The Gospel As A Process
I am in awe of the processes of God. The depth of detail to which He involves Himself in a human life is beyond profound. He is perfectly patient, and even delights in the process, because it all is His artwork anyway. He began the masterpiece, He sustains it, He works on it throughout the course of our collective lifetimes, and He completes it. He knows exactly what He is doing, and where He is going with it.
I, too, am in the school of Christ - learning to become as passionate about the process as Jesus is. Therefore, I can no longer put God in neat theological boxes labeled "judgement" and "mercy". They've kissed each other, you see, they have become intimate together, and now each one defers to the other.
To say that a consequence in a person's life is "too harsh", or "too lenient", proves I am missing the point to begin with. God's discipline is very, very difficult. His grace is very, very, very longsuffering.
First sign of a legalist: most of the actions of others are piously labeled and categorized as "too hard and harsh", or "too soft on sin". All they know are the categories...the letters, words, and phrases of a written code. They are not intimately familiar with the One who nailed those ordinances to His cross, getting rid of them, so that He could begin the process of our being conformed to His image, glory by glory.
Legalists aren't passionate about the process, see. They are passionate about their ordinance-driven perspective.
Well, in the process of dealing with the real souls of real people, not only "can" you have it both ways, you absolutely must have it both ways to be Biblical. You must hold to two seemingly opposite perspectives. When it comes to issues of sin and grace (not law and grace - the Scriptures are very clear that the law was created to make sin exceedingly sinful, and then the law has now become a non issue in the life of the disciple of Christ.)
...a courageous, outspoken hatred of the disfiguring, destroying power of sin and a bold preaching of amazing grace, a righteousness outside ourselves, a gift, not earned by any thing we do. Both fully preached, not as opposite perspectives. But the grace foundation, the Christ-gift is preached first, last, and in between. Then, the cost of discipleship suddenly seems reasonable, and sin is seen as the hideous, relationship destroying thing that it is. No apostle treated one to the exclusion of the other. They dealt with the churches individually, and differently, each one according to its unique season.
These matters of loathing sin and rejoicing in unmerited righteousness were inseparable in the minds of the Church Fathers, and so should hating sin and magnifying grace be inseparable in our mind. Sin is a tragedy. No mere mortal hates sin more than a true pastor and his wife. Thus, no one should preach and teach the reality of the Atoning grace harder than a pastor (and his wife).
The greater the revelation a pastor has into the deceiving power of sin, and the damning power of self righteousness, the harder he will preach the gospel of grace that fully addresses the whole scope of human experience.
For reasons I won't go into in one blog post, mid-life seems to be the time when a person wants to think they have it all figured out, finally, and they set up camp on one side or the other of a seeming contradiction. Then, I guess to finally feel vibrant and obedient, they defend their perspective to the point of absurdity.
As I sit here, facing mid-life myself, bearing many scars from those who have God all figured out, I have refused to fall to either side of the apparent contradiction. I am requiring myself to experience - and teach - the trembling fear of a God who paid a terrible price for sin, who became sin for me, and so God forbid that I should climb in bed with the wretched thing. I am requiring myself to fully bask in the hilarious celebration of the fact that all my sin, and yours, past, present, and future, was paid for, in full, on that cross.
Ah, if only the truth of that could grip more hearts!
As a leader, if I default to evaluating every situation in the light of "too harsh" or "too lenient" that means there is something wrong with my own spiritual foundation, pure and simple.
God's chastening can feel relentlessly harsh. His mercy is ridiculously patient to the point of unfailing. The question, therefore, is not "is this too harsh" or "is this too easy"...that is a false choice. That false dilemma makes it all about sin, and nothing about the grace that much more abounds. The real question is, "What is the heart of God for this person's life? What season are they in, spiritually speaking? Are we in a process of hard discipline, or are we in a process of longsuffering patience? And how, if necessary, can we proceed with patient discipline, encouraging the obedience of faith in the life of this person who, as a brother or sister in Christ, has already been made righteous?"
You ask the relational sorts of questions. You get to the spirit of God's law, utterly disregarding the letter of it, since you don't want to kill the relationship.
And then, you engage the process. Process is all we get to engage in anyhow - increase and salvation and repentance is entirely the Lord's doing.
If you have found church leaders who are passionate about process, and not just pushing for results, you have found a rare treasure. Stick and stay...I promise, that is part of YOUR God-ordained process.