I’ve talked with thousands of people over the years regarding anxiety, panic attacks and fear. One of the most common things people say to me is this: “Surely, God is punishing me.” Most people see this crippling fear and anxiety as God’s punishment.
For years, I was convinced that these episodes of fear were God’s way of punishing me. After all, I deserved it. I was living an unholy life, walking in my own ways, doing my own thing. Surely, this was God’s punishment.
Over the years, I began learning about the punishment of God. You see, punishment has to do with a penalty. Once a violation has been made, there’s a penalty for that violation. When you are punished, you’re receiving the penalty for your violation.
“But Russell, I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life. I probably deserve to be punished.” Yes, I know. I deserve punishment as well. The Bible says that we are all sinners, and that all of us have turned away from God (Romans 3:23). So yes, we all deserve punishment.
But listen carefully to the next two verses in Romans 3, “Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us” (verses 24-25a).
If you’ve committed your life to Jesus Christ, then you are free from the punishment of sin. You are free from the penalty of your wrongdoing. God has declared you “Not Guilty”. That’s God’s promise to you, and what a wonderful promise!
I believe most people’s fears are based on an incorrect understanding of punishment. Here’s what the Bible says, “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” (1 John 4:18). Let me rephrase that in my own words: “God loves you so much that he has released you from the punishment of your sins through Jesus Christ. There is no need to fear God’s punishment for those who are in Christ.”
“But Russell,” you may respond, “I received Jesus into my heart. Yet, I still fear.”
I know. It’s frustrating. When I became a Christian, and I still experienced episodes of fear. But here’s what I learned from the Bible about these hard times: “Endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 7a, 10b). Today, years later, after being trained by this discipline, I am now free from these crippling panic attacks.
Discipline is not the same as punishment. Discipline has a good, redemptive purpose. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it hurts. Yes, I wanted it to stop. But, the purpose of discipline is to teach us. Hebrews 12:11 confirms this: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Are you being trained by your hardships? Are you learning anything from these difficult circumstances? Or, have you chosen to step back into your comfortable world of victim-ness, where it’s easier to blame others rather than do something yourself?
Take time to carefully listen to his discipline of the Lord, because God promises a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are trained by it. Step out courageously into God’s training. Seek the Lord and spend time with him. Learn from your pain. Dig deep into the truths of the Bible and carefully obey the instructions of the Lord. Remember, God disciplines those he loves.
Prayer: Father, first and foremost, I declare that I’m a sinner who deserves punishment. I’ve done many wrong things in my life. I turn from those things now. I choose to believe in Jesus Christ, who has taking upon himself my punishment. I receive Christ as my Lord. Father, help me through this time of discipline. I want to be trained quickly. Strengthen me and help me that I may walk in this harvest of peace and righteousness. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.