“Against You, You only, have I sinned” - Psalm 51:4
Does the punishment fit the crime? As a society, we frequently ask that very question about criminal cases in the news. We are appalled at the light sentences given to abusers, pedophiles, drunk drivers, rapists, murderers, and the like. We are aggravated and disgusted when victims are treated like criminals and criminals appear to have more rights than their victims. We sense there is something inherently wrong, unjust, when we see such things. When the sentence doesn’t fit the crime, it has a destabilizing effect on society. But I would like to apply this question to an even more important area, eternity. Will God actually sentence people to hell? Does His eternal punishment fit the crime of our sin? Are we guilty of crimes of sin deserving of a sentence of hell?
At present atheism seems to be going through a cycle of popularity in society. But those who do accept the existence of God, (and statistically they still remain in the majority) frequently doubt that God would send anyone to hell. They may accept that God would send those to hell who are guilty of the most heinous crimes, but they don’t see themselves as that bad. In general people feel they will be good enough to get into heaven and avoid hell.
While statistics show a trend away from orthodoxy, studies continue to show that a majority of people believe in a heaven and a hell. A significant portion of the populace still accept the gospel, i.e. “confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior” as means of going to heaven. But there is a growing majority of people who are unclear about what determines their destiny. Those who choose to reject the gospel say their eternal destination is based on one of three things: keeping the Law of the Ten Commandments; their basic goodness; or a view of God that disallows a sentence to a place called hell. What does God say about this? What does He tell us in His word?
The first thing we need to consider is what has God revealed about Himself in His word? God is holy and He commands His followers to be holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). God’s revelation of Himself says He has an aversion, a revulsion to sin:
· Habakkuk 1:13a - You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.
God states that sin separates us from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Bible says if we allow sin to reside in our hearts God will not hear our prayers (Psalm 66:18). The Bible says God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). God and sin do not mix.
What is hell? Hell is a place created by God for the devil and demons (Mat. 25:41). It is a real place. The Bible also says the person who sins, “is of the devil” (1 John 3:8; cf. also Eph. 2:1-3). The wicked or sinners will be turned into hell (Psalm 9:17). God will cast the sinner into hell and therefore we ought to revere Him (Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). Hell is a place of everlasting fire, punishment and torment where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 25:41, 46; Rev. 19:20). Though not created by God for people, those who sin will be cast there to join the devil and his demons (Rev. 21:8).
What is sin? God has given us a Book called the Bible which is a manual for life. This Book explains the problem of sin and its solution. This Book explains God has given us laws that explain how we can experience prosperity, blessing, fullness of life (Joshua 1:8; 1 Chron. 22:13). God’s law consists of rules, principles, statutes, and God’s judgments. God’s laws tell us the parameters of what He says right and wrong is. Living within the parameters of His word and law is righteousness. Living righteously (i.e. keeping the law) assures we will experience life as He created us to live it. It will also assure that we don’t harm others. Sin is breaking God’s law in word, deed or thought. John put it this way, “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17a). Sin beaks our relationship with God. Sin causes pain in our relationship with others, including God.
What does sin look like? In Exodus 20 God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. These ten laws of God given to His people serve as the summation of His Law. There were 613 lesser laws given but the Ten Commandments serve as the bedrock of the Law of God. These Ten can be described as:
1. Not having any other God’s except Almighty God.
2. Do not make any images or idols of God or any other gods.
3. Respect God’s name; don’t use it in vain.
4. Keep the Sabbath.
5. Honor your parents.
6. Don’t murder anyone.
7. Don’t commit adultery; stay true to your marriage covenant.
8. Don’t steal anything.
9. Don’t lie or bear false witness against anyone.
10. Don’t covet.
Sin is when we break such laws. All sin is against God and His Law (Psalm 51:4). The first four are vertical and directly against God while the last six are horizontal and indirectly against God but directly against other people.
What is the penalty for breaking these laws? The penalty for breaking God’s laws is death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). God says, “Behold. All souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). It’s at this point that some might respond, “Isn’t that harsh? Does the punishment fit the crime? Isn’t God loving?” Yes, God is loving, but God is also holy, just and righteous. God is of purer eyes than to look on wickedness. Breaking or disregarding His law is rooted in pride, rebellion and is wickedness. “Wickedness” as spoken of by prophet Habakkuk means acts of deceit, treachery, faithlessness (Habakkuk 1:13). God will not even look at such things; He will put them out of His presence.
Does the punishment of God fit the crime of sin? Let me share a personal story from my youth. When I was a kid during the summer time we’d play outside from morning to night. We’d get on our bicycles and ride all over the place. We’d play sports. We’d chase each other all around. And sometimes, when we were going through a particularly long dry spell that made the dirt crusty we’d have “dirt bomb” fights. That’s when you collect clumps of dry stony dirt and throw it at each other. It was kind of like a summer version of snow ball fighting. Well, one time we were having a monumental dirt bomb battle and had all suffered some direct hits. We accepted that as part of the game. You hit and got hit, no problem. We got to the point where we called a mutually agreed upon cease fire. But now what? What would we do for the rest of the day. I don’t know who it was but one of our crew got the brilliant idea to hide in a tree line adjacent to a busy road and start throwing dirt bombs as passing cars. We collected our ammunition and snuck up to the tree line. We lay in wait, waiting for the call to let her rip at some unsuspecting motorist. (Yes, it was dangerous and not the brightest idea. We could have caused an accident. But we were kids and out for fun at others expense. We didn’t really give it a lot of thought.) Waiting, waiting, hold, get ready, and in the distance we saw the perfect target, A CONVERTIBLE! And the top was down. As soon as that bright shinny top down beauty passed by we let her rip. Bang, bang, bang, clunk, screech! That screech indicated we had made direct hits. But what we didn’t figure is that “screech” part of the motorist pulling over to the side of the road, GETTING OUT OF HIS CAR, AND COMING AFTER US!
Needless to say, the fun in that game blew out as fast as air out of a popped balloon. We did what any other kid our age would do, have an instant moment of regret and then run like the blazes on an escape route. We thought we could run pretty fast but this guy proved to be an Olympian-like sprinter. We split up and kept running. I stayed with a friend of mine who lived in an apartment nearby. We glanced back only to have our terror heightened when we saw that the just pursuer had sovereignly chosen us to chase. We ran down a hill, through a parking lot, up some rear stairs, and into the apartment. We ran as fast as we could but that guy wasn’t giving up. Then we did what any other kid of that day would do in such a situation, we ran to the nearest mother for protection. We ran to my friend’s apartment as our “city of refuge” and once inside one glance of his mother at our fear laden faces told her she needed to go in protection mode. We ran to my friend’s room and literally hid and listened. Almost instantly we heard loud banging on the metal apartment door. My friend’s mother spoke through the door in an effort to calm down our pursuer. He must have cooled down a bit. Then she opened the door and reasoned with him. We heard some raised voices and shouting and then a calm. Moms can be pretty diplomatic you know. He left and we soon felt the consequences when news of our exploits traveled over the Mom’s phone network. Believe me there were consequences of varying degrees and I can’t remember ever having another dirt bomb fight after that.
What’s the point? The point is that when you’re throwing dirt bombs at your buddies there’s little fear of offense but when your target becomes an adult the offense will be noted and punished. We often minimize our sins because we limit their definition to our horizontal plane. But when we see our sins on the vertical plane of God, that our sins are against an Almighty All-Powerful Adult God, our sins take on much more severity. Throw something at an equal and offense is minimal. Throw something at an Authority and there are consequences. Throw a dirt bomb at a friend and it’s no big deal. Throw a dirt bomb at and adult, or an elderly person, a police officer or president, and you’re in deep trouble. Sin’s severity is measured by who it offends. All sin is ultimately against God and severely offensive. The Bible states, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Think about that. When we see sin as against God Almighty, no sin is a “small” sin.
Let’s pretend we are in a secular worldly court. The judge is just a regular human being in a position of authority. Before him is brought a man who has disrespected, rebelled against and murdered his parents, has murdered numerous other people, has committed adultery on numerous occasions, has stolen repeatedly, has lived the life of deception and is a compulsive liar, and is driven by a lust for more of what he already has enough of. In addition to that this criminal is disrespectful and disobedient toward the judge. He curses the name of the judge and won’t rest and calm down when the judge orders him to. What would you say about such a man? What would a just sentence for him be? He’s a parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, lustful man. If anyone was due the death sentence certainly he would be!
But you say, “That’s not me! I’m not that bad.” The Bible warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3). The Bible says we should examine and test ourselves to see where we stand with God (2 Cor. 13:5). Let’s do that.
Have you always honored your parents? We may respond that there have been times when we’ve dishonored or rebelled against our parents but not always. Maybe you are in rebellion against your parents now. Maybe you’ve rebelled against them in the past. How much rebellion against your parents can be equated with dishonoring them? Any amount! But what about parenticide? You say, “I haven’t killed my parents. I’m not that bad.” Jesus said that if you’re angry with someone or call them a fool or something equivalent to that it’s as though you’ve killed them in your heart (Mat. 5:21-26). That’s His standard of judgment. Have you ever been angry with your parents? Parenticide!
Ever murdered someone? Here we are not talking about killing of a human being in the line of duty such as with a policeman or military person. Here we are talking about murder. And again, Jesus’ standard equates anger with murder. Ever get angry with someone? Murderer! Probably a mass murderer!
How about adultery? Ever commit adultery. “Oh no, I’ve always been faithful to my spouse” you say. But Jesus’ standard here is higher than mere actions too. He said if we even have a lustful thought about someone we are guilty of committing adultery in our hearts (Mat. 5:27-30). Even have a lustful thought, a fantasy, anything about anyone anytime other than the one you are married to? This includes those who are single. Ever have a lustful thought? Adulterer!
Ever stolen anything, anything, anytime? How much do you have to steal to be considered a thief? Anything, even a paper clip that makes you a thief. How about lying; ever spoken a non-truth? Ever lied about your age, your weight, your income, your past, your present, ever lied at all? Liar! Ever wanted something someone else has? Ever wanted more of what you already have enough of? Ever yearned for something, lusted after it? Coveter!
So far we’re finding we’re not as different from our imaginary criminal as we thought ourselves to be. We’re finding we’re parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, lustful just like that man. We haven’t even considered our relation to a Judge who is God Almighty, All Holy, perfectly just and righteous. Has He always been first and foremost in our lives; our thoughts and actions; our priorities? If not that’s blasphemy. Have we idolized God? Have we defined Him as we see Him or want to see Him rather than how He has revealed Himself to be in truth? Your God is your master passion. If anything takes priority in our lives besides God we’ve broken the second commandment. That’s idolatry. How about the way we have referred to God? Ever used His name as a four letter curse word? Ever referred to Him and used His name in a profane way, even a common or irreverent way? If so that’s taking the Lord’s name in vain; that’s disrespecting the God of glory! How about observing His Sabbath? Some will say, “Oh, that’s just for Jewish people.” But wait, the Sabbath of God is holy and there is a principle here. To rest on the Sabbath is a demonstration of faith and trust in God to provide for you. We rest trusting that God will supply our needs. The Bible says whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). God has done so much for you, He has been so faithful and true, and will you distrust Him? That’s offensive to God.
So to the charges of parenticidal, homicidal, sex crazed, thieving, lying, and lust we can add the highly offensive to God charges of blasphemy, idolatry, profane use of God’s name and distrust of God to our ledger. Now, do you see a bit more how the death penalty for sin is appropriate? The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins is deserving of death. And death here is not annihilation. The death sentence here is an eternal sentence of existence in a place called hell; a place of darkness, loneliness, regret and torment. That is a just sentence for the sinner.
If you were to stand before God charged with such offenses would He pronounce you guilty or innocent? Does that matter to you? If it doesn’t matter to you I would like to give you further warning. In the gospels Jesus performed countless miracles and taught powerful truth. The religious of His day refused to heed His words or acknowledge His work. There came a point where they could not believe (John 12:35-41). Refusing to respond to God leads to hardening of your heart. The more you refuse to turn to God from your sin the harder your heart becomes and the harder it is for you to do so. Only God knows when a person reaches this point of no return. But why risk getting to that point?
What can we do about our sinful state? The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The Bible states:
· Acts 17:30-31 - Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
There is a Judgment Day coming. You may have been ignorant of your sin predicament before but you aren’t now. Where do you stand with God?
Let me say first that salvation from sin is not a matter of keeping the laws of God. God’s law exposes our sinfulness and shows us the futility of trying to keep them in our own strength (Rom. 7:7). The law shows us we are sinful (1 Tim. 1:8-11). And the law in pointing out our sin also leads us to the solution for our sin problem, Jesus (Gal. 3:24).
God calls everyone to repent of their sin. To repent means to respond to God, to turn to Him. To repent means to have a change of heart that leads to a change in life action. No one can come to God unless God draws them to Himself (John 6:44). God has been reaching out to you. The Holy Spirit has been convicting you of your sin (John 16:8-11). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalm 25:10). The truth is you are guilty as sin before a Holy God. But God is merciful. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. He has made a way for you to be justly forgiven. He has made a way for you to have your sins wiped away so that it will be just as if you’ve never sinned (e.g. Rom. 5:1). He has made a way for you to replace death with spiritual eternal life. He has done all of this through Jesus Christ.
The Man ordained or anointed and chosen by God to make the way for salvation from sin is Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross for you and for me; for sinners. Jesus lived a life of perfect and without sin (1 Pet 1:18-19). He died on the cross, the just for the unjust, to pay our death penalty for us (1 Pet 3:18). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). That can happen when we put our faith in Him. It isn’t a matter of us doing some good works or religious activity (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Jesus has done the work for us; the work of salvation is compete; “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We need to receive by faith what God has provided for us in Christ.
God who is Holy is also gracious and loving. Humanity has a humanly insurmountable debt of sin. But God has made a divine way for lost humanity to be redeemed from that debt of sin. He has made a way for humanity to be saved from their sin by sending His One and only Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This work of Jesus has been shown to be valid and completely satisfactory to God by His resurrection from the dead. Therefore this work of Jesus for salvation can be put to our account; we can be forgiven all our sin (past, present, even future sin) when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). The saving transaction is put to our account by faith. It is offered by God freely to us by His grace and appropriated to our account by faith. God’s grace is God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense. The faith that saves us is Forsaking All (other alternatives) I Trust Him. Salvation is not about something we do, it is all about accepting by faith something Jesus has done for us.
Salvation is freely provided by God but it wasn’t cheap; it cost Christ His life. We justly deserve the death penalty. In His mercy God makes a way so that we can avoid the death sentence we deserve. But God goes beyond that and gives us what we don’t deserve, His precious promises of a personal eternal relationship with Him. Jesus said eternal life was knowing Him and the Father (John 17:3). The Bible says:
· Philippians 4:19 - And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
God promises to meet all our needs.
· 2 Peter 1:3-4 - 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
God promises to change us and make us like Jesus (cf. also Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). And you know what else? When we accept Jesus as Savior by faith, God forgive our sin, but He also gives us spiritual life by indwelling us with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-11). When the Holy Spirit indwells us He pours His love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). And this love, lived out in and through us, fulfills God’s law! (Rom. 13:10). Those are incredible truths. Jesus promises us abundant life (John 10:10). The appropriate response to God’s grace is to receive it and love God for it (Jon 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:1-16).
Think of it, justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Does the punishment fit the crime? Is God fair with us? What do you think now? God is incredibly loving and giving. In light of Holy God the more important question is do we deserve God’s grace? The answer is no we do not. But thank God that He gives it to us anyway. Thank God our salvation is contingent on Him and not us. Now, what will you do? I hope you will turn to God in Christ and be saved.