respectable.
The cup looked OK. In fact, it shined with the right answers.
But Jesus saw beyond the outward shine and called out their bankruptcy … “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).
Here’s where the law of economics breaks down. In financial matters, if you save more than you spend you should be fine. It’s when you spend more than you earn that trouble comes. In other words, when you withdraw more than you deposit … you’ve become the government! It doesn’t work that way.
But spiritual bankruptcy is different. It’s not a matter of depositing more good deeds than subtracting bad ones. We can never earn our good standing with God. And the harder we try to, the more bankrupt we may become.
It’s only when I admit that I am powerless to change the spiritual ledger — that I will always be a debtor — that I am able to receive God’s mercy and redemption.
Thankfully, when Jesus died on the cross, he paid a debt he did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay. Spiritual bankruptcy doesn’t have to be terminal. It can be forgiven.