‘For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:9).’
Back in September 2018 I published an article with the title, *’Does God Discipline His People?’, and as a complement to it I’m writing this today. I’m inspired to do so because in these times of Covid19 some of God’s saints may be asking the question, “Is God punishing us?”
We can very easily accept that He punishes people who disobey Him (cf. Deuteronomy 28:18-68); for in the Old Testament we read that He repeatedly punished His own chosen people on account of their disobedience (Leviticus 26:14-17). Apart from two of the parental generation of Israelites, only Joshua and Caleb made it from Egypt into the Promised Land. They all died along the way.
We also note that God punished people who fought and overcame His own people, even though they were the means He used for inflicting His just wrath upon them (Judges 3:12-30). It’s a difficult concept to come to grips with, but both sets of people deserved God’s righteous wrath on account of their disobedience. In God’s predestination we should rejoice in His enactment of His justice (Psalm 101:1). He does what is right and just.
The question I’m asking is, “Does God punish His New Testament saints today?”
What New Testament narratives, teachings and insights are there that can help us answer the question?
I purposely confine myself to the New Testament, because today’s saints of the new Israel of God (Galatians 6:1 6) live under the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 11:25). They are not subject to the Mosaic Covenant, which was a covenant of works; instead, they live by faith (Hebrews 10:38) under the New Covenant. They are not required to obey laws set forth in the Torah. Jewish tradition has it that there are 613 of them, comprising both positive and negative imperatives. Christians will, of course, endeavour to obey the Ten Commandments, apart from the fourth, which is to keep the **Sabbath holy. For Christians every day is holy. Every day is set aside for worshipping God, and, at the same time, every day is a Sabbath rest in His salvation (Hebrews 4:1-13).
So as we search the New Testament, what do we find?
Well, in fact, the word ‘punish’ is only mentioned once, and that’s in 2 Corinthians 10:6. Here the Greek word ek-dik-eh’o is used, which means punishment in the sense of vindication. Those who obey God are not punished, but those who disobey Him will be punished.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention that God punishes believers.
Whenever punishment is mentioned it always applies to unbelievers; take for example Hebrews 10:29, 30: ‘Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.”’
Although the writer wrote his letter to the church of the Hebrews, within that church there were unbelievers, just as there are in churches today, and it is to them this passage applies. They pretend to be followers of Christ, but inwardly they do not trust and obey Him. In so doing they insult ‘the Spirit of grace’. They do not honour ‘the blood of the covenant.’ Therefore they are worthy of God’s judgment, because while knowing the truth, they wilfully trample ‘the Son of God underfoot’. God does judge them, and unless they repent and believe, they are condemned to everlasting punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46).
So it is not God’s saints who are punished, but those who reject Him.
God will also punish in the same way those who trouble His saints (2 Thessalonians 1:6); for ‘These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (v 9).’
The Apostle Peter tells us: ‘…. the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority (2 Peter 2:9, 10).’
From this I conclude that God does not punish His New Testament saints. He certainly *disciplines them, but He does not punish them. Why? Because He loves them, and He punished His Son in their place. Jesus bore the full penalty and punishment for their sins (1 Peter 2:24); thus absolving them.
*Does God Discipline His People?