My three-year old son is a regular Michelangelo.
The other day he drew a purple-crayon masterpiece on the walls of his bedroom. Needless to say, I was furious. I told him he was a vandal and a crook and I belted him within an inch of his life. Then I said if he did it again I’d kick him out of the family.
Of course I did no such thing!
And yet this sort of ridiculous over-the-top reaction is exactly how some Christians imagine their loving Father responds when they sin. They say things like, “God convicted me, then he chastised me with scourging (see Hebrews). He’s so loving to do that. I know he’s just making sure I don’t get removed from the Lamb’s book of life.”
This kind of talk makes me nauseous. But I understand where it comes from. I understand that many folk imagine God to be more like Elijah than Jesus.
What you look through determines what you see. Read the Bible through the fractured lens of the human wisdom and you will think the secret to life is doing right and avoiding wrong. You’ll go to God with an attitude of, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” But you are eating from the wrong tree. You are trusting in your own understanding when God would rather you trust in him.
Eat from the life-giving tree
Life is not about doing right and avoiding wrong. Nor is it about sinning versus non-sinning. That’s carnal Christianity and it’s a language your Father doesn’t speak. The issue isn’t good vs evil but life vs death. And this issue is most clearly seen when we’re dealing with sin.
How does God respond when you sin?
In my last post I said the Holy Spirit never convicts us of our sins. Instead, the Holy Spirit brings about a life-saving correction.
“But Paul, isn’t that just two ways of saying the same thing? What’s the difference?”
The difference is this. If you think the Holy Spirit convicts you because of your sin or corrects you because of your sin, you’ve missed everything. You’re looking backwards instead of forwards and down instead of up.
The Holy Spirit isn’t your personal sin manager but your Helper, your Comforter, your Counselor. And in that role he will guide you (Joh 16:13), correct you (2 Tim 3:16), and, if necessary, rebuke or admonish you (Heb 12:5). He does none of this in reaction to your sin, per se. He does it because he loves you, he cares for you, and he doesn’t want you to wreck your life on some harebrained death-dealing decision.
A simple test
Here’s a simple test to see how well you understand this: What comes to mind when you hear the word correction?
Do you think of a mistake that needs to be punished? Do you think of the “rod of correction” and naughty boys in need of a good whipping? If you do, God bless you but your thinking is influenced by the old covenant (Pro 22:15).
In the Old Testament the word for “correct” can mean “to chastise with blows.” It means to apply the proverbial rod to the seat of learning. In grown-up terms it means plagues and punishment sent in response to sin. At least that’s how David understood it:
Remove your plague from me; I am consumed by the blow of your hand. When with rebukes you correct man for iniquity, you make his beauty melt away like a moth. Surely every man is vapor. (Ps 39:10-11, NKJV)
Under the old covenant the chastisement of the Lord was sometimes fatal. If you got it wrong, you were toast. Thank God for the cross! Thank God that “the chastisement for our peace was upon him” (Is 53:5). Jesus died for our sins so that we don’t have to. This means we need a completely new definition of correction.
When I hear the word correction I think of a sailboat heading in a dangerous direction. A course correction needs to be made. The sailboat isn’t necessarily sinning or wrong. In fact, it may be completely innocent but misguided. The sailboat’s sin is not the point. You can curse the map and apply the rod of correction to the sat-nav but what will that accomplish? Far better to just get back on course.
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16)
In the new covenant the word for correction means “a straightening up again.” Isn’t that wonderful? It’s not “straightening up for the first time” but “straightening up again.” This implies all is not lost. You are not toast.
You may be heading towards the shoals or you may have already hit the shoals and sunk your boat, but a Holy Spirit who raises the dead can still lead you back to the way of life. Your life is not over.
Case study #1: The Galatians
Need an example from the Bible? Then think of Paul correcting the Galatians:
You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth. (Gal 5:7, CEV)
The Galatians had started well but veered off course. They needed to be straightened up again and the Holy Spirit worked through Paul to bring about that course correction.
In the Bible correction (gentle warnings) and rebuking (big warnings) often go together, as we see from 2 Timothy 3:16 above. This is how a loving Father trains his sons – not through sickness or other so-called character-building tribulations and certainly not through blows! The word “discipline” means training and God does that primarily by giving us a revelation of his righteousness through the word.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season. Reprove (admonish), rebuke (announce those life-saving course corrections), exhort (invite, implore, beseech)… (2 Tim 4:2, NKJV)
Read the Bible through the lens of the cross and you will find that your loving Father is not really interested in fault-finding and sin-hunting. However, he loves you too much to stay silent as you sail towards the hidden shoals of life. If you are making poor choices, your Father will most definitely seek to bring a course correction and lead you in the life-giving way of righteousness.
Case study #2: Marriage
If I say or do something to hurt Camilla, here’s what the Holy Spirit doesn’t do:
– he doesn’t chastise me with the blows of sickness to teach me a lesson
– he doesn’t accuse me of wrong-doing (there is another who does that)
– he doesn’t dump a bucket of guilt all over me (I’m capable of making my own guilt)
– he doesn’t condemn me as a sinner and a wicked man (I am my Father’s beloved son!)
Instead, the Holy Spirit gently lets me know that I am sowing death into my marriage. Like a lighthouse-keeper he illuminates the dangerous shoals in front of me. When realization dawns it is natural for me to feel like a complete jerk. “I am a terrible husband and chief of sinners.” When that happens the Holy Spirit is right there to convince me that despite my poor behavior, I am still the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (John 16:10).
Our problem is we often confuse behavior with identity. When we screw-up we tend to think “I’m a screw-up.” When we sin, we tend to think “I’m a sinner.”
“Not true!” declares the Holy Spirit. “Just as your righteous acts never made you righteous in the first place, your unrighteous acts don’t make you unrighteous. Even though you did something dumb and sowed death-seeds into your life, you are still righteous. Now let’s go and reveal the life of Jesus into that situation.”
When you act out of the false identity of who you used to be (independent and faithless), the Holy Spirit will always seek to remind you of your true identity in Christ. “You are holy and righteous, so act like it.”
Love greater than our messes
Look at how Jesus related to the disciples and you will find him doing all the things the Holy Spirit continues to do: guiding, correcting, and rebuking. Not once do you find Jesus saying, “Peter, you’re an idjit. Have some cancer. It’ll help you wise up.” And just look at how Jesus related to Judas. Did he call him sinner and traitor? No – he called him friend (Mt 26:50)!
I am so thankful for the gentle correction and occasional admonishment of the Holy Spirit. When I have gone astray he has consistently brought me back to the way of life. In my next post, I will give you some everyday examples of how he has does this. (After that I plan to return to my series on eternal security.)
But hand on heart I can tell you now that without the Holy Spirit’s help, I would’ve married the wrong woman, chosen the wrong career, and I’d still be preaching the wrong message. Walking by sight I would’ve sown death left and right. By the grace of God I am who I am because my Father love me, he is good, and he cares about the details of our lives.
And the good news is that if you do make a purple-crayon mess of your life, he still loves you, he still cares for you, and he will never kick you out of his family!
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