A Law Without Punishment...
A Life Without Fear.

All non-believers live in fear and their entire lives are motivated and shaped by these fears. The ultimate fear that permeates mankind is the fear of death. God has set eternity in the hearts of men, making sure that every person has some awareness that this life is not all there is (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This knowledge, apart from faith in Christ, drives the person to fear death, the entrance to eternity (Hebrews 9:27). To them it is the unknown where their admission and destination is uncertain, based on random hopes that their good will have somehow outweighed their bad, or that actions here really didn't matter. Even who will determine this is unknown, as they do not know God. The atheist, or God-denier, who professes that death is the final end and there is nothing more, willfully suppresses what they know to be true (Psalms 14:1; 53:1). This too is a reaction empowered by fear - deny the existence of God and eternity and hope that neither will affect them.

Romans 2:12a All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law... (NIV)

Even without the Law of Moses, mankind stands condemned by the general witness of God's existence and failure to acknowledge Him alone. A single sin is sufficient to condemn - a good reason to fear! (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:12; Psalms 10:4)

The Mosaic Law which brought knowledge of sin and of God did nothing to alleviate these fears (Romans 3:20; 7:7). In fact, it just made them more certain (Romans 5:20). The Law brought certain assurance that this was and is a righteous and perfect Judge of all the earth, one to whom we are all accountable for all our actions (Luke 12:5). Similarly the Law provided the standard by which judgment would be made, in life and in death. For virtually every do or don't of the Law, severe penalties and judgments were decreed (Deuteronomy 30:17-20). Failure to live up to all the Law was to be found in transgression of it all and justifiably deserving its punishment (James 2:10; Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10). Fear of the impending sentence, in life or death, was fueled by the knowledge that this punishment was well deserved.

Romans 2:12b-13 ...and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (NIV)

The Law showed the severity of sin, that it was far more than one sin that condemned. Even if it were possible that past sins could be overlooked, knowledge of the Law proved all to be incapable of perfect obedience even with full knowledge of what must be done. How much more severe should the condemnation be - how much more reason to fear!

With the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of all the Law in Him (Matthew 5:17-18), a new Law was given for all believers - those who been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). While newly raised to preeminence by Christ, this new Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), or Royal Law (James 2:8), or Law of Love (Romans 13:8-10) was truly an Old Law restated.

1 John 2:7-8 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (NIV)

What was new in the restating of this Law was its removal from the penalty bound and fear-obligated system of the Old Law - there are no more curses (Galatians 3:13). In Jesus word's, this new Law (which is old) is:

Matthew 22:36-40 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (NIV)

The apostle John summarized this exact same Law as:

1 John 3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (NIV)

Notice what is absent from this New Law - there is no punishment, no consequence for failure to uphold it perfectly. God's children have nothing to fear from their Father when they fall short. Immediately some will say that teaching this would encourage believers to accept mediocrity and failure, but they are missing the point. The driving motivation to keep this Law is not found in fear it's found in love, love that comes from God and is empowered by God. If a person doesn't have this God-given love, all the fear induced prodding in the world will not enable a person to live this Law out.

We, believers, know God's love and rely on His love. Take careful note of how the apostle John emphasizes that our motivation is 100% about love and has nothing to do with any fear of punishment.

1 John 4:16-4:21 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (NIV)

So why do multitudes of believers live in fear of punishment? Hosts believe that their actions or failures will bring God's punishment or condemnation. The reason they believe this is because they have never been taught the new Law. Rather they have been enslaved to a counterfeit law. This counterfeit often has the appearance of something good, perhaps drawing heavily on the fulfilled Mosaic Law - unclean, don't touch, don't eat, don't drink, and mandatory Sabbaths or feasts or services. Others have established entirely new laws solely on their own authority - no jewelry, specific color and style of dress, required hairstyles, beards or no beards, no televisions, bans on theatres, dancing or no dancing, the list is endless (Colossians 2:20-23; Galatians 4:9-11; 5:1; 2 Timothy 3:5). All of these counterfeit laws, new or resurrected, have in common the threat of punishment. Practice or don't practice these things and you will incur the wrath, or disapproval, of at least the church and - by direct statement or implication - by God as well.

The same God who we're told has forgiven us of our sins - past, present, and future - and who placed them all on Jesus, so that He could bear our punishment, is the one we're now told seeks further punishment from us. This contradiction is huge! Either Jesus bore all our punishment or He didn't and if He didn't than His atonement was insufficient and we become co-saviors with Him. God forbid! Scriptures are clear that Jesus' perfect sacrifice was completely sufficient once and for all (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10). Since He bore fully all of our deserved punishment, the threat of punishment is removed forever. Because of Jesus there is nothing and no one who can condemn us. There is no longer a reason to fear!

Romans 8:1-4 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (NIV)

Lack of punishment will not drive a believer to sin because we have been given greater motivation; the love of God! God, by His word and Spirit, teaches us what is right and enables us to do so. We have been set free to not sin! We don't find His commands to be a burden; rather we find freedom in them.

1 John 5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (NIV)

John 14:15-17, 21, 23-24 [Jesus said] "If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. ... 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." ... 23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (Clarification for context ours, NIV)

Set free to not sin, the believer is empowered to love God with all their heart. With a Law to live by, but no Law to condemn, fear of death and punishment is gone. Or it should be! As the apostle John put it, in a passage we have already looked at, "perfect love drives out fear." The message for the church and all believers is to increase in love. As we understand and grow in the love God has given us, we not only will do more good but we'll find ourselves living with fewer fears. The truth strips away the deceptions which try and keep us bound to worldly fears (John 8:32).

1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." (NIV)

When the believer does find themselves to have fallen into fear, of events, of people, of punishment, or even death, remember whose love we know and rely on (1 John 4:16)! Our God is in control; our Father always cares for His children and works all things out for their good (Romans 8:28, Luke 21:25-28). His correction or discipline is far different from punishment (see Hebrews 12:4-11), it to is for our good! There is nothing to fear in life (Hebrews 13:5-6) or in death (Psalms 23:4).

This article could end with the preceding paragraph, but far too many have a problem with this message of "freedom from fear" because they think it is a license to permissiveness. So, one more time, we will revisit what Scriptures says on this. In most cases, for those reluctant to accept this, it is because they are so used of a religious approach that teaches an artificial rules-bound system and a God waiting to punish (or pounce from on high). This distortion of Christianity inherently works to blind people from seeing the true message of freedom for all believers. The apostle Paul obviously was aware that the freedom he taught would bring accusations that this was a license to sin. Not only did this not stop him from teaching the truth, but he addressed the accusations head-on.

Romans 6:11-18 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (NIV)

We are to count ourselves "dead to sin." (Read more on this in Romans 6:2; 7:4-6; Galatians 2:19-20; Colossians 2:20-23; 3:3-5; 1 Peter 2:24). The word translated dead literally means "a corpse." If sin was treated as if it was a person, how useful would a corpse be to Sin? In fact, a corpse can do nothing in benefit of anyone. Therefore a believer is counted as useless to Sin, or his buddies Death and Fear. This evil trio of Sin, Death and Fear can make no claim that the believer owes them anything. At one time they were the slave master, directing, manipulating and condemning their subject, but they are in capable of doing so with a corpse. In contrast, the believer having been made alive with Christ - only alive in Him and because of Him (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13) - is now bound as a slave to this rightful Master. The believer does not serve their Lord because of anything to do with their former trio of masters (Sin, Death, and Fear), but solely because of love. This God given love is the tie that binds us to our Lord and is the sole motivation behind why we seek to please Him. The result is that we are "slaves to righteousness", bound forever by the bonds of love to serve our Savior and Lord. This is not an excuse to sin, but an impetus to do right.

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." (NIV)

"... just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26, NIV)

Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. Conscience accuses no longer. Judgment now decides for the sinner instead of against him. Memory looks back upon past sins, with deep sorrow for the sin, but yet with no dread of any penalty to come; for Christ has paid the debt of His people to the last jot and tittle, and received the divine receipt; and unless God can be so unjust as to demand double payment for one debt, no soul for whom Jesus died as a substitute can ever be cast into hell. It seems to be one of the very principles of our enlightened nature to believe that God is just; we feel that it must be so, and this gives us our terror at first; but is it not marvellous that this very same belief that God is just, becomes afterwards the pillar of our confidence and peace! If God be just, I, a sinner, alone and without a substitute, must be punished; but Jesus stands in my stead and is punished for me; and now, if God be just, I, a sinner, standing in Christ, can never be punished. God must change His nature before one soul, for whom Jesus was a substitute, can ever by any possibility suffer the lash of the law. Therefore, Jesus having taken the place of the believer-- having rendered a full equivalent to divine wrath for all that His people ought to have suffered as the result of sin, the believer can shout with glorious triumph, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" (Charles Spurgeon, Daily Devotional on Romans 3:26)

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2006
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.