When people sin, or break the rules, it is offensive to human nature. The newspapers are full of stories of people who have broken rules and we love this stuff, we love to judge them.
As Christians living within this wider culture, we have to be aware of how natural it is to be offended and that it justifies us withholding our love. I get to withhold my love from you when you have broken the rules, because people who fail are unworthy of love, and they deserve to be punished. In fact, what punishment looks like most often is withholding love.
The typical practices of the family, churches and the government are to set a series of behaviours called punishments and require an offender to go through them in order to prove that the family, churches and government are still in charge of the environment. In doing so, we help to confirm the belief in the person who has chosen to sin that they are powerless to change and take responsibility for their behaviour. This whole business is just what Jesus died to get rid of. He’s introduced a whole new world with a totally different way.
God responds differently to people who repent. True repentance is a gift that comes in a relationship. It creates the opportunity for true restoration. When we start to implement the value of Heaven that we are unpunishable into our churches and families, I believe that these cultures will truly be transformed.
Now, please understand something. I am not a proponent of ‘keeping things in the family’ as a way of handling destructive behaviours among Christians in the Church. If you turn the lights on and see that someone needs to go to prison, don’t send a ministry team in to see that person instead. I have no problem involving the public authorities in situations when I know the Church can neither hold the people accountable nor supply them with the level of services necessary for them to get well. We must set clear boundaries for dealing with people who do not repent. But we must learn to stop needing to punish people who do repent. Instead of punishing them, we call people to walk in their higher identity and responsibility as children of the light rather than crushing them even further into the life of a sinner.