Imagine a World Without Punishment

Suppose that someway, somehow, you were given a free pass that would prevent you from being arrested, tried, or punished for ANY crime. You could rob banks, steal cars, shoplift, cheat on your taxes, forge checks, commit assault and battery (or worse); you could commit any crime you wanted and the law could not touch you. You have a permanent get-out-jail-free card. So here’s my question: Would you do it? Would you go on a crime spree? I certainly hope most of you answered NO. I hope all of you said NO. The answer should be NO. To live like that is complete lawlessness. Here’s another question: Why is it then that so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ feel like they’re free to live however they please? As preposterous as sounds, there are fellow Christians who claim that their faith in Christ gives them a license to sin without fear of punishment, because, as they argue, “Jesus has forgiven my sins, so I can do anything I want. It’s God’s job to forgive me.”

WRONG!

WRONG!

WRONG!

Jesus did much more than forgive our sins. Forgiveness means that the sin debt we owe God has been satisfied; not erased, but satisfied. If you think about it, there really is no way to erase a debt. Suppose you owe money to someone and one day that person calls you to tell you that your debt has been…’erased’. In reality, it hasn’t been erased. To say the debt was erasedwould imply that there was never a financial transaction to begin with, that no loan was made, that no money ever actually changed hands. So forgiveness of a debt doesn’t mean it’s been erased as if the debt never was. That’s not what it means. It actually means that the person to whom the money was owed decided to bear the cost of your debt. Whether it’s written off the books or whether the person you owed the money to paid off your debt out of his own pocket, there is still a dollar amount that has to be accounted for.

Our sin debt is no different. It had to be paid. It has to be accounted for one way or another. And it was accounted for. Jesus paid the debt for us with His body and blood. He bore the cost of our sin by giving His very life! In that imaginary scenario in the opening paragraph, you could get away with anything without being punished. At the end of the paragraph, I alluded to certain Christians who mistakenly believe that freedom in Christ somehow translates to freedom to live and do as they please, as if they had a license to sin. They argue that because Jesus has taken care of their sin, they’re free to live it up without fear of punishment. They missed one very important truth. There was punishment. It took place on the cross! They might be living it up, but they’re doing so at Jesus’ expense.

Say you did owe money to someone who called you out of the blue and said that your debt had been forgiven. Would you go to his office and thank him by spitting in his face? Of course not! But when a believer uses his or her freedom as a license to sin, that’s exactly what they’re doing to Christ. They’re taking God’s grace and mercy for granted and in the process, they cheapen the suffering and sacrifice endured by our Savior. I know it sounds crude and harsh to talk about spitting in someone’s face. But that’s what it amounts to when a misguided Christian uses his or her faith as an excuse to commit sin, and then tries to justify it by saying, “I can do what I want. Jesus has it covered.”     

This is not a new problem. In his first letter to the church, Peter wrote, Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2)

Paul also had to address this issue. To the churches in the province of Galatia, Paul wrote:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.(Galatians 5)

Apparently, some in the Corinthian church were making these very same arguments, that their faith in Christ gave them right to do as they pleased. Paul said to them very simply in his first letter:

 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10)

The people of the church at Thessalonica were a very inquisitive group. It’s possible that someone wrote Paul and asked if what they’d heard was true, that Christians can live in sin with no fear of consequences because Jesus has took care of all our sin. That might have been what prompted this response:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4)

We’re to be sanctified, set apart. That means we’re not to live as the world lives. So no, this is not a new problem. But it persists in the church to this very day. And while God’s grace is abundant beyond anything we can imagine, grace was never meant to be our get-out-of-hell free card. As Paul explained in  Romans 6:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

We’re not free TO sin. We have been set free FROM sin. We will all stumble at times, to be sure. The flesh and the spirit are constantly at odds. But there’s no such thing as a license to sin. We’re not free to sin and live however we choose. Nor is it’s not God’s ‘job’ to forgive our sins. We’re forgiven only because it’s God ‘desire’ to forgive all who call on the name of Jesus and truly believe that He is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. And for that reason alone, it should be our desire to honor God with our own lives by turning from sin and lawlessness. When that becomes our desire, only then will we understand what it means to be truly free in Christ!

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