The Consequences of Being a Jerk
JANUARY 30, 2018
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 is one of our favorite verses isn’t it? Especially when we apply it to ourselves. I have clung to that verse many times while hiding in bed trying to recover from condemnation from people, and what has often felt like the punishment of God for sin, or not living the Christian life well enough.
An outsider eavesdropping on Christian conversation might wonder if Christianity could even exist without condemnation. We’ve renamed condemnation and made it “Biblical.” Now we call it accountability. It is every Christian’s perceived job to keep every other Christian from sinning. And while we are very good at spotting other people’s sin, we are not so good at seeing our own (Matthew 7:3-5).
Accountability has its place, but much of the condemnation (aka accountability) I have received from people has not even been for sin. Most of it has been a demand for me to serve more, give more, counsel more, forgive more, love more—the insistence that I become a tangible Jesus—which I couldn’t do even if I wanted to. Christians have been so moralized with dumb rules and hierarchies that it is difficult to properly discern our true Savior, from little saviors (I know, shameless plug), and what sin actually is versus how our particular denomination has defined it.
One of the greatest arguments between the “grace guys” and the “personal holiness guys” (I say guys because both groups often eliminate women from the conversation—but that is an entirely different blog) is…what about sin? The personal holiness guys say: We can’t just let everyone sin all over the place and drag Jesus’ name through the mud. We have to teach them what holiness looks like.
The grace guys say: It is finished! You are free from the Law. You don’t have to do anything. Both the personal holiness guys and the grace guys, sin. They even commit the big, bad sins. This causes the rest of us to ask: what about sin? How can that guy’s theology be true if he still sins in really big ways?
This debate has been going on since Paul asked the question in Romans 6:1. “Shall we sin so grace may abound? May it never be!” The reason Paul said: “May it never be” is because those who have placed their faith in Jesus’s righteousness, rather than their own, have a new heart with new desires (Ezekiel 36:25-27). When they sin grace does abound, but they don’t want to sin anymore (Romans 7:21-25). Their desires change from the inside out, not the outside in, and it is God who is changing them.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6.
If you are His child, then God is actively at work in your life—sanctifying you, disciplining you (Hebrews 12:4-11) even compelling you toward love and good deeds (2 Corinthians 5:13-15).
However, when Christians go to great lengths to describe, “what a transformed life looks like,” they codify love—which then is not love but duty. They insinuate salvation by works as law-keeping replaces the gospel. Christian life turns into merely the external appearance of righteousness. This happens as Christians nit-pick each other with sin-hunts, parsing out motives, tips for making oneself holy, bogus confrontations, and fake relationships. Christianity turns into a marketing program, a self-help track toward an improved life. The end result of teaching personal holiness is a legion of self-righteous robots who manage their image to impress people, and hide their sin—the exact opposite of the gospel (John 3:19-21).
So what does no condemnation for those who are in Christ actually mean? Scripture is clear that for the believer, eternity is secure. There will be no condemnation from God for sin, past, present, or future. It really is finished. Christ paid it all. Every believer will stand before God, covered in Christ’s perfect righteousness as if the law had been kept perfectly from the moment they were born. This righteousness can only come from faith—not law-keeping.
The misunderstanding comes into play when we confuse condemnation with consequences. This is observable common sense that “the grace guys” may blind themselves to in order to justify their sin—or the sins of others. While Christians are immune from earning their way to acceptance from God, they are not immune from circumstances that naturally come with sin and living in a fallen world. Grace doesn’t save you from the earthly consequences of being a jerk.
We are not to administer law-keeping rules to each other, but with or without our “help,” the Law still does its work. Saying you don’t believe that God’s Law applies to believers is like saying you don’t believe the law of gravity applies to believers. You can say you don’t believe in it all day long, but if you jump off a cliff, it is not going to go well for you. Let me explain.
If you are an abusive, controlling person, for example, people will not want to be around you. If you use guilt and shame to obligate people into relationship out of fear, they may try for a while, but eventually they will slip away from you, or explode with frustration, never to return again. The consequences for these actions are loss of relationship and loneliness. If you are truly God’s child, you will not eternally pay for your sin of abuse, but you will mostly likely be alone here on earth.
If you are unfaithful or abusive to your spouse, the consequence may be that you lose him or her. Marriage is an institution that won’t follow us into eternity—but it is certainly possible to kill it here—even for true believers.
If you require your spouse to cover and forgive your abuse over and over again, you have made them your own personal Jesus, which they cannot do. They may die trying but the law will crush them instead of you–which enables you to keep being abusive. They will feel the consequences instead of you, which will keep you from turning to the real Jesus to absolve your sin.
If you rob or assault or rape someone, the consequences are jail time, whether you are a Christian or not. If you use drugs or drink too much, you might get addicted, whether you are a Christian or not. If you are lazy at work, you might get fired, whether you are a Christian or not. If you bully people, people will hate you, whether you are a Christian or not.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:19-20
Sin and consequences do not necessarily occur on a one-to-one basis—one consequence for one sin. But suppose a Christian has a pride problem (cough, cough). The Lord, in the process of sanctifying His children, will sometimes use painful circumstances to root that sin out. This is His loving discipline in the life of His children. Jesus took your condemnation and the eternal punishment for your sin. But He doesn’t leave you there. God disciplines those he loves—not to punish, but to train.
Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11
It is freeing to leave other people in God’s hands to fix—especially since you can’t even fix yourself. You are not obligated to give your time and energy to abusive and mean people. Since we know that God is sanctifying and disciplining every believer, we can liberate ourselves from a fix-it role in every situation, except when someone sins against us. This is where Biblical accountability comes in (Galatians 6:1-2). Accountability isn’t to keep people from sinning. It is for people who have already sinned—personally, against a brother or sister in Christ.
Jesus told us exactly what to do when someone sins against us. Matthew 18 was not given so we could kick messy people out of the church. It was meant to protect the body of Christ from divisive and predatory people. It becomes a public matter so no one else will become a victim, and so that all who love that person will join in asking them to own their sin and be restored. If they still will not repent, but continue to sin against their brothers and sisters, then the relationship cannot be restored. Long suffering is involved, but there is an end to it (Matthew 18:15-17).
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