Have you ever borrowed money? It is almost silly question in our culture. My son and daughter started receiving credit card applications (which I promptly shredded) before they had even graduated high school. We understand what it means to receive a good or service and yet have the payment for that good or service delayed.
Most of the time the payments start the very next month. On a few occasions, the delay may even be longer. I’ve seen furniture stores advertising no payments until the next year. You use your furniture and maybe even spill things on your furniture for the first time before the initial payment comes due.
That analogy helps me understand forgiveness in the Old Testament. Clearly, sinners felt great relief in forgiveness. Observe Psalm 32.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. ” (Psalm 32:1, ESV)
“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. ” (Psalm 32:3, ESV)
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! ” (Psalm 32:11, ESV)
David could exult in the joy of forgiveness even if he didn’t completely understand what it would cost God to grant forgiveness. Paul explains the situation further in Romans 3.
“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ” (Romans 3:24–26, ESV)
God had passed over former sins. Passed over means “deliberate disregard, passing over, letting go unpunished” (BDAG, p. 776). If God had not dealt with the debt of sin in Jesus, it would have called into question His own justice and holiness as Paul makes clear in verse 26. God showed his righteousness “at the present time,” that is at the time of Jesus’ death. Jesus paid the debt, so that God could be both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Whether they are sins committed before the cross or after the cross, the death of Jesus is the payment for the debt of sin.