One of the most devastating effects of the pursuit of holiness can often be our propensity to believe that our sin draws God’s anger. This belief will result in a practical theology which assumes that God’s discipline in our lives is punitive; in other words that His discipline is evidence of some displeasure which is earned by our disobedience. It is amazing to me how many believers struggle with this unfortunate theology. This belief is personal because I know how often I’ve struggled with it myself.
The result of this theology is a feeling of consistent defeat, an improper fear of God and general difficulty in making progress in the Gospel. It is a serious and consistent threat to the growth of the Gospel in any church who places an emphasis on growing in the Gospel.
Romans 8:1 reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus“. This simple truth is incredibly liberating to the believer. It is a reminder that we cannot be condemned for our behavior. Yes, God absolutely disciplines those He loves, but His discipline is not punitive – instead it is imperative that we understand His discipline is corrective. This little truth makes all the difference in the world.
When we view God’s discipline as punitive in nature; in other words God is punishing us because we have disobeyed, we are essentially engaging in a functional denial of the sufficiency of the cross of Jesus Christ. We are denying the importance of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Let me try to explain.
2 Corinthians 5:21 points out “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is a strong reminder that Christ assumed our sins on the cross. He did this in order to carry the wrath of God, toward sin. When Christ died on the cross He assumed the wrath of God for our sin, past, present and future.
When we believe that God is punishing us for our sin, we are essentially denying the death of Christ on the cross and His atonement for our sin. We are arguing that His sacrifice is not enough. We still need more to be right with God. In effect, we become our own functional saviors. We are in essence saving ourselves through our own “deserved” punishment. This pursuit of self-righteousness can also appear in our lives as we mistreat ourselves believing that this is somehow both deserved and right. We can even convince ourselves that God is pleased with our self-treatment because we are “taking sin seriously“. The problem is that while we may think we are taking sin seriously, we are not taking God’s word seriously. We are denying the Gospel in our lives.
So, this theology is profound and extremely important. If we are to progress in the Gospel, to become like Christ, we must recognize that God disciplines His children, most definitely, but that He does so to make us like Jesus, not because He is angry with us. That His discipline is the act of a loving Father shaping us to be righteous, not the act of a condemning judge rightly dispensing justice because we have earned it.
So, let us celebrate the sufficiency of the cross. Let us triumph in the freedom from condemnation, and let us receive God’s loving discipline as a sign of His affection and His desire to help us become shaped like Jesus. (see Romans 8:29) Your very growth in the Gospel depends on it.