You could question her repentance, as some were inclined to do, but you couldn’t deny her fear. She was unambiguous about the cause of her distress. It was sin and she knew it. And she was afraid of what God was going to do about it. Grasping for the remote possibility of mercy, she asked her Christian support group if God punishes us for our sin.
I was saddened by the number of curt and matter-of-fact answers that communicated in no uncertain terms that God indeed punishes us for our sin. Clearly, though not explicitly, they made it known that God forgives, but her reckoning was on the way. In all fairness, they probably didn’t realize they were communicating so coldly. They were simply answering the question. But answering as if there was not a person behind the question; a person battling fear; fear of her Father. Answering as if God is locked into blessing and cursing the way a computer is a slave to it’s binary code. They were so sure they were right, but so wrong. As wrong as I would have been if I had simply said, “No, God does not punish us for our sin.”
The Lord Disciplines His Children
Hebrews 12:6 (NAS): 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
This is the passage that most appealed to in their defense. Does this passage teach that God punishes us for our sin? The Hebrews, to whom the writer is addressing, are not sinning in the same sense as our sister in the support group. They are enduring suffering at the hands of sinners, just as Jesus had. This you may not see in chapter 12, but it has been made clear in the earlier chapters.
The writer gives them a perspective on their suffering by pointing out that they have not resisted to the point of the shedding of blood, just as Jesus did at the hands of sinners. Then, in order to encourage them to endure the suffering, the writer reaches for Proverbs 3:12. He does so to point out that they have not displeased God, but that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. All His children are disciplined by the suffering they endure, just as Jesus did.
Therefore, they are to count their suffering, not as punishment for their sin, but as loving discipline from their Father; just as Jesus did. So you see, this is a call to endure suffering and not a warning to stop sinning.
Perfect Love Cast Out Fear
1 John 4:17–18 (NAS): 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
Are we called to live in fear of punishment in order to control our sin nature? Or has God done something profound about that problem in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our participation with Him through faith? The answers to these questions are the very heart and essence of the gospel message.
In Jesus Christ, the Father initiated a love for us that would result in our love for Him. To be clear, He loved us first; with a perfect love that covers a multitude of sin. His love was made known in the sending of His Son. When the love of God is perfected in us, then all fear will be cast aside, because fear involves punishment. In Christ Jesus there is no longer a fear of punishment for sin.
Jesus said, if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Those who have not been perfected in love, hear in this a duty to keep His commandments. But because of the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus, I hear a sweet promise. We don’t keep the commandments to prove we love Him. We keep the commandments because we love Him. And we love Him, because He first loved us.
Death Made The Difference
Hebrews 10:14 (NAS): 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
It is generally argued that God punishes us for our sins because His holiness demands a wrathful response. He simply cannot look upon sin and do nothing. Those who say such things are right, but short-sighted. What God does about our sin He has done once for all time. It was a final and decisive act against sin. He did not require better obedience, He offered a better sacrifice.
The key to understanding this decisive act in our own battle against the flesh is our association with Christ in the act. This was what Paul argued vehemently for in both Romans and in Colossians. When Jesus died for our sin, we died with Him. And as he wrote in Romans, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” And just as we were united with Jesus in death, we were also raised with Him to a newness of life.
In light of the reality of this decisive act, which we participated in, we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Anything else Paul saw as either an enslavement to the law or a return to the elementary principles of the world. The death that Jesus died, He died once for sin. We participated in that death and it has made all the difference.
An important key to bible study is correlation. If I interpret a passage in a way that creates a contradiction with other passages, then I must rethink my interpretation. The passages do not contradict each other, so neither can my interpretations. This keeps us from simply referring to a different scripture to disprove a given scripture. Both passages are true, and our interpretations must allow for them both to remain true. We cannot simply live with the tension.
Assuming the discipline of the Lord in Hebrews 12:6 means God punishes us for sin, causes tension not only with the context of the book, but also with essence of the gospel, and passages like 1 John 4.
Discipline Without Retribution
The writer of Hebrews compares the discipline of an earthly father to the discipline of our Heavenly Father. That I discipline my son and that the Father disciplines His children is often the extent of the comparison. I’m as guilty as the next man of disciplining my son when I am angry about a bad behavior. In this way, discipline has become synonymous with punishment in our culture. Most of us cannot fathom discipline without retribution. Though both our earthly father and our Heavenly Father disciplines, He does not learn discipline from us. Our Heavenly Father’s discipline, for our good, without retribution, and apart from fear of punishment, is instructive for all of us earthly fathers.
I know some are going to dismiss this post out of a binding allegiance to their current position. I fear many have already bounced from the post. Their fidelity to their position will hinder them from giving it due consideration. As much as I want them to consider it, I understand their apprehension. I’m a faceless voice in cyberspace and not their pastor. This kind of teaching is vital and should come from their pastor.
I know from experience that a pastor’s life is hard and I don’t want to make it harder, though I realize that’s precisely what I’m doing. Despite the people’s affinity for topical preaching chosen for its relevance, the people need careful expositional preaching. They need the preaching that brings into focus the author’s intended meaning in it’s biblical, historical, and grammatical context. And they need to hear it from you. They trust you; as they should.