Thoughts can challenge us. In fact, they could change us. Recently, I taught in one of our discipleship groups that God throwing Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden was not an act of righteous judgment but an act of loving discipline. He did not want them to eat of the tree of life and live forever in a sinful state. He desired to see them redeemed. They already suffered the consequence and loss of the perfect world through their sin. The focus was redemption. That is what the Gospel is all about. One person told me they had never heard that before. It changed the way they looked at that act. It also changed the way they looked at God.
From a practical standpoint, God was in a position of being justified in carrying out divine punishment. Yet He took the necessary punishment for their sin (and that of all of us through the ages) and placed it on His Son. Therefore He was both justified and justifier (Romans 3:21-26).
In 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2, we have an account where that church had to deal with a man in gross sin; they take action to deal with it, and then are encouraged to receive him back into fellowship and love him so that "Satan may not outwit us, because was are aware of his schemes." (2 Corinthians 2:11)
So here is my point: I believe there are many situations happening today where people who have been exposed to the Gospel or are claiming to live the Gospel are being outwitted. And the effects are destructive for everyone involved. Here are a few ways this applies:
1. A fellow believer (or unbeliever) does something hurtful or sinful that affects a believer. The hurt is deep. Justifiably, the hurt party wants to see the offense "paid for." Here is where the outwitting takes place. If we don't immediately take the desire to have the person punished to the Cross, a root of bitterness and unforgiveness can take root. And we get stuck until the person pays. Remember God applied loving discipline but put the punishment on His Son. We claim the Gospel, the Good News, is that God's action applies to all of us. Yet when we are hurt, we find it hard to apply the Gospel to the person who hurt us. And bitter roots grow bad fruit in our lives.
2. A second way we are outwitted is that the person who is guilty takes actions that are in keeping with the Gospel. They repent of their sin. They ask forgiveness. They take steps to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And rather than feeling the forgiveness of Christ and receiving the helpful discipline that would move them forward, one of two things happens. They find it hard to receive forgiveness and continue to stay stuck at a point of believing they are beyond forgiveness. Or the person they hurt continues to hold their sin over them and they can never move beyond the hurt. Either way, Satan keeps one or both people stuck. And the power of the Gospel is called into question. Is it real or not?
3. A third way Satan outwits us is for the individual who is hurt or a group of people (small group, church, etc) to feel like they are the protectors of righteousness and fail to remember that we are all sinners who have been forgiven by the grace of God. After a while these folks become an entity unto themselves and feel justified in doing so. And anyone who challenges them is either against them or simply does not understand what is right or wrong.
As you read this, let me wrap up by saying a couple things to clarify. Sin is destructive. And the pain of that destruction is palpable. But we say that the Gospel is more powerful. Punishment for sin is necessary. But the Gospel we proclaim states that God punished sin on the cross and now works through discipline. The goal of discipline is redemption not retribution.
If we are not careful, rather than allowing God to be the one who cares for justice and also justifies, we take the position of God. In that case, what is the meaning of the Gospel we proclaim?
Though it is hard, and takes the grace of God to accomplish it, I want always to be a person who is living the Gospel out personally and also leads a church that is a redemptive community where the sinner can find redemption and the one who has been hurt, healing. All this can only take place through the grace of the One who redeems.