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Q: #368. Does God punish Christians today?

     A: When this subject came up, I thought the answer was obvious: “Yes, of course God punishes Christians.” However, as I looked into this, I was quite shocked to learn that many prominent Christian pastors disagreed with my position. The common view is that God does “not” punish Christians today, but rather, He disciplines them. Then, they often go on to make several distinctions between “punishment” and “discipline.” These distinctions being: (punishment = bad) and (discipline = good). For example, it is said that punishment focuses on the past, while discipline focuses on the future. Or, if you punish, the one who punishes is “hostile” while the one who “disciplines” is “loving.”

     Honestly, I do not know where these Christian leaders get this from…., but I really don’t see it in the Bible OR for that matter from the actual meanings of the words themselves. For example, if you look in Webster’s Dictionary, you get the following meanings for “discipline” and “punish.”
Discipline = “to PUNISH or penalize for the sake of discipline.”
Punish = “to impose a penalty for a fault, offence, or violation (syn): chastise, castigate, chasten, DISCIPLINE, correct.”

     The Oxford Dictionary says of “discipline,” that it is: “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using PUNISHMENT to correct disobedience.” You can find the basically same definitions in many other dictionaries. In other words, I really don’t see how you can divorce the words “discipline” and “punishment” from each other. They are often connected. 

     The Bible also shows us this. For example, the Bible (KJV) uses the word “chasten,” or a form of that word in a number of places, with other versions (i.e. NASB/NIV) using “discipline” instead. (The KJV Bible only uses the word “discipline” once: Job 36:10.) The Greek word “paideuo” is used for “chasten,” and Strong’s gives its meaning as: “to train up a child, i.e. educate, or (by impl;) discipline (by punishment).” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives this as its first meaning for “paideuo” – “1. the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and PUNISHMENT).

     This word “paideuo” is used in 8 places in the New Testament. It does have several meanings, but one meaning is clearly that punishment can be a part of discipline. For example, in (Lk 23:16,22) Pilate said of Jesus, “I will therefore chastise (paideuo) him, and release him.” The NASB and NIV use the word “punish” here.  If we go to (Rev 3:19), God says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten (paideuo)…” (1 Cor 11:32) says, “But when we are judged, we are chastened (paideuo) of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” And, perhaps most conclusively, lets look at (Heb 12:5-10):

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: (6) For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth (paideuo), and SCOURGETH (“PUNISHES:” NIV) every son whom he receiveth. (7) If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth (paideuo) not? (8) But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (9) Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh (human fathers) which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? (10) For they (human fathers) verily for a few days chastened (paideuo) us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. (11) Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous (“PAINFUL:” NIV): nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

     Doesn’t this seem pretty clear? The Old Testament also uses the word “chasten,” in connection with “punishment” (See: 2 Sam 7:14, Prov 13:24, Lev 26:28 then Lev 26:29-46, Deut 22:18-19, 1 Kin 12:11,14, 2 Chr 10:11,14).

     In addition, we also have numerous examples in the Bible of God punishing His people.

God sent a plague on the Israelites (Num 11:31-34).

God punished Miriam with leprosy because she spoke against Moses for the woman he had married (Num Ch. 12).

Moses and Aaron were not allowed to go into the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

God sent serpents upon the Israelites (Num 21:4-9).

One generation of Israelites were not allowed to go into the Promised Land (Heb 3:16-19).

David was punished by God 3 times. The first two were in connection with David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of her husband. 1. God said that because of David’s sin, “the sword shall never depart from thine house” (2 Sam 12:10). 2. Then, God said the child he conceived with Bathsheba would die (2 Sam 12:14-19). 3. God sent a plague on the people because David took a census (2 Sam Ch. 24).

Jonah was swallowed by a “great fish” (Jon Ch. 1-2).

     These are just a few examples. However, because we don’t really see specific examples of God punishing those who belong to Him for disobedience in the New Testament (see UPDATE at bottom), it is said by these leaders we spoke of above that God no longer punishes His people. It is taught that: “God does NOT punish people today because Jesus took our punishment on the cross.” “God will discipline us, but not punish us.” This is utter NONSENSE to me…..

     Let me share this definition of “discipline” that I believe is very well said from my “Illustrated Dictionary Of The Bible” by Herbert Lockyer.  It says, “The Biblical concept of discipline has both a positive side (instruction, knowledge, and training) and negative aspect (correction, punishment, and reproof). Those who refuse to submit to God’s positive discipline by obeying His laws will experience God’s negative discipline through His wrath and judgment. Also see Chasten, Chastisement.”

     God loves us. He is gracious and compassionate (Ps 111:4)(Ps 112:4)(Ps 145:8), merciful and longsuffering (Ex 34:6)(Num 14:18), full of lovingkindness (Ps 36:7)(Ps 40:1-11)(Ps 63:3)(Ps 69:16), and slow to anger (Neh 9:17)(Ps 103:8)(Joel 2:13)(Jon 4:2)(Nah 1:3) towards us. Because of these attributes, as well His grace and mercy, He will often begin discipline for disobedience “gently,” just as a parent would do with their own child. There can be words of warning, instruction on the right way to do things, minor correction, etc. However, if we do not yield to God’s “gentle” discipline (confess our sin or sins and repent), He can, and will take stronger steps. This becomes “punishment.” God’s punishment can be painful. Again, using the earthly parent, examples could be “loss of privileges” or “spanking.”

     God’s “spanking” may not be exactly like a spanking that we receive from our parents, but if He does “spank,” you will almost certainly know you have been “spanked.” Have you ever been “spanked” by God? How does God “spank?” The Old Testament examples I gave above are some examples. God described some of the punishments He would carry out on the Israelites for disobedience in (Lev 26:14-43)(Deut 28:15-68). The Bible says that SOME (but not most: see Q: #120.) sickness can be the result of sin. The Bible says in (1 Cor 11:27-30) that taking communion in an unworthy manner can make people sick.

     For parents, the use of “punishment” in “discipline” should ALWAYS be done with the ultimate goal of correcting future behavior. For the Christian, it should also be done to have your child living in a way that God desires, obeying His commands. It should be done with compassion, love, without anger, and with a clear explanation of why the punishment has been administered. Done in this way, punishment can be very effective. However, if it is done in an improper way, it CAN become abuse, and this is a line that should NEVER be crossed. We can be sure that God’s punishment is ALWAYS done in the proper way, with His goal being to help us become more like Jesus (which should be our ultimate goal as well: 2 Cor 3:17-18, Eph 4:13, Phil 3:12-14).

     One final aspect of this I would like to address is the “fear” of God. I speak of this in depth here, but in short, the Bible says that it is wisdom to fear God (Prov 1:7)(Prov 15:33)(Prov 9:10)(Ps 111:10)(Job 28:28). The word that many Christians use to describe what “fear” means is to have reverence, respect, or awe for God. That is most certainly one way the word “fear” is used in the Bible. However, should we truly FEAR, as in be afraid of God, as well? Yes! Nearly every Christian will agree “God is love,” and He is indeed that, however, what SO many fail to see is that God is equally a “God of justice.”

     This lack of fear is a huge problem amongst Christians today. We should think of it like this: did you (or do you now) as a child fear discipline from your earthly father if you did wrong? If your father trained you up in God’s ways (i.e. using the rod for discipline and punishment of wrong behavior Prov 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15), I suspect you feared that discipline a LOT! The same should apply to God. We knew our earthly father loved us growing up (for most of us), but we also knew that in his love, he would discipline or punish us if we were disobedient. This same “love” and “fear” should apply to our Father in Heaven. Just as our earthly father may sometimes need to use the “rod,” so might our Heavenly Father. Speaking of “the rod,” I would like to add two notes here:

1. Does it really make sense that God would tell US to use the rod from time to time for punishment, but God Himself would not?

2. If you say, as some are saying, that using “the rod” is not punishment, but instead “discipline,” why does spanking fall under the definition of “corporal punishment?”

     Finally, let me close with two things. First, I want to say that we should NOT have a picture in our head of God sitting up in Heaven just waiting for us to “mess up” so He can punish us. As I stated above, God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and full of love for us. He is NOT going to STRONGLY discipline us every time we sin, or we would face this numerous times each day. I truly believe that when we sin, if we confess our sins, and repent, God TOTALLY forgives. However, as Christians, if we continue on wrong paths, and are unwilling to heed God’s warnings, He will use stronger methods. May we never let sin in our lives get to this point.

     Secondly, there is one sense in which God will never punish Christians. In the New Testament, punishment is associated with Hell four times (Mt 25:46)(2 Th 1:9)(Heb 10:29)(2 Pet 2:9). Anyone who accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and the sacrifice that He made on the cross to pay for their sins, will not receive the punishment of Hell for their sins when they die. HOWEVER, to equate this with saying God will not “punish” us for certain sins while we live our lives on Earth seems a serious mistake to me.

P.S. For those of you out there who believe you can lose your salvation (not me), you certainly cannot deny that God punishes.

UPDATE: (4-3-21) I recently completed a study titled: “Are Ananias and Sapphira in Hell (Acts 5:1-11)?” As I studied this, I found clear evidence that Ananias and Sapphira were “Christians” (I had previously thought they were non-Christians)! If you don’t know the story, in short, God killed Ananias and Sapphira for “lying to the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God took the lives of two “Christians” who lied Him. This seems to be pretty clear evidence in the “New Testament” that God still PUNISHES Christians today, right? (Unless you don’t think that God killing a Christian is “punishment…”)

Copyright: © Steve Shirley

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Clark Kelsey

Well said, Steve, and very Biblical. Thank you for speaking the words of God.

Nancy Dennard

Thank you for your clear thinking and presentation on this topic! We’ll none!