I am not sure how the conversation morphed away from the Florida school shootings, but suddenly I could hear a voice in the crowd saying, “Pastor, you are ‘right on’ when you say that feelings of guilt often stymie people.” The passage we were discussing was “God made us alive together with (Christ), having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2.13-14) And the point was, with all of our guilt nailed to the cross with Jesus, we are free to live and enjoy life. Or, as it says elsewhere, “We were buried with (Christ) by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6.4)
However, it was the follow-up question that threw me. The speaker went on to say, “But what do you say to someone who believes God is punishing them (or someone else, for that matter)? What do you say to them?” I don’t think my immediate response was adequate. Even now, as I have had more time to think about it, I am not completely satisfied with my thoughts. … in other words, this is a toughie!
I always associate punishment with payment. When someone says, “You’ll pay for this!” they are talking punishment. Punishment deals with the penalty that must be paid for the action.
Does God demand punishment for sin? Absolutely. His justice demands it (and who wants an unjust God?) “The wages of sin is (and always will be) death.” (Romans 6.23) We sense our guilt. We see our circumstances. And, with Paul we say, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24) This is a toughie – for us. We get so stuck on the problem that we fail to see the promise … and God would always have us see every problem through the lens of his promises.
The full verse of Romans 6.23 is “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Do you hear the promise?) And Romans 7.24 answers the question asked in 7.23: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Here is the promise that is to filter all of our feelings of guilt: “He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; the punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds.” (Isaiah 53.5) Are we being punished by God for our sins? No! The punishment was given to Christ.
However, our lives still tend to be complicated with “consequences” and “circumstances.” “Consequences” are the situations we find ourselves in because of our actions and decisions. “Circumstances” are where we find ourselves because of the actions and decisions of others. These have nothing to do with punishment, except that they are similarly “toughies”!
Or, at least, they are when we forget to filter them through the promises of God! What does God promise us in all consequences and circumstances? “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.37-39)
In other words, Christ Jesus is the ‘toughie’ who promises to carry us through all of the consequences and circumstances of our lives! (And if this is still a toughie for you, read all of Romans 8 … and keep reading it every day)