I am having a blessed time moving through the heartland this week. I was in Kansas City over the weekend with a broad smattering of different believers talking about this journey. I met some incredible people and hope I was helpful in encouraging others on this journey of living more deeply in the life of God every day. He has provided us an incredible life in him and we often trade that way for simply keeping religious rituals and trying meet the expectations of others who think that being a good Christian means that we keep certain rules instead of knowing God intimately.
Catching up on some email today, I got a great question from someone in Japan that I get asked a lot:
I don’t *think* God wants us to live under the favor line, but where does “obedience” fall into a favor-line-free relationship? In the Bible, God is shown as one who punishes disobedience among His people, Ananias and Sapphira is a New Testament image, and in Deuteronomy He certainly seems to warn His people that He’ll destroy them if they don’t obey Him in certain areas like shunning idolatry. Although He loves us, He still *seems* to be a Father who punishes disobedience. Can you shed some light here? I’d appreciate it.
I think my response to him might also be helpful for many others who struggle with this same issue. Here’s what I wrote: As to your question, I donâ€™t know that I can do it justice in an email. Unfortunately this is a poor medium for sorting out such theological intricacies. Suffice it to say that Romans 8:15 makes clear that the God who in the Old Testament demanded our obedience under threat of punishment, has now in Christ sought to win our obedience through engaging us by his love and affection. God has not changed, but his ability to deal with our sin at the cross changes the way he relates to us. Now he is not our terrifying judge, but our loving Abba… And when I learn to live in that love I will find myself following him freelyâ€”the righteousness that trust producesâ€”far more than fear would ever take me.
Read Hebrews 3 and 4 carefully and you will see that the problem in the Old Testament was never disobedience, it was the unbelief that caused the disobedience. Disobedience was only the symptom; unbelief was the disease. As Father wins us to himself through is love, our trust in him as our Father will grow. As our trust in Father grows, our sin gets displaced and we find ourselves truly living in the righteousness that comes from faith. People who live this way risk far greater obediences than those who are just afraid of being punished.
Does God punish us today? Not in the way most people think of it. Hebrews says he disciplines us, which means to train us to follow his ways. This training can be hard at times and even painful, but its purpose is not to punish us for doing wrong, but to help us learn how to live in the world as Jesus did, free from the tyranny self so that we could do what Father wants instead of being seduced by our own indulgences.
I guess the best way to say it is that the New Testament doesnâ€™t change the goal of bringing us into Godâ€™s holiness, but it certainly changes the process. He always knew that his love being made real in us through the work of the cross, would change us far more deeply and far more completely than the law and its punishments ever could.
I know that may sound impossible for someone who has never tasted of this incredible process. The rules look far safer, but they are not. God has superseded them with a much better way to actually lead us into his life and our transformation from the bondage of sin…