There is a great contrast between the grace and mercies found in intimate closeness to God — versus the harsh reality of death, darkness, and destruction that comes to those separated from and opposed to God.
Genesis 2 lays out for Adam and Eve an explanation of the consequences of “choosing the wrong side” when they are told “If you eat its fruit, you will surely die.” And Psalm 2 contrasts those who do not submit as “you will be destroyed in the midst of all of your activities” to “what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” And even Joshua 2 lays out a choice and consequences for Rahab the prostitute, who helped them.
In each of these situations, we see kind advice communicated — like a good father would warn his children about not touching a hot stove top — but we also see the opportunity for submission or opposition. And even more importantly, we see that the ones giving advice and extending grace have the wisdom and insight to indicate the “If you choose X, your consequences will be X — our If you choose Y, your consequences will be Y.” It would be foolish for a father to not warn his child about the consequences of a hot stove — just as it would be foolish of a child not to heed his father’s advice about the hot stove.
But we have all at times in our lives ignored the advice of our heavenly Father and traded what is best for a different set of consequences. In fact, being a slave to sin is having our joy and our greatest blessings stolen from us repeatedly, day after day, as we are tricked into giving up willingly what is best — in trade it for the momentary pleasures of “sin”.
Instead of seeing sin as “getting to do what I want instead of having to follow God’s rules” — we must understand that sin is always us “giving up what is best for us in trade for something less”.
A good father knows that his child might be foolish, and isn’t telling him “don’t touch the hot stovetop” to keep him from enjoying exploring some new areas of the kitchen — but to protect him from the hurt that he knows will be the inevitable consequence. In fact, a good father isn’t waiting eagerly to beat the foolish child for touching the hot stove and getting burnt — he longs to share wisdom and good advice for the benefit of the child.
Unfortunately, I fear that much of what extreme evangelical teaching has used (seemingly as a shortcut for denomination centered religious “conversions” not Christ centered life-altering “salvations”) — by scaring people with an emphasis upon hell and eternal torment and a wrathful, vengeful Father God, with Jesus as a “get out of hell free card” if they can explain the “Roman road” and recite a “sinner’s prayer” — has completely skewed the common understanding of God as Heavenly Father and how “sin” is understood. I know that I personally misunderstood this for decades of my young church going life.
To look at “sin” from a “do this and don’t do that” perspective alone is having information but not knowing how to truly understand it. This is what is meant by “the letter of the law kills”. That is the religious, judgemental, hypocritical perspective that would enjoy and take pleasure in repeatedly beating a child for placing their hand on a stovetop that wasn’t even hot — while using the excuse “it’s for his own good” to justify their perverse pleasure in doing harm to the child. That is not how God operates, and those who act as if it is — not only do not know Him personally — but clearly know very little “about Him” as well.
When we look at the love of a father who warns us of the dangers, yet allows us to learn — either by being his advice and enjoying the fruit of wisdom — or by ignoring his advice and experiencing the consequences of the prodigal — that grace available for both the wise and the foolish, will either have us grateful like the prodigal son, or confused and mad like the jealous older son in that story. This is the gospel, and it sees things from a spiritual perspective.
- Genesis 2
- Psalm 2
- Joshua 2