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The End of Punishment and Fear

My sons will never fear that I will not accept them. They will never fear that I will reject them, or not like them, or not want them. They might get disciplined, but they will never get punished. I’m not going to punish my sons. I’m not going to make them feel like they’re not worthy, or not good enough to be in my family.

I will tell them that because they are in my family, we’re going to do things a certain way. Not by living according to a list of rules, but by our demeanor. It’s how you carry yourself. It’s respecting. It’s loving your neighbor as yourself. But if they don’t do it, they won’t get kicked out of the family. Never! That’s punishment. That’s not how I work.

That’s not how God works!

I think there are a lot of Christians struggling with the fear of God. I want to offer some thoughts on an alternative to fear, that is, grace. I’m going to spend the next few weeks developing this, but if you want to know my main point, it’s this: grace ends fear. So don’t be afraid.

Fear of God comes from the fact that we still believe in a God that punishes.

If you fear God, it’s because of Old Testament theology. I’m not talking about reverential fear. I’m talking about fear that comes through punishment. You may not even be conscious of it, but it’s there. It teaches us that God will punish us. If you turn around and look at the city, you’re going to get turned into a pillar of salt. If you upset God by worshiping an idol, he’s going to cause the ground to split open and swallow you up. If you don’t do something right, God is going to smite you. There’s a lot of fear created by this angry God. Right?

I may catch some flack from the church for saying this, but in my opinion, the Old Testament is just that: old. Now there is good stuff in there, like Daniel and the account of the end times. There is some good historical material. The books of the prophets are pretty good. King David’s words and deeds are prophetic, and the lineages and David himself point to Jesus. There are some cool stories, like the one about David and Goliath. But those stories are so ancient that most people in the modern church probably don’t understand them.

Life as it was then is not how life is now. The main reason for the Old Testament now is for it to do exactly what it does: point to Jesus.  What does the New Testament say about punishment and fear? In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Everything I do is a reflection of my Father. So every time I walk around and see someone hurting, I heal their hearts. Or I heal their disease. That’s what the Father wants.”

Does that sound like an angry and fearsome God?

Look in Corinthians. Or look in Galatians. Read the letters of Paul. He says, “Fear comes from punishment, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The fear is you’re going to get punished. But I don’t believe that’s how God looks at you. God doesn’t want you to be scared of Him. Perfect love casts out fear! Once you accept Christ as your Savior, your identity completely changes. And then there’s no such thing as punishment.

Punishment is going to come for those that aren’t a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, because punishment is hell. Once you’re in the Kingdom of Heaven, you’re in the family of God. In God’s family, there is no such thing as punishment. There’s discipline, yes. Because that’s discipling.

God only did what he did in the Old Testament because the people asked Him for rules. God didn’t want rules, we did! And then when you break the rules there’s punishment, right?

But I don’t believe that’s how God intended it to be. That’s why He sent His son to finish with the law and make a new covenant with us.

Punishment has nothing to do with post-resurrection grace. Not a thing!

More on this next time. See you Monday.

5 thoughts on “The End of Punishment and Fear

  1. Yet again another great post! I totally agree with you! God doesn’t want us to be scared of him but to come to him at anytime and not just when things go right but when things are hard and when you need guidance and he wants us to pray to him everyo day… God shows us that life’s not going to be easy but to have faith and rely on him no matter what… God wants us to love others and give back to others when you can and to preach the good news of him and his son…. God wants us to read the bible and ask for his guidance and wisdom! God is love…. 😊

  2. I LOVE the message of grace here, but please try to keep in mind that this way of thinking about the Old Testament is pretty offensive to Jewish people (who, you know, only have the Old Testament). You might enjoy the book Christ Actually that recently came out about embracing Christianity and grace without relying on anti-Jewish stereotypes about the Bible.

  3. Jeremy, When you get the chance please pick up the book “One Way Love” by Tullian Tchividjian. He’s Billy Graham’s grandson and he gets the Gospel of Grace. Well worth the time.

  4. Hi Jeremy, I’m a religious Jew who came to your blog via a link to your post on Christianity and Homophobia and stayed to read your other posts. If the Old Testament is a sign of fear for you, it’s because you are interpreting it according to a distorted Christian hermeneutic that is alien to Jewish thought.

    In traditional Judaism, G-d is not a smiting King, but a good King (ha-melech ha-tov) who out of love and mercy is making Israel into a holy priesthood through the Covenant that enabled the bestowal of the Torah. For its part, Israel agrees that it “will do and it will listen,” and so sanctify itself. G-d does not smite, G-d simply recognizes that actions have consequences. For example, Jews traditionally believe G-d destroyed the Temple because of baseless hatred between Jews. G-d did not believe Jews could bring sacrifice if Jews could not practice ahavat Yisroel (love of Israel). As you do with your children, G-d disciplines with sorrow. The Talmud teaches that G-d joined Israel in slavery in Egypt and depart from Egypt with them. G-d participates in the suffering of G-d’s people. (And does it without needing to unite His nature in some complicated way with human flesh and nature.) Jews call the Torah the “Tree of Life,” because we know that it makes one holy through the love of the G-d of mercy and justice.

    In Judaism, the biblical stories often include Talmudic interpretations that emphasize G-d’s love for humanity and longing for repentance. For example, the Sages understood the “mark of Cain” to have been something that protected Cain so that he could learn from his sin, not as something that was meant to be isolate him in torment The Rav, for example, even offers the idea that the Mark of Cain was a dog to keep him company in his loneliness. I’ve always thought that was a lovely and powerful image.

    I would invite you to think more carefully about Christian supersessionism and the history of Christian distortion of the Hebrew Scriptures before you base your theology of G-d’s love on the denigration of the Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old Testament”). You’re a child of Abraham by adoption and I am one by birth, but G-d has given each of us a Covenant that allows us to know Him fully along parallel but different paths.

    Shalom,
    Shlomo

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