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.