Jesus has carried the punishment for all our sins: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Because He was punished in our place, God does not punish believers for their sins anymore.
This is God’s grace. Other religions teach that you get what you deserve. The Christian faith teaches us that Christ got what we deserved: the sentence of death. And we get what He earned for us: eternal life. Yet we know that when we become believers, we do not become perfect. There still is sin in our lives. What happens when we sin?
1. Your sin already has been forgiven
Christ died for our sins. He died for all our sins, past and future. When He died, He took the punishment for them. Our forgiveness was complete at the cross. So our sin already has been forgiven. There is no punishment left.
2. God disciplines us
When we sin, we turn away from the Lord. He wants to call us back to Him. Often He will let bad things happen to us. However, this is not meant as punishment (‘you deserve this!’), but as discipline (you are on the wrong way. Come back!’). The Bible shows us that God disciplines us because He loves us: “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). So if you are going through a difficult time, and you are wondering whether God is punishing you, the answer is ‘no’. God is not making you pay for your sins, for Jesus paid it all. But the Lord wants to teach you something. The lesson may be painful, but you can be sure that it is part of God’s good plan for your life.
3. Often God uses natural consequences in the discipline process
When we sin, often there will be consequences. When we insult someone, we may end up with a bloody nose. When we steal, we might end in jail. When we commit adultery, we might end up divorced. When we smoke, we might end up with lung cancer. Normally, the Lord will not protect us from these consequences. They are part of the discipline process. They make us realize what the temporary consequences of sin are. That reminds us of the eternal consequence of sin if we do not have a Savior. That eternal consequence is hell. It calls us to turn to God, if we never really put our trust in Jesus as our Savior; or it calls us to return to God, if we’ve strayed from Him.
To summarize: no, God does not punish believers. But that does not mean you will never encounter hardship. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we read: “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The Lord will send difficult situations our way. Let us rejoice in that, because it proves that He treats us as His children, and that He wants to teach us to be close to Him.