When I was a child and I disobeyed my parents I was punished. The worse the disobedience, the worse the punishment. The more I tried to “hide,” my misbehavior the worse the punishment. As an adult I know the laws of the land. I know if I steel something and get caught I will be arrested and punished. There are consequences for all our mess ups. If I make a mistake as a doctor I fear I will be sued so I try to be the best doctor I can. Due to this upbringing I have a tendency to see God my father in the same way. Many Christians, myself included fear punishment or fear the consequences of our mistakes so we try to be “perfect,” and when we are not “perfect” we hide it. It’s human nature but this is not how God wants our relationship to be with him.
Similarly when something “bad” happens to us we have a tendency to think, God are you punishing me? This is not necessarily the case. When bad things happen we often falsely believe the lie, “God must be punishing me.” On the other hand, when we do mess up, when we do disobey God, when we intentionally hurt others, there are consequences for our actions but that is not the same as punishment.
This has been a changeling concept for both myself and my husband. When the terms sin, justice, grace, punishment and consequences collide it is a mesh pot of complexity things are not so easily defined. In an attempt to define this topic I am describing something in simple terms that is incredibly complex. May God take my inadequacy of words and touch your heart and mind in a way that is truthful and understandable.
If you are a child of God, meaning you have accepted Christ as your savor, have answer Gods call to follow him, then it means that you have accepted a gift. This gift is grace. If you have accepted his grace and as seeking to follow God you are his child. God will convict you of wrong actions, he may reprimand you, discipline you but he does it with grace, love, freedom and redemption. You may suffer in some way for your wrong doings but there is peace, love, acceptance and a second chance waiting for you. The consequences of our sins are sometime obvious and sometimes hard to tell. It maybe that our sin causes someone else undo suffering. God has a way of rectifying our mistakes so we should find freedom in God’s sovereignty. Meaning we should not be plagued by guilt and shame by our mistakes, rather we move forward in freedom as we seek what God has planned for us.
So what is punishment? Punishment is what we deserve for our “sinful” actions. Punishment is what we would and will have if we refuse to accept Gods grace through Christ. But if we accept Christ he has already accepted our punishment.
So if I am a Christian, if I have accepted Christ, what is my motivation for doing the right thing? For me my motivation is love. God has given me this gift of grace so I want to please him. I want to be near to him and I know “sins” will just get in the way of experiencing God in my life. I do not want to cause suffering in others or myself so I seek God and ask God to help me be holy as he is holy. Will I fail? Absolutely, but God has never asked for me to be perfect, he just asks me to try. When I fail I rest in his love and grace when I succeed I embrace the joy and delight of freedom on this earth.
God is love and he is grace. He does not want us to follow him out of fear of punishment. That’s what dictators are like. God is no dictator. He gives us free will and a choice. We are most free when we under his wing.