No Condemnation — A Gospel Centered Existence

12 Oct

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. – Hebrews 12:5-11

I have long struggled with the apparent conflict between Hebrews 12 and the over-arching Gospel theme of the Scriptures. I, probably like you, have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that if Christ died, once for all for my sins, drank the full cup of God’s wrath, proclaimed, “Τετέλεσται – It is finished!”, and became the propitiation for all sin (past, present, future), that I still somehow bare some responsibility, can expect some punishment, some penalty for my sin. How can “chastisement” and “scourging” coexist in a Gospel that teaches Christ’s atonement for us as complete, His Grace as sufficient, and his mercy as everlasting?

“At the cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, “It is finished.” This is the gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever.”

– David Platt in Radical

Does it not fly in the face of Grace to teach that Christ’s payment for my transgressions was incomplete; that I must pay as well?

The apparent problem in this text is not in the text at all. It is in our interpretation of the text. We must in this case (and every case like this) remember a very general hermeneutic rule – If we find something in the Bible that seems to be in conflict with other known truth in the Bible, it isn’t; only our interpretation of it is. We now have a decision to make – whether we will put in the time to understand what the Scripture is trying to teach or just by faith accept that God is God and we will never understand Him completely. I believe that God gave us His Word so that we could know Him, and this passage gives us a wonderful picture into the character of God. Let’s examine the text and see how the “scourging” and “chastisement” of Hebrews 12 perfectly coincide with the “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” of Romans 8!

Let us first look again at the Hebrews 12 passage. παιδεύει, the word translated “chastise” is found in one form or another 13 times in the Bible, most notably in Titus 2 and 2 Timothy 2. It is the word from which we derive pedagogy (instructing or teaching.)

In Titus 2:11-12, Paul is speaking of the Grace of God:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

The first word in verse 12 is  παιδεύουσα – in this instance translated “teaching.”

Next is 2 Timothy 2:24-25a:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;

The word in verse 25 is παιδεύοντα – in this case translated “instructing.”

So we see that the word, here translated “chastise”, comes from the idea of teaching, instructing, or guiding. I truly wish it was as simple as saying that it should have/could have been translated teaching or instructing and just move on, but alas, it is not. The word “scourging” is μαστιγοῖ. This literally translates to “flogging.” There is no way around this supposed conflict of which I first spoke. How can we justify both a full pardon for sin that Christ purchased on the cross of Calvary and this apparent compensatory flogging?

The answer is found when we understand that we must look at this scripture through the lens of the Gospel, understanding the goodness of God and His promise of pardon that cannot be broken. Hebrews is telling us in essence that who the Lord loves He teaches or instructs, sometimes by the method of pain, much like a father who delights in his son. This is not an act of retribution for our wrong-doing, but a benevolent work of Grace!

As a father myself, there are times when I use discipline to correct, instruct, and guide my children. As an adult, my amount of wisdom is considerably more than theirs. This is how I know that playing in the street is dangerous, and can result in injury or even death. When they run into the street, they are disciplined/instructed/taught by me, sometimes by the method of scourging. This scourging is not a retribution or penalty for an action, but is an act of love on their behalf to protect them from harm. While to them it may seem like cause and effect, in other words, “I go in the street, I pay a penalty”, it really is not. The point of the scourging is not the lashes, but the lesson. It is easy for us, when we become self-centered instead of God-centered, to see our chastisement that way as well. But God’s treatment of His children is as a Father delighting in them. In His sovereign Grace to us, he sometimes teaches by method of flogging not for the sake of penalty, but for our prosperity.

God, in His infinite wisdom and loving-kindness, sometimes instructs us by mode of personal pain for our good. It is when we embrace a Gospel-centered approach to interpretation of the Scripture that a formerly ominous passage turns into a liberating love letter from God. He is not a bully around the corner waiting for us to mess up, so that He can punish us. Christ has already been punished for our sins, and as believers in Christ there is now for us “no condemnation!” Glory!

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7 Responses to “No Condemnation — A Gospel Centered Existence”

  1. Pastor Mike October 12, 2012 at 11:55 AM #

    I taught this in Sunday School a few weeks ago. The question I asked was, “Where does it say God punishes us for our sin?” Many people pointed to Hebrews 12. You should have seen the look on some faces when we discovered that the passage does not teach that. It specifically says we are chastened for two reasons: “that we might be partakers of his holiness” and “[yield] the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. I used the illustration of a coach or bodybuilder. Their drills and exercises bring pain upon their team or upon themselves – not for any wrong they’ve done – but to make them better people and to produce in them victory and success. Sometimes God allows pain for our gain – it is God pulling us toward the place He wants us to go, not punishing us for the places we’ve been. There are several people throughout scripture that were “flogged” for those very reasons (Joseph, Job, Paul, etc.). Our little Baptist church has been on the “Grace journey” these last few months. One of the challenges has been a misconception of condemnation. So many feel like they still need to be flogged for their sin and pay for what they’ve done – not fully understanding what Christ has done. Oh, the peace, joy, and freedom found in grace in being released from condemnation!

    • Josh Savage October 12, 2012 at 12:34 PM #

      Thanks for the comment. I am glad it was a blessing to you.

  2. Joel McCarty October 12, 2012 at 1:23 PM #

    And His chastisement provides an amazing security in knowing we are His!

    • Joel McCarty October 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

      And I enjoyed the article as well.

      • Josh Savage October 12, 2012 at 1:26 PM #

        Thanks for the comment! We really do serve a wonderful Savior!

  3. Aaron October 12, 2012 at 8:09 PM #

    Great post! The kindness of God brings repentance (Romans 2:4) Very helpful post! Thanks for sharing

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