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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Game Misconduct

Most hockey fans are familiar with it, though I suppose it happens less in international play than in the NHL.

Hockey has two minute penalties, five minute penalties, compound penalties like “double minors” and a variety of other ways of maintaining order. But it is only the rarest and most egregious offenses that call for ejection. The player who receives such a penalty is sent straight to the dressing room.

Game over.

It’s called a game misconduct, and something similar may happen to Christians.

Sin and Death

All sin leads to death of some sort.

Death is sin’s paycheque, its inexorable consequence. Sin produces death like pregnancy produces children and trees produce fruit. This is the way it is in a fallen world.

Not all death in scripture is physical or immediate. When the serpent assured Eve, “You will not surely die”, he was splitting semantic hairs. Of course she did not die physically at that moment, but death entered her when she took the fruit God had forbidden, and it began to do what it always does. Spiritual separation from God was instantaneous: the man and his wife hid themselves. But the inevitable long-term effects of that separation on their human bodies were not immediately apparent.

Physical or Spiritual?

The Bible uses various images to speak of death, but we are often left asking whether any particular reference to death is physical or spiritual, temporary or permanent, metaphorical or actual.

I don’t think there’s much doubt about this one. It’s talking about physical death:
“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”
Why physical? Well, all sin leads to spiritual death. That’s evident from the third chapter of Genesis on. There are no sins at all that don’t put spiritual distance between us and God. He is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong”, as the prophet said. That’s as true of believers as it is of non-Christians. Our relationship to the Lord does not change when we sin, but our fellowship is broken and in need of restoration: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth”.

But this is a specific sort of sin, distinguished from other sorts. So no, it’s not the beginning of spiritual death that’s referred to here, but the physical death of a Christian brought about prematurely by the judgment of God.

New Testament Case Histories

We have a several examples of this in the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira were the first in the church to encounter this sort of judgment. And Paul tells the Corinthians:
“Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
Here it appears the parties involved are (i) Christians, (ii) dead by the direct judgment of God, and (iii) the status of their salvation is not in question, since Paul goes on to add, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world”. That remains true even if we are disciplined to death.

There is also Paul’s instruction earlier in the same letter to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. It is uncertain whether his physical death had at that point become unavoidable, but the words “destruction of the flesh” at least suggest the possibility. (In view of the erroneous and popular teaching that Satan is the Lord of Hell, I should probably add that this does NOT refer to handing over a Christian to eternal damnation, but rather to putting him out into the world, which is Satan’s actual domain. Gehenna will be every bit as unpleasant for Satan as for any other sinner dispatched there, probably greatly more so.)

Causes of Judgment

Why would a loving God choose to take some of his servants home early (especially the less obedient ones we might think need more practice)? The answer is not spelled out for us and it would be foolish to speculate too much about it. This much we do know:
Eternal Sins and Internal Discipline

What should be evident is that a “sin that leads to death” has nothing in common with Mark’s “eternal sin” or Matthew’s “sin that will not be forgiven”, which is a study for another day. (What day, you ask? Friday, actually.) Further, the Christian who fears that eternal judgment for his or her sins still remains a possibility after salvation will have to keep looking for something to support that teaching. It is not what John is speaking about here.

What is apparent is that it is possible for a believer to so completely misunderstand his place in the church and the purpose for which he was redeemed with the blood of his Saviour that he winds up being more use to the Lord and his fellow believers as a cautionary tale than as a functioning part of the Body.

Like a game misconduct, that’s not something to which any of us should aspire.

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