20210412 What’s the deal? Does God punish us or does he not?

Monday Musings for April 12, 2021

Good morning, Musers,

I find myself thanking God every time I read the word “Therefore” in Romans 8:1. That word simply smacks me in the face. “Therefore” signals a conclusion in our language — and it’s a big conclusion for us Christians: our condemnation under the law is concluded. Since Jesus fulfilled the law through his atoning death, we are now saved by God’s grace through faith in his son Jesus Christ.

Now, we must still obey the law. We are free, however, from the sacerdotal parts of it. We no longer have to sacrifice lambs or make grain offerings. Instead, we have to sacrifice ourselves — our whole lives... or we should, anyway. Jesus is never presented as anything less than Lord in the Bible, and “Lord” implies that we turn our lives over to him.

So, since we are moved from death unto life (John 5:24) — and since we are categorically unable to go to hell (Romans 8:1) — what is our relationship to punishment?

Well, condemnation is off the table for us. That kind of punishment we will never receive. But that’s not the only issue with God’s holiness. If we are to live lives pleasing to God, we are responsible for the issues of ongoing holiness... what is also sometimes called sanctification.

The problem with the word sanctification is that there are two kinds: positional and ongoing. We children of God are positionally sanctified. We are now categorically “worthy” of heaven. But we still sin... we soil our feet (if you will). This is the image that Jesus gave us at the last supper when he washed the disciples’ feet — and got into an argument with Peter.

Peter was horrified that the Lord might wash his feet! So he protested. “No… you will never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). But Jesus said, if you don’t let me do this, then you have no part of me. Then Peter responded that Jesus should give him a whole bath! At this point, Jesus taught the clearest lesson on Christian sanctification that you will find the Bible.

He said to Peter that he was clean on the whole. It’s just our feet that need attention. This is the relationship of Christians to God’s holiness. We do not need a bath because we are positionally sanctified — that is, we are clean on the whole. But as sinners, we soil our feet... and we have to attend to that. We do this by confessing our sins and getting on with our lives.

But now we are in the thick of it: does God punish his children here on earth? Do we get a pass? Can we even sin here categorically? Some people answer no to the latter... I’m not one of them. The Bible teaches that we can even commit a “sin unto death” — a sin that threatens to impugn the name of Jesus Christ in a way that he has to kill us to keep us from harming the kingdom (1 John 5:16; Acts 5:1-10). That sounds like punishment to me!

Fortunately, that is a rare occurrence. Many Christians have seen this, though... people who are known to be Christians but who live unholy lives very publicly — and they die. These will still wind up in heaven… a little red-faced… having received the ultimate punishment — death! So, don't be like them; don't die. Keep short accounts with God and your punishments will be few and appropriate.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)