DOES GOD CHASTEN US WHEN WE SIN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Do my difficult circumstances indicate that God is mad at me? Is God punishing me because of my “unconfessed sin?” Does God still love me? Is God “going to get me” when I sin? Are my difficult circumstances God’s retribution for my sins?
One of the chief differences between religion (Christendom) and grace (Christianity) is the issue of divine punishment inflicted on disobedient Christians. How many times have ministers accused suffering Christians of having unconfessed sins, having backslidden, having apostatized, and so on? How many sincere, God-fearing, Jesus Christ-believing Christians have had sickly children, accidents, financial hardships, miscarriages, divorces, and prolonged illness, and religion has added to their pain by “beating them up” by saying, “You are under God’s punishing hand?” These religionists quote assorted Bible verses about God’s wrath supposedly being poured out on sinful Christians. Sadly, people usually never bother to read the contexts of those verses quoted during such circumstances. Beloved, we need to look at the Bible verses often used to teach that God “chastens” us today, and see what those verses really teach. The pure Holy Bible is our final authority, not a denominational interpretation of it.
Let us examine some of the passages from the New Testament that are used to teach that God chastens believers today. We will see what the Scriptures really say and teach about chastisement in the Dispensation of Grace.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:29-32
Those who claim that God chastens believers today using troubling circumstances, cite 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 to justify that belief and teaching. Please read that passage here: “ For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
This passage is commonly used to teach that God will cause sickness among, or even kill, believers who habitually live in sin, particularly when they abuse the Lord’s Supper (they assert that God did this to the Corinthians, focusing on verse 32 when it says, “we are chastened of the Lord”). Verse 32 should be considered in light of the whole passage, and should not be isolated.
Certainly, some of the Corinthians were getting drunk and being gluttonous when observing the Lord’s Supper (see verses 21-22). Overeating and drunkenness are known to cause illness and even death. However, please understand that God was not punishing the Corinthians for their bad behavior; the Corinthians simply reaped the results of their sowing to the flesh instead of sowing to the Spirit. God was not causing the Corinthians to get sick and/or to die; He simply let them reap the consequences of their actions. “ Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7-8). The Corinthians preferred drunkenness and gluttony, so God let them exercise free will to pursue it. Although Jesus Christ has taken away the eternal penalty of our sins (hell and the lake of fire), please understand that God will not remove the consequences of our poor judgment. If we choose a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, God will not shield us from the ill effects and poor health such a lifestyle brings. God will not keep us out of prison if we murder someone, commit theft, and so on. Again, the Corinthians were experiencing the natural results of their behavior. It was not God directing sickness and death to trouble them.
Here is where dispensational Bible study is so important. This is why “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is the key to understanding how God deals with us today. Today, God does not bless us on the basis of our works, our performance; moreover, God does not curse on the basis of our works, our performance. This is made abundantly clear in Paul’s epistle to the Romans and in his epistle to the Galatians. Romans 6:14-15: “ For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” We are blessed with every spiritual blessing only because of Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, not because we confessed our sins, lived a good life, prayed often, gave money to the church, got water baptized, et cetera. Our works are not the issue because God’s Word has already made it abundantly clear that our “good” works are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Those who claim that God is chastening believers today, will also cite Hebrews 12:5-11. Let us read that passage here: “ 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:  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
The book of Hebrews is especially cited regarding chastening in the lives of today’s Christians because it is often assumed that Paul wrote that book (thus, it is supposed, making Hebrews applicable to us). While beyond the scope of this study, there is plenty of Scriptural evidence to indicate that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews. Furthermore, Hebrews 12:5-11 has a context—it quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 (a passage to and about Israel), and from the book’s title, it is overwhelmingly clear that Hebrews is still a Jewish book with a Jewish title. It is the book to the Hebrews, after all, is it not? The book of Hebrews is not actually written to us or about us, the Church the Body of Christ, so we should not try to extract its legalistic teachings and force them on ourselves.
If we study the book of Hebrews, we learn that its contents are future, for it speaks of “the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5). The book of Hebrews is written to people who are anticipating Jesus Christ’s Second Coming (Hebrews 10:25)—we, the Body of Christ, are looking for the Rapture, not the Second Coming! The book of Hebrews is actually written to believing Israel living during the seven-year Tribulation. As per the Mosaic Law, the Old Covenant, if Israel disobeyed God, then she would receive a series of increasingly harsher judgments. The seven-year Tribulation is the conclusion of those judgments, God’s chastening of Israel for her many centuries of pagan idolatry. This is the chastening of which the book of Hebrews speaks; it has nothing to do with God punishing individual believers today, but rather God judging and purging the nation Israel during the seven-year Tribulation, so she can be God’s spotless nation to go into His everlasting earthly kingdom (which will begin with the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ).
WHY THIS ISSUE IS IMPORTANT
One of the cleverest ways the Devil confuses the Body of Christ is to quote Bible verses that have nothing to do with it. If it is in the Bible, it must be true for and us, right? Wrong! We can claim Israel’s legalistic passages in the Bible and still be outside of God’s will because those passages are not God’s will for us. Such deception of being Scriptural but not being dispensational is so subtle that it often goes unsuspected and undetected. It is abundantly clear that God dealt with Israel on the basis of works, and He will do so again. If Israel wanted to be blessed of God, Israel had to do good works by faith (James 2:14-26). When Israel disobeyed God, she received the curses, the judgments, the chastisement. See Deuteronomy chapter 28 and Leviticus chapter 26.
Back in Exodus chapter 19, God offered to make a covenant with Israel. Exodus 19:5-8: “ Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.  And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.  And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.” Israel agreed to enter into that Covenant of Law, and she was under it even during the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry (Galatians 4:4). Israel entered into a contract whereby she could only be God’s people IF she obeyed Him (refer back to Exodus 19:5); otherwise, Israel would be cursed, and under Satan’s control. God’s judgments on Israel were His attempt to reform her (see Leviticus 26:23), and teach her to do right in His sight, just as a parent would lovingly discipline his or her disobedient child.
Read Deuteronomy 28:1-2,15: “ And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:  And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. …  But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:….” He then lists the curses—sicknesses, wars, famines and other economic hardships, pestilences, and so on. Unfortunately, Israel “enjoyed” more of the curses in her history than the blessings.
The Law proved that sinful man could never measure up to what a holy God wanted. God proved to all the world that our performance will never get us anywhere before Him (Romans 3:19-20). That is why God offers to us His grace—what we do not deserve—in order to give us what we do not deserve, mercy and salvation from our sins. Law and grace are antithetical: they do not mix. To say we are saved by grace but that we must do good to avoid God’s punishment is to mix law and grace, and the whole book of Galatians refutes that combination. You destroy God’s grace when you mix it with law. If we allow even just a little leaven—a little legalism to creep in (see Galatians 5:9), Israel’s performance-based acceptance system—then we will begin to question all of God’s grace to us in Christ, we will begin to undermine the very life that God gave us in Christ. We start fearing God, we forget His love toward us in Christ, we think we have to work to please Him, we begin to doubt if we are even going to heaven, and on and on with the false doctrine Satan wants to use and distract us with.
Unfortunately, there are many inconsistent dispensationalists—people who understand Paul’s special ministry (Paul being our apostle) and the Church the Body of Christ and the Dispensation of Grace being revealed to Paul, but who will go to various other parts of the Bible and apply Israel’s passages to us Gentiles. Frankly, it is complete foolishness! We do not question their sincerity, but we question their theology. To separate Peter from Paul, law from grace, the nation Israel from the Body of Christ, prophecy from mystery, and THEN to combine all of the Bible into one buffet by taking Israel’s verses and making them apply to us, is doubletalk, and one of the silliest things of which I have ever heard. In fact, it is even worse than people who do not even know about Paul’s special ministry. To claim to understand the Bible rightly divided and then combine its various dispensations is being dishonest with God’s Word, and such shoddy Bible handling will undoubtedly cause (and has caused) unanswerable confusion in the lives of millions of Christians.
If God is punishing Christians for their bad behavior, that means that He is imputing their sins to them, and that means that Jesus Christ did not take care of their sin problem. If God has to punish us for our sins, what is the purpose of having Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Saviour? Does the Bible not say that God is not imputing our trespasses unto us (Romans 4:1-8)? Does the Bible not say that God has forgiven us of all trespasses (Colossians 2:13)? If God were holding sins against a Christian, that person could not actually be a Christian, for even one sin applied to one’s account would keep him or her out of heaven. Do you see what sorts of dangerous ideas creep in when it is not understand that divine chastisement has no place in our Dispensation of Grace? Furthermore, if God were punishing Christians for sins, every Christian would stay sick, stay poor, stay cursed. Everyone sins, even Christians, even the preachers who “beat up” the “sinful” suffering Christians.
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). If we have to do good works in order to maintain fellowship with God, if we have to be good in order to get God to bless us with grace and favor, that is legalism. God chastening Christians with difficult circumstances in the Dispensation of Grace is nothing more than legalism with a different face, a sneaky teaching indeed, another form of works-religion. Again, we do not question the sincerity of the people teaching divine chastisement in the Dispensation of Grace, but, on the authority of the Holy Bible rightly divided, we simply cannot agree with them and will not agree with them. Their teaching is dangerous because it allows legalism to creep into the Christian life and make God’s grace of none effect. These promoters have not learned what God’s grace is all about, and they need to learn how to distinguish between law and grace, works-religion and grace-relationship. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).
Ultimately, to argue that God manipulates our circumstances in order to punish us is to ignore the authority of the completed Holy Bible. We do not need God to speak to us apart from the Bible; there is no such thing as continuing revelation (God has already spoken and His words are written in the Holy Bible, preserved for us in English in the King James Bible). God is not teaching us anything by sending problems our way. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “ All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” If we want to learn what God has to say—what He wants to teach us (“doctrine”), how He wants to reform our behavior (“reproof”), how He wants to correct our bad thinking (“correction”), and how He wants us to live (“instruction in righteousness”)—we have to go to the Holy Bible (especially the Holy Scripture rightly divided, Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon). We live in a fallen world, and sin’s harmful results are to be expected. Those problems are the context in which we apply sound grace Bible teaching.
» Must I confess my sins?
» Is grace a “license to sin?” (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)
» What should I do when I sin? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)