When our four children were younger, people in church would remark on how well behaved they were. "What's your secret?" they would ask. "Well," I'd reply, "We're pretty mean." They would begin to chuckle and then gradually stop when they realized by my unflinching expression that I was dead serious.
Yes, we spanked our children.
Yes, we sent them to time out.
Yes, we washed their mouths out with soap.
Yes, we counted to 3 ... practically non-stop.
"John, did you hear Mommy? Put that down. 1 ... 2 ..." My kids knew they could expect some dreaded consequence at 3.
As they grew older, my husband and I bypassed the counting and let them know we'd had enough simply by saying, "You're on 2."
So the average parents' attempts at discipline are pretty basic: stop or you're going to get it.
The Bible teaches that God disciplines those whom he loves. I go round and round in my head with this one. 15, 20 years ago, I would have adamantly jumped on the side of "God's really upset with you for that." My feelings were, "Let's just be truthful here and admit that sin is sin is sin." I was flabbergasted by people who would spew logic such as, "Well God doesn't expect me to endure such and such and so it's OK if I do so and so." They insisted on justifying their actions. I always thought, "Geez, God is so forgiving, would it kill you to admit what you've done is a sin and ask his forgiveness?" For whatever reason, their ideas of a merciful Heavenly Father meant that he could somehow compromise his holiness and declare that which used to be a no-no A-OK now. I'm not sure which dynamic was most at play -- me taking forgiveness for granted or them taking sin too seriously.
Of course, there is nothing in the Bible that says, "Just keep sinning, gotta keep sinning..." Yet Jesus is clear in his treatment of the woman caught in adultery -- "...neither do I condemn you. Now go and leave your life of sin." No condemnation, but hey, wake up and smell the coffee. Stop doing this.
Is that God's version of "You're on 2?"
Christians certainly shouldn't view grace as our personal get out of jail free card. We shouldn't see it as permission to apply special rules to ourselves. Yet neither should we forget that grace does, in fact, exist. We can't come into the kingdom on grace and then think WE do the rest. That's completely against the concept of sanctification; going on to perfection. No, it is the Holy Spirit working in us that changes us, bit by bit. Anyone who has what they believe is a "come to Jesus" experience and leaps to their feet yelling, "Thank you Jesus! I'm changed forever!" is only half right. Yes, in that moment of salvation when we confess to God, "That's it, I'm done, I need you to be in charge now," a mystifying soul change occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit. We pass over from the perishable to the imperishable, as Paul might say ("might" -- wouldn't want to put words in his mouth). But after the soul change begins, then we don't take back control again. "OK, Jesus, I got it from here. I think I got a handle on this perfection thing now. In fact, I doubt I'll ever sin again."
I remember one of the rehab ladies telling me once after she was baptized, "I felt clean. I felt like all those bad things I had done were gone. I was free of them." And she was right. That's that soul change -- justification -- made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit through profession and faith.
Maybe God never tells us, "You're on 2." We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, yet certainly we can grieve the Holy Spirit, can't we? We can tumble into life choices or habits or attitudes or mindsets that make us increasingly less open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. People think that the Spirit leaves them. I don't think so. I think we're the ones who pack up a bag and vamanos. Jesus promises the disciples that after he leaves them, he will send another counselor, the Holy Spirit, who will live with them forever. I see nothing that says, "Unless, of course, you mess up, then He's out of there!!" No, that seems to go against grace, justification and sanctification. He is still there, but we're living with our fingers in our ears.
So what am I trying to say? I'm not sure, except that God is a much better parent than I am. He doesn't hold warnings over my head and shake his finger at me. "I mean it, Tammy, one more time and you are going to GET it!" He may leave me to experiences the natural consequences of my actions, but I imagine it saddens him deeply. I can't imagine he clucks his tongue, shakes his head and pronounces, "Told you so!"
My friend JD told me that the fear of disappointing his father more than the fear of punishment kept him walking the straight line growing up. He says he couldn't imagine having to face his father and see that look of disappointment in his eyes. If God was right here in front of me, flesh and bones and all, would I be more likely to say the same -- that the fear of disappointing him motivated me to live a better life? We can conveniently tuck God away and say, "Oh, he didn't see that. He doesn't know that. He wasn't paying attention to that." But if I believe and tell the rehab ladies that God hasn't missed one nano second of the struggles of life we all experience, it only follows that he's seen it all, good and bad.
And He's still here.
We're never on 2 with God. Isn't that amazing? That alone should drop us to our knees.