Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Of Course God Punishes Sin!
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… Therefore, God gave them over… Romans 1:18a, 24aNKJ
Question 28 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the punishments of sin in this world?” It gives the answer, “The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.” Last week we looked at the misery of our fallen condition. Today we examine what that misery looks like in this lifetime.
The political incorrectness of this question is striking! No doubt, many professing Christians today would disdain the idea that a loving God would ever punish sin (and therefore sinners), especially in this world. Notwithstanding our God-denying age, the Scriptures everywhere confirm the truth, which the Catechism here so plainly sets forth, that our God visits sin and sinners with punishment in this world. In fact, almost every single one of the bloodcurdling phrases given in the Catechism’s answer, are either direct quotations or close paraphrases of the old King James Bible. Thus the words of Scripture state that God often punishes sinners through “blindness of heart” (Eph. 4:18; cf. 2 Cor. 3:14; 4:4 – “blinded the minds”); a “reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28); a “strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11); for God “hardened their heart” (John 12:40); gave them great “fearfulness” of conscience (Isa. 33:14); and “vile affections” (Rom. 1:26). Notice that these punishments are all inward. That is, they affect a man in his mind rather than in his body. They often result in more sin, as it is a great punishment to be given over to do the evil you sinfully want to do. Surely, since sin begins in the mind, God is “true and righteous” to punish sinners according to the way they have sinned (Rev. 16:5-7).
In addition to these punishments upon the inward man, the Catechism affirms the Biblical teaching that God’s punishments also fall on the outward man. Here the Catechism makes a single blanket statement that “all other evils that befall us in our bodies …” are ultimately due to God’s punishment of sin. This doctrine is rooted firmly in Scripture, beginning with the chapter on the Fall, where we see that God’s curse came upon the earth because Adam sinned (Gen. 3:17). From that moment on, all of the hardships, pain, and toil of life, including sickness, weakness, disease, deformity, defects, and ultimately death itself are the result of this immediate curse of God (3:16, 18-19). God is holy. Sin is the antithesis of God. A holy and righteous God hates and must punish sin. We should not be astonished that the Bible everywhere confirms that God brings judgments upon sin even in this life, but instead we should be very surprised and even astounded that we see so little of God’s judgment and so much pleasure, beauty, happiness, and delight in this cursed world!
It is important for us to notice that the Catechism makes no distinction between the Christian and the pagan as it affirms God’s punishments of sin in this world. The fact of the matter is that true Christians undergo every one of these punishments in this life. We are all blind at times, have our hearts hardened, are deluded, some believers suffer vile affections (homosexual desire), etc. Thus, Paul makes it clear to the Ephesians that before their conversions they lived just like the unconverted God-haters all around them; “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest,” (Eph. 2:3). Moreover, passages like Romans 6 and 7 make it clear that even after conversion Christians sometimes live according to the flesh, inviting God’s judgment. Such a judgment was occurring in Corinth among Christians who were sinfully abusing the Lord’s Supper. Scripture teaches that this particular sin was the reason why some Christians at Corinth were sick or had died (1 Cor. 11:30). The difference is that for all true Christians all of God’s judgments come upon us for our good. Thus, Paul also says to the Corinthians, “But when we [Christians] are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world,” (1 Cor. 11:32). The good news believer is that God’s “punishments” only come upon you for your good (Heb. 12:5-11). So that even death itself, which we still must suffer even as unbelievers do, becomes not the final token (in this world) of God’s displeasure, but the humble method whereby God brings His beloved children into glory! “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” (Psa. 116:15).