It’s been over fifteen years since I introduced the term “unpunishable” in teaching about how we are called to view and approach messes in the body of Christ—sin, addiction, betrayal, etc.
Over the years, people have approached me with a variety of questions, concerns, and a need for clarity around what I mean by this term. The biggest and most pressing are theological:
- Are you saying that sin shouldn’t be punished, or that God doesn’t punish sin?
- Are you saying that we don’t deserve punishment when we sin?
- Are you saying that we should let people who violate their relationships with God, themselves, and others walk free with no consequences?
The answer to these questions is no. I’m not saying any of that. I’m concerned with exploring another set of questions that dig deeper into how our beliefs about sin, punishment, what we deserve, and how God responds to our sin are causing us to think and behave in ways that don’t line up with the gospel. For example:
- Why do we as the body of Christ lack a clear understanding of the difference between confession and repentance?
- When we confront someone in sin, why do we usually fail in creating a place for them to truly repent?
- Why do we have a church culture where leaders are expected to be perfect, and only expose their problems when they have reached levels of nuclear destruction?
- When someone does fall, why do we punish them, even when they want to repent?
- How do we create a church culture where we remove the fear of punishment from people’s mistakes and invite them to experience the power of the gospel to transform them and their relationships from the inside out?
These are the questions I have been asking for many years and set out to explore more thoroughly in my new book, Unpunishable.
In the first half of the book, I define our basic problem with punishment and its solution. Punishment is something most of us learned as children. Punishment uses pain and the fear of pain to motivate us to change our behavior. The problem is that what most of us actually learned is how to avoid punishment rather than how to protect what’s most important—our relationships. Punishment ends up feeding cycles of self-protective, shame-driven behavior in our lives.
When we look at Scripture, we find that the fear of punishment shows up at the beginning, in Genesis 3, and it does nothing good for humans. It just turned us into a race of terrified orphans all running from punishment while using the threat of it to consolidate our power, whether it be over a child or an empire.
As I endeavor to show in Chapters 3-5 of the book, the Bible is a story of the human race falling into bondage to the fear of punishment, and God’s epic liberation mission to set us free from this fear. The perception of God as angry and punishing, upon examination, turns out to be a distortion seen through the lens of our fear, while the truth is that He is developing an elaborate plan to remove punishment and the fear of punishment from our hearts, relationships, and culture.
The centerpiece of this plan is the gospel. The first thing that makes it “good news” is that God has finally given humans a new way to deal with sin. Through the forgiveness Christ purchased for us on the cross, we now get to live in a covenant of forgiveness where, instead of punishment, we clean up and overcome sin through repentance, which leads to reconciliation and restoration.
The second half of the book is the practical part where we look at how the journey of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration works and how to lead people through it. I introduce you to some friends of mine who have walked through and are walking through this journey after making some “hot messes” in their lives, and share the best of what I’ve learned over decades of guiding people through restoration.
Here’s what I don’t cover in the book. My objective here is not to do a thorough biblical study on punishment or every passage in the New Testament on church discipline. I don’t do a deep dive into how to practice Matthew 18 or Ananias and Sapphira or every instance of apostolic correction. I also don’t offer thorough practical guidance on how to deal with people who do not choose to repent. I touch on a few of these issues, but this is not where you’re going to get that teaching or advice.
My goal in this book is to go after the heart. I want us to recognize where our hearts are still being driven by the fear of punishment, and discover how to connect more deeply with Jesus’s heart of love and forgiveness for us. I want us to have a deeper revelation of the goodness and power of the gospel to transform us by setting us free from the fear of punishment. I want us to walk in this power and freedom and offer it to others. And I want to see the church become a family that truly represents the Father’s heart for people when we mess up.
Unpunishable is for everyone. We’re all going to make messes and deal with other people’s messes in our lives. I think this book will help us individually walk out our own repentance journeys, friends and couples learn to remove the fear of punishment from their relationships, and parents and leaders learn how to confront and restore people for whom they’re responsible. As we do, I am confident that we will experience health, freedom, and connection with God, ourselves, and others, like never before.
P.S.– The pre-sale for Unpunishable ends on October 15th! Don’t miss the extra perks I’m offering with the book while they last! Get yours here : )