All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, not having rendered to Him the perfect obedience He demands from His creatures (Rom. 1:1–3:20). Therefore, the only way we can have peace with our Creator is by the righteousness of another—Christ, whose obedience is imputed to us when we trust only in Him for salvation (3:21–5:21). Yet God does not only justify us, or declare us righteous in His sight. He also changes us, and we pursue holiness not in order to secure a right standing with the Lord, but to thank Him for the right standing He has granted us by grace alone (chap. 6–8). He purposed to give us this right standing by electing us in Christ before the foundation of the world and uniting Jews and Gentiles as one body dependent on Christ (chap. 9–11). The outworking of all this is seen in continual transformation by the renewing of our minds, which produces sincere love in our hearts toward others and a willingness to submit to the authorities that the Lord has rightfully established in His world (12:1–13:7).
Paul emphasizes that paying the taxes we owe is part of our duties in this world (13:7), and in today’s passage the Apostle picks up on this idea of obligation when he commands us to “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). He does not mean that Christians are not allowed to go into any kind of financial debt; rather, the point is that the only perpetual obligation that believers have is to love one another. In other words, there is one debt that believers will be repaying from the point of conversion into all eternity, and that is to love the brethren.
Without a doubt, the Apostle leans on the words of Jesus Himself, who said love of God and neighbor are the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:34–40). Paul does not mention love for the Lord explicitly in today’s passage; however, Scripture assumes that true love for neighbor manifests itself only when we have true love for our Creator. John Calvin comments, “The whole law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors; for true love towards man does not flow except from the love of God, and it is its evidence, and as it were its effects.”
Notice that Paul speaks of love as the fulfillment of the moral law, specifically the Ten Commandments (Rom. 13:9). True, biblical love has objective moral content. We cannot justify actions merely because they feel loving. Instead, godly love conforms to the Lord’s standards. It does what pleases Him.