Would God punish his people in the next life?

The general idea among Christians is that since Jesus was punished for our sins, then the people of God will not face any punishment. The Bible clearly says, “Christ died for our sins.” And on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” But does it clearly say believers will never receive chastening from God? Can believers received negative consequences for their actions in this life and the life to come?

Does God deal with his children’s wrongdoing during this life? Yes. Here are two examples.

1. In Acts 5:1-10, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and they lost their lives because of it. This example teaches us that God is willing to deal harshly with his children at times. Thankfully, immediate death is not God’s normal mode operation.

2. The Corinthian Christians did not honor the Lord in the Lord’s Supper, so their lives were taken early (sleep = death in this passage): 1 Cor. 11:27-30. Ironically, for their irresponsibility with the very supper where they remember Christ dying for them, God took their own lives away.

The epistles repeatedly give examples of God’s judgment upon the Israelites, and include examples from the OT as lessons. Many Christians believe that the OT doesn’t apply to them. However, when the NT gives examples of God’s dealings with the Israelites, the epistle-writer applies those lessons to Christians!

For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:14, Paul gives us an example of disciplining himself for the Lord’s service so that he would not be disqualified from service and receiving rewards for his labor. He then gives an example of the ancient Israelites when they did not discipline their fleshly desires, and God did indeed “disqualify” them for service in his community. It was a grave OT example of chastening, and the NT applies it to NT believers. God is willing to deal harshly with those who will not discipline their fleshly desires.

God disciplines his children for their persistent unbelief or disobedience in this life. The point of this blog article, though, is that God will deal with sin in the next life as well. Is that true? Does Scripture teach this idea?

Death is not a barrier to God. If God can deal with our sins harshly in this life, why would death stop him from dealing with sins in the next life? After all, unbelievers will be punished after death, so death is not a barrier to God acting on the basis of our works. Two scriptural examples will be given.

1. In 1 Cor. 5:9-11, Paul feared disobeying God because of the future consequences at the judgment seat. If Paul, who knew enough about God and the Christian life to write most of the NT epistles, feared the judgment, then shouldn’t we? If we don’t fear the judgment, then what did he know that we don’t?

2. Jesus warned His disciples to be merciful, or they will suffer the consequences at the hand of the King; we see this lesson of forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. This idea is repeated in the gospels; how we deal with other people’s faults is how God will deal with our own. If we cling to our reasons not to show mercy to others, God will use those arguments against us, as we learn in Matthew 7:1-5.

The character we have at death is the character we’ll have when we appear before him after death. Here are two examples of believers’ works being dealt with before the Lord based on who they were when they met him.

1. If we are faithful at death or Christ’s appearing, we will be rewarded; if unfaithful, we will be disciplined and lose any reward: Matt. 24:45-51.

2. God will reward us according to our service. If we thought God was harsh, but did not let that fear guide our service into faithfulness, it will go hard on us: Matthew 25:14-30.

Why did I miss all this before? Because I summed up a general theology rather than go deeper to see the many conditions. “Jesus died for my sins, therefore I won’t be punished” sums up a general theology. But it doesn’t hold water when you read more about the conditional aspects of rewards and judgment. There are many warnings addressed to Christians in scripture (and I’ve listed them at the end of this article). Why warn us from something that could never happen? Why put warnings on cigarette boxes if smoking was safe?

Nothing I’ve written should be construed as saying that I believe a child of God can lose his or her salvation. Losing out on a reward or being disciplined for a sin does not stop a believer from being a child of God. Most of us miss out on winning the gold medal at the Olympics because we did not train and discipline ourselves, but we are still members of the human race. Paul disciplined himself and his bodily desires so he would not lose his reward, but lack of discipline doesn’t stop him from being a child of God forever.

Death is arbitrary; it won’t stop God’s future dealings with sin. Faith, confession, and self-control are a must in this life if we wish to appear before Him spotless and blameless. Though Christ died for our sins, we may yet choose to sin; full salvation in practice is seen when we consistently choose his will over sin. You have as much of salvation as you really want, so Paul counted all things of the flesh as loss that he may gain the greatest rewards God could offer. He feared losing out.

What happened when Ananias and Sapphira died before the Lord? “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11). They saw that God was serious about holy living, and it caused them to be serious as well. It was no longer a theory; they must repent in truth and get their lives right before him.

Hebrews 12:9-10 tells us that we had fathers who corrected us when we did wrong. Presumably they were corrected according to Proverbs, by spanking. This method of teaching children that there will be bad consequences for doing bad things went out of favor once the godless child psychologists convinced the authorities that spanking was damaging to the child. I take it that nowadays parents give their children little or no correction, so there is little fear of chastisement from God either. Only words. Just like from mom and dad. Only words. God will just be upset; he won’t do anything to us, will he? He will only say, “Naughty, naughty.” Is this where we are getting the idea that God won’t do anything with sinful behavior? “We got away with it with mom and dad; we’ll get away with it with God too.”

Also notice in Hebrew 12:6 that chastening is a sign of God’s love to us. When we experience negative consequences for our sinful behaviors, God is lovingly pointing us to a better way of living and relating to him. God considers it a loving thing to train a child (you) with chastisements, for they give the child a healthy understanding of the consequences and convinces them to give up bad behaviors.

Run the race! Fight the good fight of faith! Don’t be a couch Christian, but labor in the arena of faith and love! Stand for the courage of your convictions. God will see these things as marks of strong character and choose saints with these traits as His rulers.

What about verses such as Hebrews 8:12, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”? Don’t they indicate that all our sins have been forgiven, and God will not remember them or punish them? The Bible does not contradict itself. Just as all the warnings are for those who do not live by faith and love, but live for this world, so the blessings are reserved for those who pursue faith and love. In either case, they are conditional. God is impartial; he will bless whoever chooses the way of faith, and will chasten whoever continues without faith, no matter which church denomination you belong to. Verses like these are the blessings promised to those who follow God wholeheartedly, not those who are lukewarm in their faith.

Also in Hebrew 8 we

Every blessing is obtained by a life of faith, of us consciously trusting God. None of the blessings come from being a model citizen or a nice person who goes to church. Our trusting relationship with God triggers the blessings, like in any human relationship. Do you have a blessed marriage when neither of you trust the other?

Following is a partial listing of warnings to the church: negative behaviors will generate negative consequences among Christians; in some cases, as we have seen above, God will step in with strong chastisements. Note that in the gospels, Jesus addresses his disciples as though the warning applied to them, so we can’t simply apply all warnings to unbelievers only. Also note that the epistles were addressed to the church, not to those outside the church, so the warnings apply to us. (The church in the NT is the “called-out ones,” not the building on the corner where people go to worship, where saved and unsaved can attend.) We are warned to move away from certain behaviors and thinking patterns, otherwise it will be hard for us in this life and in the life to come.

Just as the warning on the bottle of medicine tells us when an amount is too much for our good, so the warnings in scripture tell us when we have departed from a life of faith and love with God.

You can find books of Bible promises and encouragements published everywhere. What you don’t find are books of Bible warnings. (Who would buy them? Nobody likes reading bad news, not even on cigarette boxes.) If there were such a book, these are some of the passages from the NT that could be included:

– Matthew’s gospel –
5:13-16, 19-20, 21-26, 27-29, 31-32, 43-48
6:14-15, 19-21, 24
7:1-5, 13-14, 21-23, 24-27
10:32-33, 38-39
18:6-11, 15-18, 21-35
25:1-13, 14-30

– 1 Corinthians –
3:8, 12-17
5:1-5, 9-11
6:9-10, 12-13

– 2 Corinthians –

– Galatians –
4:11, 20
5:2-4, 19-21

– Ephesians –

– Colossians –
1:22-23 (pay attention to the ifs in scripture!)
3:5-6, 23-25

– 1 Timothy –
5:6-8, 11-15, 24

– 2 Timothy –
2:20, 25-26

– Titus –

– Hebrews –
10:26-31, 38
12:14-17, 25, 29

– James –
2:8-13, 24-26
4:3-4, 6-9

– 1 Peter –
4:7, 12-19

– 2 Peter –

– 1 John 1 –
2:15-17, 28
3:6-8, 14-17

– Jude –

– Revelation –
2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23
3:2-3, 15-19
13:14-17, 14:9-12
18:4, 8
22:12, 15, 18-19

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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