Theonomy or Cheap Grace, Which?

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Today I would like to ask a simple question and explore its implications without coming to any kind of definite conclusions. The question is as follows: “does spiritual forgiveness negate physical punishment?”


Why is this question relevant? In reality this question is one of a few questions relating to the relationship between the “old” and “new” covenant. This subject is so massive as to be book length (at least), but I will try to limit the discussion to the question asked and its direct implications in order to keep the scope of this note from being too unmanageable.

Let us begin this discussion with a hypothetical. As a friend of mine is fond of asking, let us assume that a person runs a red light and kills someone with their vehicle, like a single mom with three small children. If the person who is guilty of that vehicular manslaughter repents and is forgiven, does it absolve her of the physical consequences to repay the damage (probably through some kind of “umbrella” insurance) or to suffer the jail time for breaking the physical law?

If the answer is yes, we have a situation known theologically as “cheap grace,” with the victim paying all the price (a lifetime of physical, mental, and emotional damages) with the guilty person escaping of any penalty whatsoever. This certainly does not seem just or fair—especially when we are told not to avenge ourselves, as “God will repay” (see Romans 12:19). Justice in the ancient world worked a lot like this. If a criminal “repented” to a false god or goddess at their temple, they would often be immune to any punishment, leaving the temple areas of major cities as major crime zones. God, on the other hand, expects former thieves to learn a trade so they can give to the poor instead of taking from others (see Ephesians 4:28).

If the answer is no, we have a sitution that would be some form of what is called “Theonomy,” if not precisely the form advocated by Presbyterians. If there remains a physical price to be paid with, then what law would it be based on? A believer in the Bible could only conclude that it was based on the laws of the Bible as they are interpreted and enforced within the Bible.

The implications of that are very serious. It would mean basically a sort of dual level of jurisdiction. Spiritual forgiveness, dealing with eternal consequences, working from the inside out, that which cannot be covered by the blood of sheep an goats, would be covered with the blood of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 10:4). Physical forgiveness would then result from obedience to physical forms and could cover the penalty such as fines, death, or washings (see Hebrews 9:10).

The Bible consistently considers the physical to be the “shadow” or type, of the spiritual, but this does not negate the importance of the physical. For example, Hebrews 4:9, states that there remains a Sabbath rest observance for the people of God in the context of discussing how both the Sabbath and the entrance into the Holy Land were a type of the “rest” that is to come in the Kingdom of God. This would explain why the “substance” is Christ and the physical observances of the Sabbath, New Moon, and Holy Days are the “shadow” in Colossians 2:16-17). The much greater importance of spiritual matters to physical matters does not mean that the physical is of no importance whatsoever—or else we would all be gnostic dualist heretics.

What sort of support would this particular position have? Let us briefly examine the situation of David and Bathsheba. When confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan, David pronounced judgment (unknowingly) on himself, demanding a fourfold restitution for the loss of the “sheep” of the poor man (see 2 Samuel 12:1-6). Now, even though David’s prayer for his Holy Spirit not to be taken away from him and for him to be forgiven was answered (Psalm 51:10-11), he still had to pay for his sin according to his own judgment with the death of four sons. The physical penalty remained even after spiritual forgiveness.

Now, there are many other implications of this particular theory concerning temples and sacrifices and civil law and its enforcement. Should time permit (later), I will do my best to tease out more of them.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Theonomy or Cheap Grace, Which?

  1. Pingback: Thesis And Antithesis, Or How Do We Get There From Here? | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Faith And Obedience: An Introduction To Biblical Law | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Bitten By Your Bad Reputation: Echoes Of 1 Corinthians In 1 Clement | Edge Induced Cohesion

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