Sunday, August 27, 2006

Punishment?

I keep a journal of sorts, thoughts that I have that I write down. It's not really a diary or a spiritual journal. It's just thoughts. :) Looking back on it, here's something I wrote in October of 1997:

"The punishment for my sin was put on Jesus. God dealt with my sin 2,000 years ago, once and for all. Why should He bring it up again to be punished again?"

If you have trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, if you have believed that He is the Savior, then you should never fear that God is punishing you for your sins. (And you should never think that God is punishing anyone else for their sins). The Bible even says that God made Christ to be sin for us (one version says "on our behalf"), so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. God dealt with sin one time, and that was all that was needed. Jesus was the perfect, acceptable sacrifice. His blood was shed for the remission of sin. Our sins have been taken away from us. They are in remission (eternally). We have been completely released from the debt we owed and from the penalty for our sins. We have been forgiven completely. God doesn't take them out and show them to us or hang them over our heads. Our sins have been removed from us "as far as the east is from the west." God made sinless Jesus to be sin, so that guilty us could be righteousness. Jesus then died, and rose again in glory, having finished the necessary work for the redemption of mankind.

I don't want to confuse or equate punishment with discipline. God does not punish us, because the punishment is done and over with. Again, it was put on Christ. But as He loves His children dearly, and as He indwells us and lives in us and through us, He has such a wonderful way of teaching us and helping us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. This "discipline" comes in many ways and forms, and sometimes it may seem hard for us, but it is never punishment.

He loves us so much that He will work methodically and purposefully and lovingly - and patiently to help us get rid of any and all self-dependence and sin that easily besets us. I used to think of God's discipline as simply a matter of God getting rid of sin in my life. But His life in me and through me is so much more than getting rid of sin! It's learning and growing in what LIFE really is. My "flesh" thinks of life in certain terms. Sometimes my flesh leads me to sin, and sometimes my flesh leads me to do "good" things. But my flesh will never lead me to Life. Only Jesus Christ can give me life. So as God disciplines, He is leading me out of the flesh patterns that I've established, whether good or bad, and is leading me to experience the Life that He has given me. This can hurt sometimes... but it's only because the wonderful life that God has for me goes against the grain of so-called life that I've already established (again, whether good or bad). Even though God is leading me into something much better, it can be hard for the flesh to accept that it no longer has control over what life is and isn't. :) But thank God for always leading us to Life rather than complacent self-dependence!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cheated

I was reading a short article in CCM Magazine about an artist who found out that his dad had 2 to 8 weeks to live, due to cancer. In speaking with his dad, he asked him how he felt about it all. His dad's answer was short, but honest. "Cheated."

His dad was only 47 years old. With today's average life expectancy somewhere in the 70's to nearly 80 (at least here in the U.S.), 47 is a short life. Thankfully this man was able to comfort his children with words that he believed - that heaven means never having to say goodbye. They know they'll all be with each other again.

But back to the word "cheated." Not to make light of anyone's life that has been cut short by unexpected or early death, but I do actually believe that everybody - every person who has ever lived - has been "cheated." We have all been robbed of the life that God intended for us to have. And the guilty party is sin. Ever since "sin entered the world, and death through sin" (part of Rom 5:12), mankind has been robbed of what life could really be like. I'll stay on this for a minute, but of course there's good news coming...

Sin is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, from person to person, ever since Adam. It is something we could not escape if we tried. And it has cheated everyone. Sometimes it disguises itself as life and then pulls the rug out from underneath. Sometimes it's so subtle that it can hardly be seen, or not seen at all - but there is it anyway, keeping us from life as God intended for us to have. The point I'm trying to make is that sin is in the world, and Paul even said sin is "in" us. I'm not talking about all the sinful actions we do. I mean the condition of sin that exists whether or not we act upon it. It is there, and it's a cancer that we can do nothing about. And no matter how "good" a person has ever been, it has robbed them of life. "Sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men..." We have all been robbed of life, because of sin, whether we die in the womb or as a newborn, at the age of 10, at the age of 47, or as and old, old person. Again, not to make light of anyone's early or unexpected death, but just to say that because of sin, we've all been cheated out of life.

But then comes the good news! I was reading a few chapters in Matthew last night, working on an idea for an article that I may be writing soon, and three words stuck out at me that had nothing to do with my purpose for studying at the time. Matt 19:28 - So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory..."

"In the regeneration." Those words, in and of themself, are comforting words for anyone who has been cheated out of life. We may have been cheated out of life in this life, but the "regeneration" is coming. Restoration, peace, righteousness, all as we have never experienced before. Peter tells us to "look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13) and John tells us how he actually foresaw this in his revelation ("Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth had passed away" (Rev. 21:1). John goes on to say that in this future time, "the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people." "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (from Rev 21:3-4).

We may have been cheated, and we may feel the effects of it every day of our lives... but that's not the end of the story! Sin and death have had their time of dominion, but that will come to an end!