“I Owe You My Life!”
I usually plan out my articles, such as my commentaries, the sermons I preach, and any upcoming holidays. Sometimes, however, ideas just come to me spontaneously. The idea for this one came up while I was playing Tamriel: Elder Scrolls Online. I was running around as my Sorcerer mage doing a main story quest in the region called Shadowfen.
During this quest, I had to rescue some captives and the first one exclaimed, “I owe you my life!” At first, I was like, “Yeah okay, NPC. Whatever.” But by the time I rescued the fourth and final captive, all of whom shouted the same thing, my theological/philosophical subconscious got the better of me and I began to think, “What an interesting exchange. I save your life and you submit your life to my will as thanks. Do you understand what you’re doing? Or is this just a meaningless expression of gratitude?”
This phrase occurs throughout all forms of media: video games, literature, TV shows, and movies. When someone is saved from the brink of death—whether imagined or real—the person shouts, “I owe you my life!” They feel indebted to the person who just rescued them.
I’m probably just overthinking a simple phrase, but it got me thinking, “I owe God my life.” In fact, we all owe God our lives, whether someone is a believer or an unbeliever. As Christians, we owe God our lives in a twofold sense.
“…then Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). Each of us are created—we are all creatures. God had no inner or outer obligation to create us. God creates both ex nihilo (out of nothing) and ex amore (out of love). God loves to create and He loves what He creates. We were not created out of necessity, but out of love. We literally owe our existence to God.
As Creator, God forms each of us in our mothers’ womb; He knows us intimately before we’re conceived, indeed, before we even existed (Psalm 139:13-16). There is not a single person on this earth, born or unborn, whom God does not know and love. He creates each of us with the same Word and breathes into each of us the same breath of life.
Currently, we are fallen creatures; we have fallen from God’s grace. God isn’t enough for us. We want more. We want to be gods ourselves. As Creator of all living and immaterial things, God is the only one who has a right to anything. He has the right to destroy us all because of our active rebellion against Him. He also has the right to relent, and that’s just what He chose to do. He relented from His wrath that He might send His Son to die and rise for us, saving us from our sins—from our sinful rebellion against God.
Thus, every single human creature owes God his or her life, believer or unbeliever. All creation bears witness to God the Creator; therefore, there can be no excuse not to know of God the Creator (Romans 1:19-20) and to owe one’s life to Him, that is, to submit one’s entire being to Him. Even more, God has entrusted to us His revealed Word, especially in Christ, so we are without excuse even more. Of course, no unbeliever can or will submit to God’s will unless the Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts, so this is perhaps a moot point. Nevertheless, allegiance to God is demanded of every human creature.
Regardless of one’s faith, all human creatures owe God their lives because God relented from imminent, well-deserved disaster and punishment. God holds back from His wrath, but He will not hold back forever. In order to do away with all sin, God must relinquish His wrath to distinguish all sin and evil for all eternity. This will occur on the Last Day—the Day of the Lord—when Christ returns.
On this day, God’s wrath will extinguish evil forever and dispatch unbelievers (who are without excuse) to Hell with the Devil and fallen angels. Yet those who are in Christ shall see the new creation in eternity, which brings me to my second point.
As saints, God has rescued us from sin, death, and the Devil. Therefore, we all ought to exalt God in praise, “I owe You my life!” As saints, we owe God our lives doubly—for all the reasons mentioned above as human creatures and, most especially, as saints (holy ones) whom God the Father has justified, redeemed, and is sanctifying in Christ through the Holy Spirit. “But now thus says Yahweh, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
God’s redemption of us is fulfilled in Christ. God personally makes us His in Baptism. Of course, as creatures of God we always belong to Him—both body and soul—but we especially belong to God in Baptism where He adopts us as His dear children, whereas before we were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-9).
As God’s children, we owe Him our lives, that is, our eternal life. We owe Him absolutely everything—material possessions, obedience, and faith. He calls us to use our money and things wisely, He calls us to obedience toward Him, but most of all He desires faith. “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
As stewards of God’s creation, He has created us to steward our money and possessions with wisdom and care. As disciples of Christ, He calls us to obey Him (not for salvation’s sake since that has been given freely through Christ’s perfect obedience). Yes, obedience to God means obeying the Ten Commandments and the rest of His Word because (a) these tell us how to live as Christians in the world, and (b) our neighbour needs our good works. Yet this is all done with faith, the gift of God that alone pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6).
How Do I Apply This?
I am not calling us to Christian perfection; that’s impossible and it is false doctrine. If you’re a Christian, everything I’m saying shouldn’t be a surprise to you. This is nothing new. The Church has been teaching this for over 2,000 years. I’m simply explaining a familiar concept in a new way: Obedience to God is owing God our lives. This is not a secret of Christianity. Every genuine Christian wants to obey God. We all struggle with doing this, especially on a regular basis.
Before I move to some practical steps, know this: You cannot obey God perfectly. Get that out of your head right now, especially you, my fellow perfectionists. You’re a human creature; perfection is infinitely beyond your capabilities. It is because we cannot obey God perfectly that God the Son came in the form of Jesus Christ to obey the Father perfectly. Christ’s perfect obedience completely covers you so that sin is no longer reckoned to you as damning (FC SD VI, 7). Therefore, when you fail, you have the gift of repentance to freely come to Christ without total fear of punishment to be forgiven.
Now that I’ve ensured no one will accuse me of legalism, what are some practical steps you, as a regenerated saint with the Holy Spirit, can take to obey God? I have good news for you. It’s really simple.
First and foremost: Go to church! “I can worship God my own way at home,” many lazy Christians say. No, you can’t. That will lead you toward all kinds of heresies, false religions, and idolatry. How can you learn more about who Christ is and how to live as a Christian in the world if you don’t go to the place where you learn? A Christian saying they don’t need to go to Church to learn about Jesus is just as stupid as a self-proclaiming “doctor” saying they don’t need to go to medical school to learn medicine. Stop that nonsense. Go to church. Your home is not the Church. Wherever God’s people are gathered is the Church, whether this is in a building, at a public park, or someone’s basement.
“What about the Christian radio?” Christian radio is a blessing, and it’s a great addition to personal devotions, but it’s still not the Church. Stop coming up with excuses. Go to church. The attitude of “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” is a giant farce. Paul describes the Church as Christ’s body, which is made up of individual members that serve specific purposes (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The body without one of its members—both physical and spiritual—is disfigured and unnatural.
If you adamantly refuse church, you deliberately cut yourself off from the body, that is, Christ. In other words, if you deliberately cut yourself off from the body of the Church (Christ), you’re no longer a member of the body. You’re essentially a useless limb left to rot and die.
“What if I can’t make it to church on Sundays?” I wholly recognise some people genuinely cannot make it to church on Sundays because they have to work. If it’s incumbent upon you to go to work, then go to work! Fulfil your vocation! I’ve been there. After I got out of the Army, I worked security for a couple years and had to work on many Sundays in order to pay the bills. I totally sympathise if this is you.
However, consider this: Does your church have a Saturday evening service? If so, go to that. If that’s not available and you have to work on Sundays, maybe consider finding a local church that has services on Saturdays for you to attend. It’s totally up to you. Use your discretion. Talk to your pastor. If you work on Saturdays and Sundays and there’s no way for you to adjust your work schedule, again I advise you to talk to your pastor.
But please, do not tell me, “Sundays are my only days to sleep in.” I don’t care. Don’t make sleep an idol. Get your butt out of bed, go and hear the Word and receive the Sacraments, and mingle with your siblings in Christ, even if they do drive you crazy. That’s family, after all.
Again, perfection is not the goal. You will disobey God, and you have the free forgiveness of Christ in repentance and the Sacraments. There also will be times when you fail to come to church whether this is due to illness, travelling, or even laziness. I’ve been there. Don’t go to church when you’re too sick. Take care of yourself, and you don’t want to get your brethren sick. And sometimes, you need a vacation, but if you can find a local church to attend while you’re on vacation, I highly suggest you do that. (Go here to find an LCMS congregation near you.) There is no excuse for laziness.
I wouldn’t say missing church is a sin. Sometimes, it just happens. However, an adamant refusal to attend church points to a deeper spiritual problem. There is an idol somewhere. Obedience is simply living as Christians in the world that is hostile to everything that remotely smells of Christianity.
Of course, going to church is not enough. Go to Bible studies. Seek mentorship (this can be with your pastor or someone in the congregation you look up to). Do daily devotions in the home, and if you have a family, do it with your family! (Below are some devotional resources.) In essence: Be in the Word. God’s Word is performative and active. You cannot expect your faith to be active if you neglect yourself from hearing the Word in the Body of Christ and neglect your children from hearing it.
You and I owe God our lives. How do we express our thanks? Praise and worship. Where does this take place? The Church. What does God do with me now that my life is entirely, doubly His? Do what He says out of love for God and love for your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40). Where do you learn what He says? In His Word, especially in the Body of Christ, the Church, where He has promised to be and to deliver God’s grace to you in His Word and Sacraments.
- Treasury of Daily Prayer
- Psalm by Psalm: 365 Selected Readings from Martin Luther
- Day by Day: 365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther
- Devotions on the Small Catechism
- Praise & Honor: Hymn-Inspired Devotions
- Crumbs: Short Devotions for Every Day of the Year
- Portals of Prayer
- Today’s Light
- Strength for the Day
Any of the above can also be read in families with older children.