Paul the Apostle answered the question by saying, “I am debtor.” Someone had proclaimed the good news of salvation to him, so he felt compelled to tell others. It should be the same with us.
As a college student in the 1960’s I realized that although others may have had more education or been more gifted in natural intelligence, when it came to the Bible and any understanding of the gospel, I was the expert among my classmates (not in any technical sense, as I later came to realize!). I do not recall a class at Penn State where anyone else demonstrated nearly as much biblical background as I had received by my family having regularly attended church and revival meetings. I realized that most students were quite ignorant of the basic teachings of the scriptures. The truth of the general lack of gospel understanding by students came to me in a significant way at a rally assembled by radical socialists at the student union one afternoon.
I found myself at the edge of a rather large crowd, most of whom were making noise and calling for eliminating military recruiters on campus. But they were doing more. They were calling for the destruction of our society as a free nation and replacing it with a Marxist utopian community. I asked for the opportunity to say a few words at the mike that was held by one of the radical organizers. Somehow I felt a compulsion to tell the restless demonstrators about the Savior.
“We are all up against the wall. We don’t know where to turn. We see hypocrisy and injustice. But what is happening here at this demonstration is not getting us any closer to peace and love than the older generation has gotten us. In fact, this is gendering more strife. We need a revolution – a revolution of love and reason. And the only way to get that is for each of us to learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. The only way you can do that is to meet Jesus Christ.”
When I said those two magic words, Jesus Christ, it was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Perhaps a dozen or more of the more radical students jumped to their feet shouting, “What is this Jesus bit? Get him down! Get him down!”
Instead of taking the mike from me, the leader poked me on the elbow and said, “Keep on talking. We want to hear what you have to say.” So for the next few minutes I gave a brief outline of the gospel. Then I invited anyone who was interested in talking more to come aside and several of us who were Christians would answer their questions as best we could. For probably two hours or more students came to us, asking how Jesus and the Bible had anything of relevance to say to us in our time.
I left campus that day with a verse from the Bible ringing in my ears. It was the “why” of the Apostle Paul. “I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14). Paul spent the rest of his life repaying that debt. I was in college studying English education. My general goal was to get a degree and begin teaching in one of the local schools. But now this concept of being a debtor would not leave me. I had been blessed with Christian parents. I had been blessed to hear the Bible preached. I had been blessed by the gospel of Christ. I, too, was a debtor. I considered what I could accomplish in life. I thought of getting a job and having a normal career. But this kept pressing on me: “I am debtor.” What would count most when my life was over? Having a job and making money? Or being a witness and seeing the destinies of people changed for eternity? The answer was obvious.
My studies continued and I got my degree to teach English. On my father’s recommendation I applied for graduate school and was accepted. So I went back to school. But my goal was not the same as it had been. I continued to see that “I am debtor.” The campus was not just a place to go to classes. It was a mission field. After that day at the rally, my main urgency was to promote the gospel. Along with my brother Vic and a few likeminded friends who were also on campus, we started a student Christian organization we called Overcomers. Being recognized by the university allowed us to use campus facilities for Bible studies and evangelistic outreaches. When I completed my studies, instead of getting a job in education, I became involved full time in outreach ministry. Discharging my debt.
How did Paul discharge his debt? “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (Rom. 1:15). He paid his debt by preaching the gospel. He told about who Jesus was, what He did on the cross for our sins, how He died and was buried, and that He rose again on the third day. The power of Jesus was bestowed on Paul and He preached this good news wherever he went.
It became clear to me that ministry must be to preach the gospel. The first time I was asked to speak at a weekend meeting, I began preparing messages. “When do I put in that extra stuff that people seem to expect?” I wondered. Then, it seemed as if the Lord said, “Preach the Bible. I’ll take care of the other stuff.” Preaching the Bible, this side of the cross is preaching the gospel. So that’s what I did. On Sunday morning at the invitation, an old man knelt over his cane and gave his heart to Jesus. He was in his eighties and it was a grand sight to see his elderly sisters praying beside him. They had prayed for years for him to be saved. We discharge our debt by preaching the gospel.
This message was for everyone and Paul made that clear. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Whether it is a college student, a punk-rocker on the street, a teen in jail who has been busted for marijuana possession, or an old man in a church, whoever believes the gospel will be saved. God made it clear. “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:1–3).
What about you? Are you paying your debt?