"You Are Responsible for Your Actions"
October 17, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others
Passage: Hebrews 12:3–12:11
God corrects us as a perfect Father for our good.
When my sister or I was misbehaving as a child, there was a question that would often be asked. It was a type of punishment, but as a kid I never really thought about what the question was actually asking. The question was: “Do you need to have sand pounded up your butt?” Weird question, right? I didn’t really think about how weird this image was until I was remembering it this week. How did this become a discipline option? How would you even accomplish it? I don’t think you’d see it in a list of conventional discipline methods: spanking, washing your mouth out with soap, time-outs, grounding, getting privileges taken away, more chores, going to your room, sand pounded up your butt.
Take a moment to reflect on this question: How was discipline handled in your home growing up? How did your parents discipline you when you misbehaved? What was their go-to method of disciplining you?
Today is our second to last sermon in this series about how to connect with God and other people in our lives. The core of this series has been communicating the four messages everyone longs to hear. The first message is, “You are safe with me”, which lays a foundation of grace in the relationship. The second message is, “You are loved no matter what”, where we communicate love through empathy and affection even when the person is difficult to love. The third message is, “You are called and capable”, which communicates belief in the person through affirmation even when they are not doing what they are supposed to.
Today, the message we will learn is “You are responsible for your actions.” This is about “correction”, which is super important both for us to receive and for us to give. As Christians, correction is one of our greatest responsibilities in life and yet it is one of the responsibilities we most often fail at. Some of us don’t do it at all, and some of us do it way too much and poorly.
As we have done every week, I want you to have someone in mind throughout this sermon. In which of your relationships do you desire to have more connection? Perhaps that is a relationship where you have a lot of difficulty. The person has wronged you, they’ve hurt you, they don’t listen to you, they don’t respect you, they don’t treat you right, they don’t care for you well. This is probably a big reason why you are feeling disconnected from them. You feel frustrated, hurt, angry, offended, uncared for, disrespected, betrayed, abandoned. Whatever it is, their actions have made this relationship difficult.
You already have a default way you react to, think about, and respond to other people’s bad behavior. It was programmed into you all through your life as you saw how your parents and other significant people in your life dealt with your behavior or other people’s behavior. This becomes your default way of responding to this person in your life. The problem is that if you are like me, you have seen and experienced a lot of unhealthy and unhelpful ways to communicate to someone “you are responsible for your actions.”
This will remain your default way of responding unless you see and experience it done differently. In order to give healthy correction, we need to receive healthy correction. And the person who gives the healthiest correction is God. But here we encounter another problem: without even thinking about it, we typically assume that God deals with our behavior in the same way our parents or other significant people in our lives did. Parents are supposed to be a reflection of God to us, but sin gets in the way of that. So in order to recalibrate the way we give correction, we need to see and experience how God corrects us. Let’s look at how God approaches correction and discipline with us in Hebrews 12:3-11.
How God approaches discipline and correction with us (Heb 12:3-11)
This passage makes two main points about discipline: 1) God corrects as a perfect Father, 2) God corrects for our good. It tells us the who and the why of correction.
First, God disciplines and corrects as a perfect Father. In saying that, we need to consider what other ways God might correct us. We might think God corrects us as a judge. We might think God corrects us as a drill sergeant. We might think God corrects us as our basketball coach did. We might think God corrects us as our parents did. We might think God corrects us as our strict teacher did or the school principal did. We might think God corrects us as a parole officer.
We all have a picture of God in our head and in our heart. The question is: is that picture what God is really like? One of the times that your picture of God is most clearly revealed is when you have sinned, when you have disobeyed, when you have messed up for the hundredth time, when you have failed at doing what you know you are supposed to do, when you have let him down again. When things are going well, we might walk around saying we believe God is gracious, loving, kind, patient, and good. But when we sin, that’s when we can tell what we really believe about God.
When we look at Hebrews chapter 12 verses 3 through 11, we are given a true picture of God. This passage is encouraging people who are in the middle of a difficult stretch in the race of faith. Things are hard and painful and they might be tempted to give up. But the author asks them if they have forgotten an exhortation from the Old Testament book of Proverbs that addresses them as sons:
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him. (Hebrews 12:5b)
These are two opposite extremes when responding to God’s discipline. One extreme is to take God’s discipline so lightly that we shrug it off and don’t learn from it or submit to it. The other extreme is to be so weighed down by it that we grow weary, we lose heart, we want to give up.
Verse 6 gives the reason that we should not regard discipline lightly or be weary:
6 For [or because] the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)
The basic point is this: don’t make light of God’s discipline or become weighed down by it, because God disciplines his children whom he loves.
Verses 7 and 8 make the point clear: When God disciplines us, he is treating us as his children because there is no child whom a father does not discipline. In fact, if God wasn’t discipling us, then we are not truly God’s children. God’s discipline is proof that we actually are God’s children, not proof that we aren’t. God’s disciple is proof that he really loves us, not proof that he doesn’t. The only reason we are receiving discipline from God is because we are really his children whom he loves. When we forget this, we will take his discipline lightly or become weary of it. It will either be a bother or a burden.
We ought to ask: How does God discipline us - by what means? The assumption in this passage is that God disciplines us by means of trials, hardships, difficulties, and suffering in our lives. It’s important to remember what Joseph says in Genesis 50:20 to his brothers about their evil actions: “You intended it for evil but God intended it for good.” God is powerful enough to use the bad in your life for good. This guards us from thinking that the bad in our life is a sign that God doesn’t love us or care about us or that he isn’t paying attention to us.
In verse 9, the author makes a “how much more” argument: if we submitted to and respected the discipline of our earthly fathers, how much more ought we to submit ourselves to the discipline of our heavenly Father? Verse 10 says that our earthly fathers did their best. They were imperfect but they did their best and we submitted to and respected them. The truth is that God is always at his best. God disciplines us as a perfect Father.
What does it mean that God is a perfect Father? It tells us what God is like. It tells us his character. It tells us his attitude toward his children when they need discipline. This is very important because the default way we view God is what our parents were like, primarily what our dads were like. But we need to let God tell us what he is like. God corrects us perfectly because he is a perfect Father.
In this series, we have already seen three messages God communicates to us as his children. God tells us, “You are safe with me” because our relationship with him is totally based on grace - undeserved, unearned favor. Secondly, God communicates the message “You are loved no matter what” by giving us empathy and affection even when we are hard to love. Thirdly, God tells us, “You are called and capable” which means he sees us as his workmanship that is awesomely and wonderfully made. These “You are” messages communicate an identity. “I am safe. I am loved no matter what. I am called and capable.” We receive this from God before we are corrected. It’s what is true of us no matter what we do.
We can also consider the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 as describing what God is like toward us: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, self-controlled. This is God’s Spirit toward us and he is all of these all the time, even when we are in need of correction. Colossians 3:12-14 is a list of Christlike characteristics we are to put on like clothing: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with others, forgiveness, love. God is wearing these all the time, even when correcting, Ephesians 5:1 tells us to be imitators of God as beloved children. Whatever attitudes, actions, and attributes God commands of us are characteristics already true of him toward us.
What is it like to be disciplined by someone who is like this? Someone who is gracious, who loves no matter what, who enjoys us, who is at peace with us, who is patient, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled, who is compassionate, humble and meek, who bears with us through all things, who forgives us. God disciplines and corrects us as a perfect Father.
The second point in this passage is that God corrects us for our good. Look back at verse 10:
10 For they [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)
God disciplines us for our good in order that we may share in his holiness (cf. 1 Pet 1:14-16) and to grow the peaceful fruit of righteousness in us. The ultimate good that God has as his goal in discipline is that we would more closely reflect his character as those being conformed to the image of his perfect son, Jesus (cf. Rom 8:28-29). Jesus is the mold to which we are being shaped.
This tells us that the goal of discipline is not punishment. The Greek word itself means “the act of providing guidance for responsible living” BDAG) or “to provide instruction, with the intent of forming proper habits of behavior” (LN). When God disciplines, he is not trying to figure out the appropriate punishment to fit the crime. When we trust in Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family as his beloved children. This makes discipline relational, not judicial. And because of that relationship, God is invested in our transformation, so discipline is both relational and transformational. Discipline is about character training within the context of a relationship with God.
Verse 11 uses farming imagery when it calls the result of discipline “the peaceful fruit of righteousness”. A farmer tills the ground then sows seed and waits and waits and waits and waits until the time comes for the harvest. This tells us that the transformation God is doing in us is going to take time. It’s a process.
Verse 11 also points out that in the moment of discipline, it is painful rather than pleasant. In the short-term, we probably wouldn’t choose it. But when we take the long-term view, we see the fruit God wants to grow in us through it.
There are many things I do with Hudson that he doesn’t like and that he doesn’t fully understand. And I should not expect him to. But I have to love him enough to allow myself to be temporarily disliked by him. I have to love him enough to do what is painful and uncomfortable in the short-term in order for him to grow into the person God has made him to be in the long-term.
God loves us enough to be temporarily disliked by us. God loves us enough to let us go through pain and hardship and challenges that we don’t understand at the time. Why? Because God loves us enough to do what is for our good. God loves us enough to do for us the good that we would never do for ourselves. When it comes to our comfort or our character, God loves us enough to choose our character over our comfort. God loves us enough to take us through short-term hardship in order to give us long-term holiness.
If Hudson had his choice, he would only eat cookies, he would never go to bed, he would do whatever he wants whenever he wants, he would not wipe his butt, he would never change out of his diaper after nap, and he’d watch Curious George all day. Hudson’s plan for his life isn’t a very good one. And while that is easy for us to see as adults looking at him, it is less easy for us to see when we look at our own lives.
At Starbucks here in town, they have a garbage can with two holes on top. One says “Recycle” and the other says “Landfill”. The options are making the consequences of my choice obvious and apparent. They are trying to get people to think about the consequences of what they do with their garbage. They are showing the end result of the choice.
If we could see the long-term consequences and end results of what our choices are doing to us and to other people, we would probably live very differently. If we could see the relational damage our actions cause, we’d probably think twice about what we do. God can see all of that. God knows the long-term effects of our choices, our behavior, and our way of living. And so he will choose short-term pain and discomfort in order to give long-term health and wholeness.
How many painful, difficult, challenging things have you been through in life and now you can look back on them and say, “That was really for my good. That taught me things I would never have learned otherwise. That made me a stronger, wiser, more patient, more compassionate, more forgiving person.” That’s God’s discipline and character training at work.
Think about rehab: it’s super painful at the moment, but the goal is to have functionality restored to parts of our body. And this is where discipline connects with “you are called and capable”. We are called to love God and love others and we have been made capable of doing so. But we have misused those capabilities to love ourselves. And now we need to go through rehab to restore proper functionality to those capabilities.
In light of this, how should we receive God’s discipline and correction? When we lose sight of the who and the why behind discipline, we will not respond to it rightly. When we know the who and the why behind discipline, we can respond to discipline and correction as character transformation from the hand of a loving Father that is making us more like Jesus. We can count it all joy when trials, hardships, suffering, and pain enters our lives because we know what God is doing through it.
If this is the kind of correction we receive from God, how ought we to give correction to others? Many times God’s correction and discipline comes through others. God’s people are God’s delivery system for his care. So how do we reflect God when we correct others by doing it in a relational and transformational way?
1. Put Christ’s character on. Before going to a wedding, we spend time in the bedroom picking out the proper clothes. Before working out, we put on workout clothes. Similarly, before having a corrective conversation with someone, we need to put on the proper clothing. We need to wear the same characteristics that God wears with us. We want to communicate the first three messages before we communicate “You are responsible for your actions.”
To communicate “you are safe with me”, ask: “What’s going on in me?” Start by first taking the log out of your own eye. Consider how you have contributed to the situation. Unload baggage you unintentionally carry into the situation that intensifies your reactions because what they did bumped old wounds. Receive God’s grace for you so that you can pass it on to them. This step gets us out of self-righteousness and into a place of humility. Humility softens. Pride hardens. Healthy correction always starts with ourselves, taking responsibility for our actions before asking them to take responsibility for theirs. We repent first before asking them to. You may have already done or said something that you shouldn’t have or in the wrong way. A great way to show humility and repentance is to ask for a do-over, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Can I do that over?” We need to get to a place where we are for them, not against them.
To communicate “you are loved no matter what”, ask: “What’s going on in them?” What is it like to be them? What is their perspective? Unconditional love is expressed with unconditional care for them and unconditional affection. Keep the relationship bigger than the problem or pain.
To communicate “you are called and capable”, ask: “What good do I see in them?” What can you affirm? What good desires and intentions do you see? What strengths, talents, gifts, and skills do you see at work in them?
If you have answered these questions, you will go into the conversation confessing, apologizing, empathizing, enjoying, affirming, encouraging, and building up. You will be humble, slow, patient, thankful, gentle, understanding, compassionate, sympathetic, affectionate, attentive, and curious. You won’t be prideful, criticizing, condemning, finger-pointing, tearing down, ungrateful, big, loud, fast, blind to your own faults, defensive, blaming, justifying. What difference would that make? Instead of seeing every wrong action as something to correct, we need to start seeing it as an opportunity to connect.
If you haven’t answered these questions, then you should probably pause before giving correction because it’s likely that you are in enemy mode, focused on the problem or pain they caused. And if you are against them in enemy mode, they will be in a fight or flight response and they won’t be open to your correction, at least not in a way that creates true transformation and change. Any change will be superficial, shallow, and surface level. It won’t be a response of love but of fear.
Think about this. Many times one parent is the rule enforcer and the other parent is a bit more lenient. The kids don’t act up for the rule enforcer. They know what will happen if they do and they don’t want that. But then they will misbehave when they are with the more lenient parent because they know they can get away with it. If the lenient parent is having trouble and really wants control, they might give this threat, “Do you want me to tell your father about this? Just wait until your mother gets home.” Then the kids are suddenly struck with fear, they might even beg that the lenient parent doesn’t tell the other parent, and they might suddenly start behaving.
Are these kids being transformed? They look like obedient children when they are with the rule enforcer parent, but when they are with the other parent, they are disobedient children. So are they obedient or disobedient children? The issue this makes apparent is that these kids have not been changed at the core of who they are. Their character has not been changed. They’ll play the part of an obedient or righteous person when it helps them but then with other people, they are a totally different person. James 1:19-20 tells us that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Connection is what truly transforms, not correction. Our goal needs to be connection, not correction.
First, we need to put Christ’s character on. Second, we need to:
2. Let go. You need to be ok with not getting the result you desire because a lot of times you won’t. You need to remember that you are not their judge; God is. Yes, they have a responsibility given to them by God to love you as themselves. And yes, you may be the one to point out how they are not doing that. But if you are both adults, you are not the one to punish them for it. That is God’s responsibility. You have to leave it to him. The truth is that either they will pay for it or Jesus already has. If you have done your part, there is nothing more you can do. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Let go. Don’t hold onto what they’ve done. Don’t keep thinking it over. Talk with people about it that can help you process it. Get it out of your system but do it in a healthy way. Don’t vent about them every chance you get or gossip about them. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t let resentment and bitterness grow. Remember to keep the relationship bigger than the problem or pain. Keep who they are to you - your mom, your dad, your sister or brother, your son or daughter, your friend - bigger than the problem or pain. And if it’s a fellow Christian, no matter what they have done, they are still your brother or sister in Christ.
Now, this doesn’t mean there are no consequences to their actions. This doesn’t mean you have to keep trusting them or opening yourself up to them. There’s an important concept called “boundaries”. I’ve found this illustration really helpful. Think of boundaries in your life like the different rooms in your house. The deeper you go into your house, the fewer people who should be there because the deeper you go into your house, the more personal and intimate it is.
Some people belong on the porch, like the Amazon Prime delivery person. Some people are allowed in but they only stand in the foyer with you. Some people belong in the living room. Some people are allowed to come in and go through your pantry to find something to eat. A few people are allowed in your bedroom, the most personal and intimate place in our house. Very, very few people are let into your bedroom closet where you put all of your mess and all of your junk to make the rest of the house look presentable..
Now apply this to relationships. Most people are entryway people. They don’t need to be coming into every room of your house. Many people are living room people. They can come in to be closer and more personal with you but you are having living room level conversations. Some people can come over any time and they can feel free to go into the kitchen and grab something to eat. They get to see more of you. They have the trust. Maybe a handful of people will be allowed into your bedroom. Very few people will be allowed into the closet with you emotionally to see the real junk and the real mess of your life.
You need to decide where this person should be. Perhaps their actions have shown you that they ought to have less access to your inner being. Yes, you will be safe for them, you will love them no matter what, you will affirm the good you see in them, but there are consequences to their actions. Keeping the relationship bigger than the problem or pain doesn’t mean you will let that person into every room of your house. Forgiveness means you are giving up the right to get even, but that doesn’t mean trust hasn’t been broken. You aren’t going to treat them like an enemy, but you are going to limit how much of you they get. There is a natural impact to people’s actions.
Without boundaries, it’s like your house doesn’t have doors. Whether people are trustworthy or not, they will come and go as they please and do whatever they want. Boundaries tell you which people you let in where, how much of yourself you open up to them, and how much you give to them. Jesus did not entrust himself to all people because he knew what was in them (Jn 2:23-25).
We are a people who are being formed by God into who he wants us to be. And he uses us in each other’s lives and he wants to use you in the other people’s lives. The church ought to be the safest place to not have it all together, to fail and mess-up, to be sinful.