Monday, June 9, 2014

No Fear of Punishment

I finally watched Son of God last night with my family. I’ve read the book, so the storyline wasn’t a surprise but I usually like the visual of the drama-come-to-life and this movie was no exception. The account of the woman caught in adultery was particularly impacting for me. It’s familiar to many so I’ll spare the details but whenever I read it (or in this case see it portrayed), I put myself in place of the woman. I may have not committed adultery but there are plenty of sins I’ve been caught red-handed; I’ll assume I’m not alone in this experience.

The woman expected stern punishment; certainly she knew nothing of kindness when it came to sin. She was taken to the Rabbi, the current media sensation whom everyone was talking about. She may have heard he was different than the other teachers and religious leaders but how different could he be? Sin was sin and it needed to be reprimanded and punished – severely.  She was ashamed and she wouldn’t raise her eyes to the Rabbi.

Like the harlot, time and again I’m reminded how I fear the wrath of God when I am caught in sin. Instead of fearing God, I fear the wrath I’ve been taught to expect. The reality of God is quite the opposite, as Hebrews 10:14 gives proof. The wrath of God was satisfied through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:9) and by his sacrifice, we are made perfect forever, even as we are currently being sanctified (being perfected). In other words, he sees us as if we are perfect, even though we are still undergoing the perfecting process. There is no need for wrath or punishment when we have already been made perfect. (Rebuke and correction are different than punishment.)

It seems like it’s too good to be true, doesn’t it? It’s a mystery but that’s the gospel in a nutshell.

I have a confession: last year I was part of an inaugural ministry team to partner with a Global Outreach team operating in Cambodia. The connections and relationship I developed during the 16-day trip went deeper than would seem possible in the natural. My heart and life were knit into the weave of several people on the team. A year later, another North American ministry team partnered with them again, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my new friends liked the new team better. It’s definitely not a Godly, or spiritually mature thought but isn’t the point of a confession is to admit my vulnerability?

As soon as the thought was expressed (to myself), I was ashamed and expected a reprimand and some sort of punishment. What I received was different. The same day I had the thought and the consequent shaming thoughts, I received a text from my missionary friend, saying it was great to have a team there but it wasn’t the same without me. Awwww, it made my day, not just because I was loved and not forgotten by my overseas friend but because Jesus didn’t punish me at all. Instead, in his kindness, he covered my insecurity and vulnerability with affirmation and love. Experiencing the love of God does a whole lot more to motivate me to repent than fear of punishment. You could say the love of Christ compels me towards holiness.

The harlot received the same love. Jesus didn’t condemn her even though he could have. He loved her and by his love, he compelled her to, “go and sin no more.” He didn’t condone her sin, nor did he excuse it. It was evident to all, and still he loved her. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Sin has been punished; what’s left is love. What a beautiful and glorious thought.

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