Imposed Penalty or Natural Consequence? – Part 2

In Penalty-Consequence

Anytime we consider the subject of sin, it is important to trace its story back to the origin of the first sin. The larger “great controversy” view of a rebellion that began in heaven is critical to our understanding of the sin problem and also to what God is trying to do to “fix” the sin problem.

Sin began “de novo” in the mind of Lucifer, the “light bearer”. What was Lucifer’s sin? It did not begin as an outward action. The sin problem did not originate with a broken Sabbath, cigarette smoking, or an adulterous relationship between Lucifer and another angel. Sin originated as a rebellious attitude within the mind of Lucifer toward God. Lucifer began to cherish proud thoughts of power and exaltation of self as opposed to the principles of God’s kingdom – which are selfless love to God and others.

The story of Lucifer’s rebellion illustrates that sin ultimately resides in the mind. In fact “sinful actions” are only possible if we have first rebelled in our minds. Jesus would confirm this definition of sin when he said that sin is thinking lustful thoughts about a woman. The sinful action of adultery is not possible if the thought did not first occur in the mind. The outward action of committing adultery only reveals and confirms the sin problem in the mind.

Thus, if we are in a 100% harmonious and trusting relationship with God, our actions will not be rebellious. Once again: Sin is something that occurs in the mind. Sinful actions, which are what we usually label as “sin” are in actuality merely the confirmation of what is going on within the sinful mind. Sin is a broken relationship with God. Sin is when we distrust our Creator.

The Bible describes sin as a rebellious (“sin is lawlessness” – 1 John 3:4), disconnected, distrustful (Romans 14:23) attitude toward God. Once this has taken root in the mind, the visible manifestations of hatred, lying, stealing, and a thousand other observable actions are unavoidable and go hand in hand.

If this definition of sin is correct then sin is not something that can be punished for how do you punish a broken relationship? How do you punish a distrusting and rebellious attitude toward God?

If this definition of sin is correct, sin is now viewed as something that needs to be healed, not punished. Sin is like a cancer that requires treatment.

After Lucifer rebelled, what was needed to restore him back to God? Did his sin need to be punished? Here is one opinion:

“Though he had forsaken his position as covering cherub, yet if he had been willing to return to God, acknowledging the Creator’s wisdom, and satisfied to fill the place appointed him in God’s great plan, he would have been reinstated in his office. But pride forbade him to submit. He persistently defended his own course, maintained that he had no need of repentance, and fully committed himself, in the great controversy, against his Maker.” {GC 495.3}

“He would have been reinstated in his office?” That would seem to conflict with most models of what was needed to rectify the sin problem. What Lucifer needed to do was to repent and the meaning of the word repentance is to change ones mind! Had Lucifer sincerely and humbly changed his mind about God and returned, just like the prodigal son, the Father would have welcomed him back with open arms. The change that needed to occur was within the mind of Lucifer, not God!

Today however, the sin problem is typically described exclusively in legal terms. The emphasis is not on the broken relationship, but rather on the outward actions of sin (lying and murder, etc.) and we place the solution in the setting of our legal, criminal justice system in which “the punishment fits the crime.” The punishment from God’s perspective, however, is usually described as infinitely worse than the penalty any court of law would impose: an eternity in burning fire….or, to burn for a period of time.

But sin is ultimately a relational problem, not a legal problem and the Bible is abundant with examples that put things in this relational context. Let me list just a few:

Husband-Wife relationship

The Old Testament describes those who have rebelled against God as “prostitutes” who have sought another lover. The book of Hosea describes God as desperately seeking to win back his prostitute wife. The book of Solomon reveals the intense intimacy that God wants to have with us – so intense that the best illustration is to compare it to the relationship between 2 lovers. And, the book of Revelation concludes with God marrying his bride:

“And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

To know God

In countless examples, the Bible describes that a “knowing” relationship is ultimately what God wants. Jesus would say that “Eternal life is to know God” (John 17:3) which again points us to the fact that it is all about restoring the broken relationship.

The phrase “to know” in the Bible means to know in an intimate sense. Speaking of Adam, the Bible says, “And Adam knew Eve his wife…”, and they didn’t become acquainted. When Adam “knew” Eve “she conceived…” (Genesis 4:1, KJV). When Jesus returns, the criteria for entry into heaven is not based on a legal framework that involves the punishment for sin, but rather “who has an intimate relationship with the true God?”

“Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’” (Matthew 7:21).

“…the bridegroom arrived. The five who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed. Later the others arrived. ‘Sir, sir! Let us in!’ they cried out. ‘Certainly not! I don’t know you,’ the bridegroom answered” (Matthew 25:10-12).

“The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in, because many will try to enter, but when the head of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. Then you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I do not know you.’ You will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you. Go away, all you who do evil’” (Luke 13:24-27).


Parent-Child Relationship

We are described as God’s children who he wants to wrap up in His arms, just as a hen would loving care for her chicks. Listen to God’s passion as He cries over His children:

“The Lord says, ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son. But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me. My people sacrificed to Baal; they burned incense to idols. Yet I was the one who taught Israel to walk. I took my people up in my arms, but they did not acknowledge that I took care of them. I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them. They refuse to return to me…’” (Hosea 11:1-5).



Jesus would also say that sin had brought us to a master-servant relationship with God but that what He really wants is friendship, “I don’t want to call you servants any longer…I would rather call you friends.” (John 15:15)

That we are actually meant to enter into a friendship with our Creator seems unthinkable, but the claim is repeated so many times:

“We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life! But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God’s friends” (Romans 5:10,11).

“For when they were rejected, all other people were changed from God’s enemies into his friends. What will it be, then, when they are accepted? It will be life for the dead!” (Romans 11:15).

“All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) These verses remind that we are changed from God’s enemy to his friend. “We were God’s enemies… .let God change you…into his friends.” Jesus did not change God – he has always been our Friend. Friends are reunited based on the restoration of trust, which is precisely why Jesus came. God came in human form to reveal His love and to restore us back to friendship with Him. One member of the Godhead did not absorb a punishment to satisfy another member of the Godhead. Rather God was in Christ reconciling the entire world to Himself – we were reconciled, not God.

In summary, the Bible does not describe sin as something that needs to be punished, but rather, through many different illustrations, we learn that what needs to happen is the restoration of a relationship between us and God. We are the ones standing in the way of this process, not God.

Precisely what is it that stands in the way? What is the basis of any relationship, whether it is between friends, husband and wife, or parents and children? One word: trust!

This is why God has placed such a premium on restoring us to trust. After the sin problem began on planet earth, it would seem that God had very few that were in this intimate relationship with Him. Listen very carefully though to the essential qualities of a trusting friendship described in the few that are listed. Enoch “spent his life in fellowship with God, and then he disappeared, because God took him away.” (Genesis 5:24) Abraham was set right with God based on the trusting relationship that had been established, “Abram put his trust in the LORD, and because of this the LORD was pleased with him and accepted him.” (Genesis 15:6). And what a compliment is paid to Moses! “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face as a man would speak with a friend.” (Exodus 33:11) And Job would describe the time before his trial this way, “Those were the days when I was prosperous, and the friendship of God protected my home” (Job 29:1-3).

What happened in each of these men (as opposed to the vast majority of rebels during that time) was a change in them, not God. It was not the future anticipated punishment of sin on the Cross that allowed God to enter into a face-to-face friendship with Moses. Enoch was not a perfect man, but yet he was walking with God for thousands of years prior to the Cross. When Jesus died, Enoch’s legal standing before God did not change.

Let me be very clear in saying that the death of Jesus was absolutely necessary, not only for all sinners, but also in solving the larger issues in the war with Satan. Jesus did have to die! The death of Jesus as it relates to this subject will be discussed in a future article.

In the next article I will discuss why there was a need for the sacrificial death of all those animals in the Old Testament if all that God wants is a restored trusting relationship? Were the sacrifices for God’s benefit or ours? Did the sacrifices occur because sin needed to be punished?