Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Punishment and Guilt

 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:16-18
            The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world to take away our sins.  With it He took upon Himself the punishment due sin, that is eternal death.  John the Baptist testified about the Son of God before His death.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
In 1 Peter 2:24, Peter confirmed John the Baptist’s testimony after His death and resurrection.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Paul taught us solid theology in Romans 3:23-24:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Therefore Paul confirmed in Romans 8:1 a message of relief for all who believe in Jesus:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The punishment for our sin is taken away from us by God.  It is no longer forced on us.  Because it was poured out on the Son of God 2000 years ago at the cross.  Christ Jesus was our substitute.  By being our substitute, He atoned us all.  He bore all our sins, and so He alone bore the wrath of God for us.  With Christ’s sacrifice, we no longer are considered condemned.  Death no longer becomes our inheritance.  Christ has attained for us eternal life.  When we believe in Jesus Christ immediately the merit of the Son of God is imputed into us.  So we are forever cleansed from our sin and thus justified.  In the cosmic court we are forever atoned from our condemnation.  God no longer sees us as criminals deserving death.  But God through Christ sees us as His saints, on whom He bestows eternal life upon.  This is God’s justice.  It is done in truth.  There is no deception.  There is no magic.
            Now, it is important to understand the working of human heart when sin is committed.  When one commits sin the first time and he is conscious of it, he is in a state of great disturbance.  There is something that God plants in every human heart in order to detect any misconduct.  It is called conscience.  The disturbance mostly is caused by our conscience.  When a sin is committed, the conscience alarm system is triggered.  It rings so loud to purposefully disturb our center by accusing us of the cosmic crime that we have committed.  This disturbing accusation produces guilty feeling in our heart.  The disturbing accusation and the guilty feeling work so powerfully together in order to weigh down our center like a massive earthquake.  This alarm system is blaring so hard that we can’t escape it.  There is no built-in turn-off button in the alarm system of our conscience.  This alarm will blare for a long time.  Until some kind of response is taken place.  The proper response is admittance of the sin and repentance.  This twofold response will greatly reduce the blaring alarm.  What remains after is the low-dose guilty feeling.  It’s the after-effect of the massive earthquake.  If we experience an earthquake, we will be left with crumbling buildings, debris, destruction, and so on.  In the same way, after a massive earthquake in our conscience, we are left with destruction.  The earthquake is no more, but the after-effect of the earthquake can still be seen and felt.  In this case, the low dose guilty feeling is the after-effect of us committing sin that triggers the conscience alarm system.  This low dose guilty feeling lingers on together with the trauma of the massive earthquake to remind us of the ordeal.  These two represents the scar in our conscience.  The memory of ordeal might erupt later on if triggered by similar situation: the sin, or the guilt, or the people involved, or the items, etc.  The purpose is to discourage us from ever committing the same sin again, and or from committing sin in general.
            The admittance of sin and repentance work together as the antidote of the conscience alarm system.  The combination of the two is the proper healing process for the wound in our conscience.  It is important to note here that this healing will not erase the guilty feeling.  It removes the punishment.  When someone repents, he must believe that what he does is sinful.  He must believe that God dislikes sin.  He must believe that God welcomes those who repent – that is to return back to Him asking for forgiveness and striving for a life that is desired by God.  Now, forgiveness can’t be given without a sacrifice is made.  But no sinful human may become the sacrifice.  Nothing in the world may be given as sacrifice.  God’s justice demands that if man sins then man must be the one to pay.  If a sacrifice is needed to atone, then the sacrifice must also be man.  But the atonement can’t be someone who is also in need of atonement.  God’s justice also demands for the sacrifice to be of the same value.  One person for one person.  The implication is then when a man is in need to be forgiven, he can only be atoned by a sinless man.  He cannot be atoned by a cow, or a dove, or a goat, or an angel, or even a God.  But the whole world has fallen.  No human living on earth is sinless, not even one.  Thus we run into problem.  If God wants to save 1 billion people, then 1 billion sinless man need to be sacrificed.  The sacrifice will be lost forever in the eternal death because they replace the sinful man.  The problem is if we can’t find even one sinless man, how in the world will we find one billion?  Besides, if we can find even one, will that one person be willing to go to eternal death for the sake of the one sinful man?  This problem can’t be solved in this world.  Only God can solve this problem through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is God Himself.  His divine quality can atone for infinite number of people.  But God alone cannot atone for man.  Because God’s value is different than man.  Man must be atoned by man.  But Jesus is not only God.  He is also a man.  Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.  And Jesus is sinless, from conception to the day He died, He never commits any sin.  Since He is man, He thus can atone for man.  He may be one man, but His divine quality covers not only one man.  Besides, Jesus is willing to die on our place.  Because He loves us with eternal love.  In the whole wide world, from the beginning to end, there is not going to be anyone like Him.  He is unique.  He is special.  This makes Him the only one that can atone people.  Peter testified boldly before the Sanhedrin:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.  (Acts 4:8-12)
Only through Jesus Christ, forgiveness can be given by God to anyone who believes and repents.  God’s justice is satisfied only in Christ Jesus.  The path of repentance heals the wounded soul.
            This path of repentance is in accordance with the proper re-equilibrium process of human conscience.  As we are created in the image of God, we have innate the sense of justice.  When sin is committed, immediately our conscience that follows the pattern of the image of God screams for judgment and punishment.  Only death may be proportionate as the punishment of sin.  As long as death is not the punishment, and thus God’s justice is not satisfied, the conscience will never find equilibrium.  It will forever be in the state of disequilibrium.  Now, human construct always seeks equilibrium.  If one can’t find the proper equilibrium, then he will start flirting with the second rate equilibrium, or third rate, and so on, as long as it is better than the disequilibrium.  The new normal might be improper equilibrium.  When improper equilibrium is adopted, some part of the humanity must be compromised.  The imago dei is then deconstructed even more.  It has been deconstructed by the Fall.  Over time more deconstructions takes place.
Now, we might ask, why is small sin still to be punished by death?  In our societal structure death penalty is only given to those with horrible sins, like premeditated murder for example.  But for petty theft, commonly court won’t order capital punishment for it.  However, in the court of heaven, any sin is sin, and sin is always punishable by death.  This is because sin is an offense to God who is the Creator and King of all. When David sinned and he repented, he acknowledged in Psalm 51:4: 
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Offending God is punishable by death for eternity.  This is because the quality of God is eternal.  Offending Him even once is offending Him for eternity.  For God is not bound by space and time.  Even for sin that is committed in the world that is limited by space and time.  Death alone is proportionate as the punishment of any sin, big or small, in the court of God.
            The conscience that is constructed following the pattern of the image of God knows this.  Therefore when sin is committed, it pressures itself so hard.  People all over the ages scramble to find equilibrium.  But without the proper atonement in Christ, proper equilibrium is not attainable.  So they compensate.  Some people found religion or belief that inflicts heavy pain as punishment when sin is committed.  The infliction of heavy pain as punishment for sin is to satisfy the fierce accusation by the conscience.  For them the accusation of the conscience is like the voice of God.  It won’t go away unless satisfied or some kind of alteration is forced to the conscience itself.  If no alteration is to be done to the conscience, then it must be satisfied.  For example, in some old religions or beliefs, when someone steals and is caught, his punishment would be the hand that steals is to be cut.  Some religious leaders keep their life “holy” by inflicting heavy and painful punishment on themselves in order to appease the raging conscience.  Even some religious leaders in Christianity would do the same.  Martin Luther for example is well known of punishing himself so severely every day for his sin, be it his thought, words, or action.  But even the most severe punishment inflicted to our physical body can’t appease the demand of God’s justice.  Judas felt remorse after his conscience knocked him off for handing over an innocent man, his own teacher Jesus Christ, to greedy and evil people.  His great disequilibrium threw him off balance.  It’s too much for his conscience to handle.  The pressure was very heavy.  The guilty feeling and the alarm system blaring fiercely pushed him to the edge.  Until he couldn’t take it anymore.  He had to make amend.  But he couldn’t believe in Jesus.  His belief system was hampered by the reality that Jesus was seemingly powerless in the hands of evil people.  He could only think that he handed over the wrong man.  For him, his sin can only be met justly by giving away his own life.  So Judas hanged himself.  But even his hanging himself could not satisfy God’s justice.  But all was too late.  His death could not be reversed.  If he waited two more days, things might be a bit different.  Unlike Peter, Judas did not believe.  Unlike Judas, Peter believed and thus he waited for the resurrection that Jesus said would take place.
            Now, not all people would opt for the route that compensates the death punishment with inflicting physical or mental pain to the self.  Some people prefer to avoid pain.  And so another route is taken.  This new route is the route that would silence the alarm system.  If not completely silencing it, at least turning down the volume significantly.  Sounds logical, isn’t it?  This method requires tinkering with the program of the conscience itself.  Meaning that it must redesign the conscience with a different format.  The pattern of imago dei will always lead to the loud alarm system and accusation.  So it must be replaced with something softer, something more subtle.  Psychology is the tool to reformat the conscience.  First, what must be tinkered is the cause of all the problem.  The main cause is sin itself.  When the name “sin” is used, the whole set of religious concept, philosophy, and theology must be adopted.  One can’t just accept the word “sin” without involving the explanation of God, of the world created by God, of God’s character, of the fall of humanity, of the need to appease the divine judgment, and so on.  The world view is like the operating system to run the program of the conscience alarm system.  But replacing the entire world view is not an easy task.  It can’t be done right away.  It takes a long time to replace the entire world view that one has adopted since birth.  Now, there should be a starting point for the change.  And for this case “sin” is the starting point.  It is the one causing the disequilibrium.  It is the one that causes so much trouble.  We know that when sin is committed automatically the conscience points its finger vehemently at the self and rightfully demands justice.  Punishment must be provided in order to satisfy the justice system and keep the alarm system quiet.  Now, if the concept that is commonly applied to sin is changed, then the response of the conscience would take a different course.  Above we have learned that David had acknowledged and declared rightly the essence of sinning that it is done by the self against God Almighty.  But what if whatever is called “sin” is actually not sin as declared by the Scripture, but it is just a mistake.  Linguistically “sin” is weighty.  It carries with it a religious meaning.  But “mistake” is a common word that does not need religious meaning.  Mistake is something common in this sinful world that some people even consider it necessary for growth.  All people make mistakes.  When the word “mistake” is used, no religious sanction is necessarily to be evoked.  The imagination of the conscience is different when the word and meaning assigned to a certain action is different.  Mistake can only be a social meaning, or psychological meaning, or judicial meaning, or even accidental meaning, and not necessarily a religious meaning.  Thus the change from “sin” to “mistake” quickly eliminates the entire package of heavenly justice system, and consequently eliminates God as well.
            This subtle change is a paradigm shift.  Its hidden purpose is to lighten the load.  From any angle, sin cannot be lightened within the religious framework.  But when the action that is called sin is seen with a different framework, using a different setting, applied in a different background, then it triggers something different in the conscience.  If the action is no longer called sin, but just mistake, then there is nothing so serious cosmically or spiritually that needs to be appeased.  It is just mistake, and mistake is necessary for growth, so when someone makes mistake, it is not something that should be condemned.  It is not something worth fierce accusation.  The conscience does not need to sound the deafening alarm.  It is just a mistake.  One might feel guilty still, that’s a normal mechanism, but it no longer wears down the person.  Mistake can always be amended without death penalty imposed.  Mistake can always be amended without any sacrifice offered to God.  One just needs to fix the mistake.  The most common route is through doing good, through improving the action, to make it better.  With such reduction, gradually the conscience learns to keep quiet.  It is just a mistake after all.  It is not sin.  No death penalty is demanded from mistake.  No need to deal with God.  No need to appear before the heavenly court.  And so the conscience is silence when mistake is made.  Even the guilty feeling is reduced to the point that it is something fixable through common actions.  No dramatic atonement is needed.  No condemnation in hell to be feared.  Thus, plan is made systematically in order to fix the mistake.  No faith in the Son of God is required.  No repentance is necessary.  All one needs is improvement.  Thus self-improvement becomes very popular.  Self-help corner becomes best seller in bookstores.  Counseling session becomes the antidote for the guilty feeling resulted from mistake committed.  Believing in Jesus is not the answer anymore.  Repenting from the old way of life is not the necessary action to take.  This route is on high demand at this day and age.  With this route, no pain is to be inflicted.  With this route no humbling of self is required.  This very popular route works like painkiller.  It drugs the conscience.  It deceives it so it won’t sound the alarm.
            The last route is through intentional killing of the conscience.  This route requires a very high dose of deception poured into the conscience.  Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:1-2:
1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared
Seared conscience is very disturbing.  It means that the conscience no longer functions.  When flesh is given seared iron, the flesh dies.  The flesh is burned.  Burned flesh lost its sensitivity.  Burned flesh won’t feel a thing.  When touched, the burning flesh won’t feel.  Seared conscience also lost its sensitivity.  When sin is committed, the conscience rages.  The first time one commits sin, the alarm sounds the loudest.  The loud sound naturally draws attention.  So the self is forced to pay attention to the seriousness of the action.  Immediate proper action is to be done in order to appease the rage.  If the proper action is not taken, the alarm will continue to sound so loudly in our soul.  It will disturb our soul tremendously.  It drives us crazy.  If the proper route is not the preferred choice, then one will attempt different routes.  If the person does not wish to take the other two alternative routes, then this third route is the last choice.  That is to silence the conscience forcefully.  In order to do this, one must fight the conscience off.  The way to fight off the conscience is through repeating the sin over and over again and bracing oneself through the alarm system of the conscience.  This way the conscience is overloaded.  If the person continued to commit the same sin over and over again while ignoring the alarm, at a certain point, the conscience will stop working.  Its sound will diminish.  The new normal is achieved, in which the state of disequilibrium becomes the person’s equilibrium.  Once the person is used to the state of disequilibrium, he would gradually think that it is okay.  This is forcing the conscience to no longer work according to the original pattern.  It is the process of shutting down the conscience by force.  A heavy dose of deception is injected to the vein of conscience when one says that it is okay to commit sin and repeat the same sin over and over.
            This third route is a scary path.  This route dramatically alters the person.  If the conscience is dead, then the person has no moral compass anymore.  He can do anything morally wrong without any sense of accountability toward the Judge of all the earth.  This kind of person is wild.  No guilt, no sense, no more morality, all is permissible.
            All three alternative routes lead to the deception of taking away the punishment from our imagination.  Our mind is tricked into thinking that there is no eternal punishment awaits us in the end.  The guilty feeling might still remain, but the eternal punishment is completely concealed.  The fear of judgment is eliminated.  When eternal punishment is thrown out, the conscience lost its power.  It eventually dies.  Then the entire paradigm will shift.  The focus is no longer to the One True God who created the universe and demanded justice executed properly.  The focus is now on how we may feel good within our own self, even when committing sin.  The most effective way to kill the eternal punishment is to kill the Judge.  So the endeavor inevitably will seek ways to eliminate God.  This results in atheism.  This results in the “God is Dead” philosophy.  Even Immanuel Kant acknowledged that the existence of God is necessary in order for ethics to work in our world.  He did not use any argument from the Scripture.  He simply realized this truth from the natural moral order of the world.  Yet the wild sinners would not acknowledge it.  Paul said about this one time in Romans 1:18-23:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
They intentionally fight the conscience and suppress it.  They are without excuse.  But they continue to do so because they want to be God.  They want to do whatever they want.  The only way they can do it is by eliminating God.  God is their obstacle.  A massive one.  This is what John Calvin called total depravity.  Nothing in us desires God.  We know we need God.  But we don’t want Him.  Because God ruins our fun.  Sinful humans want fun in sin.  If God is here, humans can’t have fun in sin.  If God is here, all fun in sin is punishable by eternal death.  Sinful humans do not wish eternal death.  They want to have fun in sin without hell.  This can only be fully achieved by eliminating God.
            It is important to remember that whatever it is man do, God will remain forever.  His judgment stands.  His moral order will continually be executed.  Sin will be punished by death.  Atonement is only in Christ Jesus.  Without faith in Christ none can be saved.  Man may deceive themselves, but in the end they will face reality that God will meet them in the end time to demand their account.  Man may fight God or even try to eliminate God, but in the end, it is inevitable that they will die while God lives forever.  Even when they think and believe that God is dead, God is actually still alive and well.  They only deceive their own mind.  They only lie to themselves.  Their doom goes deeper.  I pray that all who seek equilibrium because their world is disturbed by their committing sin will resort to the Scripture and come to Jesus in order to believe Him and repent.  Do not take the punishment by inflicting pain on yourself thinking that it would replace the eternal punishment.  Do not drug your conscience by deceiving it into thinking that the sin you commit is just mistake.  Do not kill your conscience by repeating your sin over and over again.  But admit your sin and repent.  Admit your sin before Christ, believe His salvation, and repent into the life that He provides.  Only through Christ your punishment is lifted.  Christ paid it in full through His sacrifice on the cross.  All the other three alternative routes merely deceive you into thinking that the punishment is no more.  You are living a lie if you think that your punishment is gone without necessarily believing in Christ.  It stays.  The three alternatives only keep the guilty feeling and the alarm system in your conscience quiet, but your punishment in hell remains.  The proper route takes away your eternal punishment even though your guilty feeling might still remain in low dose.  Paul is saved for eternity, but he remembers the sin he committed.  Paul still had some kind of guilty feeling.  This can be found in his own testimony:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  (1 Corinthians 15:8-10)
But his guilty feeling no longer condemned him.  His guilty feeling reminded him of the grace of God.  His guilty feeling reminded him vividly the great sin he committed.  Paul would not do it again.  But he worked harder because of God’s great grace for him.  Let this example be also for us who has received God’s grace in abundance through Christ Jesus.  May we work harder for the glory of God driven by the grace of God in us.  Amen.

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