RETRIBUTION FOR BELIEVERS (By Joey Faust)
by Joey Faust
1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
6 That NO MAN go beyond and defraud HIS BROTHER in any matter: because that THE LORD IS THE AVENGER OF ALL SUCH, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
The above Scriptures reveal that the Lord will meet some believers as an AVENGER. This clearly speaks of retribution. And we are warned that such terror may be experienced at the Judgment Seat of Christ when the Lord returns (2 Corinthians 5:9-11). Such plain truth is shunned or denied for certain philosophical or emotional reasons that will be evaluated in this article.
When believers come face to face with the Biblical warnings to believers in regard to the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Millennium it is natural for many to wonder WHY the Lord would punish at such times. The time for repentance for believers will be ended when the Lord returns and reigns in His Kingdom. Many therefore use this question as an objection:
"Why would God temporarily punish believers at the Judgment Seat? What good would it do? It will then be too late for repentance and reformation. All judgment upon believers is for repentance and reformation. Therefore, the view that God will punish unfaithful believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ and during the Millennium must be wrong, since there would be no reason left, at these times, for such punishment."
Of course, a faulty premise will result in a faulty conclusion. This objection assumes that reformation and prevention are the ONLY purposes of judgment in regard to believers. It entirely overlooks the fact that RETRIBUTION is a crucial purpose of judgment, even for the children of God - especially after previous warnings and chastenings have been despised and spurned. It is crucial that we do not allow modern, humanistic philosophy and psychology to influence our doctrinal views (Colossians 2:8). Humanism naturally recoils from all aspects of Divine retribution, in all its manifestations. Therefore, to rightly comprehend the Bible's teachings in regard to the Judgment Seat of Christ, all faulty, humanistic foundations must be rejected.
Before examining the Scriptures on the subject of retribution, it might be helpful to notice the changes that many have made (or desire to make) to the criminal justice system in America. These changes reflect a "new" way of thinking that has had profound effects upon the way the Scriptures are viewed and interpreted. We are living in an age that largely views retribution as archaic, rusty, and even savage. Criminals (especially women) are too often viewed as victims. (Even Judas is being "rehabilitated" as a victim!) They are seen as "sick," and therefore in need of "treatment" and rehabilitation. Increasingly, punishment is determined by judges based upon the perceived good it might or might not do to the criminal! This humanistic view is often called utilitarianism. It maintains that only the criminal's future matters. Both the real victim, and the very principle of justice itself, are often ignored in order to apologize to, excuse, and "treat" the criminal. There is a growing movement that believes that the duty of sentencing criminals should be totally removed from judges and placed into the hands of "doctors" and mental specialists (i.e. psychological quacks). Certainly, with such humanistic philosophies abounding, it is no wonder that we might have some trouble grasping the Biblical doctrine of retribution (especially when applied to the people of God).
Presbyterian minister James M. Orr (1838-1865) noticed the error of the modern view of punishment that was already gaining some ground in his day:
"The modern humanitarian spirit tends to exalt the reformatory and preventive ends of punishment, at the expense of the RETRIBUTIVE. That every effort should be put forth for the reformation of the criminal which the case admits of, we cordially allow. But the danger is, in these matters, that sentiment degenerate into sentimentalism. Crime DESERVES punishment, and on that ground alone, were there no other, ought to receive it. No theory can be satisfactory which loses sight of RETRIBUTION, and makes reformation and prevention the all in all." ("Pulpit Commentary," Deuteronomy 25)
Have not many modern Christians succumbed to this error in their views concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ? Certainly, the whole concept of punishment has been attacked in the state, in the home, and in the church; and this has greatly downgraded the views of many preachers in regard to the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers. First, the "modern humanitarian spirit" (which has its foundation in humanism) has made the very idea of punishment for unfaithful believers seem shocking, absurd and preposterous. My book, "The Rod: Will God Spare It," connects the modern rejection of the Judgment Seat of Christ (for God's children) with the humanistic rejection of Biblical discipline in the home. Many preachers who rightly resist the humanistic attacks upon the family, and upon Biblical discipline in the home, are nevertheless, unwittingly drunken with the same spirit when it comes to the Judgment Seat of Christ. With one side of their mouths they exhort fathers not to spare the rod; yet with the other side, they teach that GOD will automatically spare the rod at the Judgment Seat! Secondly, the "sentimentalism" of this modern humanism moves many to overlook RETRIBUTION as one of the chief purposes of judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ. When this crucial purpose is lost sight of, or forgotten, the Biblical-judgment warnings to believers are constricted and made to conform to the dictates of humanistic philosophy. In the same manner that our law courts are infected with a lackadaisical mentality ("What's done is done; what good would it do the criminal to punish him/her now?"), so are our pulpits often diseased with the same vain reasonings in regard to the warnings concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ!
William Powell Clark (in the 1920's), writes:
"The real reason underlying the refusal of some dear children of God to accept belief in the punishment of unfruitful believers - not eternal, but during the Millennial reign of Christ - is an inadequate sense of THE JUSTICE OF GOD. Acceptance of the belief in the temporary punishment of such Christians during the Millennial reign safeguards the eternal merits of Christ's atonement on the cross, and at the same time, preserves the absolute Justice of God."
Notice, this Christian judge had a clear view of the necessity of JUSTICE at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Clark believed that the adoption of humanistic thinking concerning retribution and justice was the underlying cause for the disbelief of many in regard to the Lord's warnings to unfaithful believers. If this was the case in the 1920's, how much more is this modern generation of Christians confused concerning God's retributive justice? Let us pray that we might see these concepts in a Biblical manner.
At the heart of retributive justice are the concepts of merit and desert. Justice REPAYS the guilty for his or her wrongs committed. Therefore, in answering the question of whether retribution plays a crucial part in the judgments unfaithful believers will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we simply need to examine the Scriptures to see if such concepts are used in relation to believers. Upon doing so, we immediately find that retribution plays an important role at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Notice how contrary the following Scriptures are to the ungrounded view that states that RETRIBUTION (i.e. God's moral justice) must play no part in the judgments upon unfaithful believers WHEN THEY STAND BEFORE GOD'S TRIBUNAL:
Colossians 3:23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25 But HE THAT DOETH WRONG shall RECEIVE FOR THE WRONG which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
4:1 Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that YE ALSO HAVE A MASTER IN HEAVEN.
The idea of "receiving for the wrong" is certainly that old, archaic, traditional view of justice! The context refers to believers. And notice that the Judgment Seat of Christ is not merely PARENTAL in nature. There are other pictures or backdrops in place. There is also the servant/master relationship that occurs so often in Biblical warnings to believers! While some in modern times might have trouble understanding retribution in the parental setting, none should have any trouble understanding it in the servant/master relationship often presented in the Bible:
Matthew 24:48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Many wrongly decry the application of these Gospel warnings to believers (also see Luke 12:45-48, 19:22-26, Matthew 25:30, etc.). Many get on a high horse and proclaim, "We are not mere servants. We are sons!" For the moment, we will put aside the fact that fathers had the power of life and death over their sons in ancient times. We also will ignore the fact that in the Old Testament legislation, incorrigible sons who would not repent after they had been properly chastised, were to be slain (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Certainly, these are important types for the New Testament teaching on the Judgment Seat of Christ. But what is more important is the fact that the Epistles do not present "sonship" as the only picture or relationship between believers and the Lord! The Judgment Seat of Christ is largely presented to New Testament believers in the context of the servant/master relationship (as seen in Colossians 4:1). And in the context of this relationship, "mere retribution" plays an important role:
Ephesians 6:9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to HIS OWN MASTER he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Again, Romans 14, like the Gospel warnings, presents future judgment in the context of a servant/master relationship (John 13:13). However, it even goes beyond this picture, since the very subject of a "judgment seat" reveals the throne of a magistrate:
John 19:13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the JUDGMENT SEAT in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.
Acts 18:12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the JUDGMENT SEAT,
Acts 25:10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's JUDGMENT SEAT, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die...
The fable that the Judgment Seat of Christ is only an awards banquet of some kind (usually argued by replacing the word "judgment" with "bema," though the preacher is speaking English!) is plainly exposed by the above Scriptures which use the same word for "judgment." At Caesar's "judgment seat" there was RETRIBUTION, even to death! And the Lord Jesus Christ, as King of Kings, has a higher, more terrible throne than any Caesar!:
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST; that every one may RECEIVE THE THINGS DONE in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
11 Knowing therefore the TERROR OF THE LORD, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
It should be clear to all that the Lord's judgment throne is a throne of retribution for believers, and that we need to bring our doctrinal views in line with the Scriptures. Notice how the earthly ruler is called by God to render justice and retribution:
Romans 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a REVENGER to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
If he is a REVENGER, then he is called to administer justice and retribution! And we have already seen that the New Testament presents God as a Master or Judge who will REPAY believers according to the deeds done in the body. The concepts of repaying and avenging are central to the concept of moral retribution!
With these thoughts in mind, notice another important Scripture:
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him that hath said, VENGEANCE BELONGETH UNTO ME, I WILL RECOMPENSE, saith the Lord. And again, THE LORD SHALL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This passage presents the judgment upon believers (who do despite unto the Spirit of grace and refuse to repent) as "vengeance," and a "recompense." These are the same elements of retribution that we have seen presented elsewhere in relation to the judgment of believers:
Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my REWARD is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
Hebrews 2:2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just RECOMPENCE of reward;
3 How shall WE escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
The upholding of moral justice is a crucial purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom. The Bible teaches that the coming age of justice (in contrast to this age of the Lord's longsuffering) will BEGIN with the judgment of the Lord's own household:
1 Peter 4:17 For the time is come that JUDGMENT MUST BEGIN AT THE HOUSE OF GOD: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
"...the coming millennial day of Justice, dominated by the Judgment Seat, has for its essential characteristic the recoil of works in JUDICIAL RETRIBUTION. 'For he that doeth wrong...'- the context is addressed solely to believers (Col. 3:25)."
(D.M. Panton, "The Judgment Seat of Christ")
What would it teach the nations of the Millennial age if there was no retribution at all for the unfaithful of the Lord's own household? What do people think of one who is strict with his neighbors but too soft with his own household? Did not Eli's softness concerning his own house provoke Israel to abhor the offering of the Lord? The Lord will uphold moral justice for the righteousness of the principle itself. But this just retribution (for those who did not seek mercy beforehand) will also demonstrate the righteousness of God to all nations, and even to the angels.
It is interesting that the majority of objectors to retribution at the Judgment Seat of Christ have no problem with positive rewards:
Hebrews 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the RECOMPENCE of the reward.
Yet, the same moral justice that rewards good behavior must likewise punish bad behavior. The same error is seen in the many interpreters who take the promises of reward literally (i.e. Jesus will gird himself and serve the dining believer, Luke 12:37), yet refuse or spiritualize the warnings in the same context (12:39, 46-49).
The main objection offered against retribution at the Judgment Seat of Christ (for believers) is that since the Lord has already PAID for all sins (past, present and future), there is, therefore, no place or ground for ANY future retribution. However, this objection fails to leave any logical room for any chastisement at all, even in this life! Yet, the Bible teaches that believers may be judged for sins committed after regeneration (Acts 5:10, 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, 1 John 5:16, etc.). Therefore, the fact that Jesus has PAID for the sins of believers does not mean that there is no danger of any consequences for sins committed after salvation. In the type, David was forgiven of adultery and murder, but he still suffered some temporal consequences (2 Samuel 12:10-14). The smallest sin in the sight of the eternal God merits eternal torment; yet the Blood of Jesus has removed this penalty for every believer, for all sins (past, present and future). But the Lord's work on the Cross was never meant to bar the Father from administrating the affairs of His household! The merits of Christ place the sinner on new ground (as a son, servant, etc.). But this new ground is not without some severe accountability - even though there is no danger of eternal retribution.
The branch that obediently abides in the vine, is purged so it will bring forth more fruit (John 15:2). This is the only aspect of God's parental dealings that are admitted or taught by many preachers. However, this purging is for faithful, obedient believers! The Lord warns that the branch that does not abide in the Vine, will not be purged - it will be cut off (John 15:2,6). Some believers refuse the discipline that is meant for their growth in holiness. They faint under or despise the purging. Such discipline that is not endured in patience (giving God reverence by our subjection) can result in severe retribution, in this life, and at the Judgment Seat.
The very facts concerning the judgment of believers in this life reveal that the humanistic theory is in error. If retribution plays no part at all in the judgment of believers, and they can only be chastised for one purpose (i.e. provoking their repentance in this life), then how does one answer the fact that believers are sometimes killed by God for their sins (Acts 5:10, 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, 1 John 5:16, etc.)? Certainly, it is obvious that such a judgment leaves no room for repentance, reformation or rehabilitation in this life! It therefore follows that the theory that all judgment of believers is only for correction in this life is erroneous. Believers are often judged for the purpose of retribution; and any "correction" and instruction (at least in this life) is often for others who see the judgment:
Acts 5:10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon ALL THE CHURCH, and upon as many as heard these things.
Even the retribution that was often administered to Old Testament believers is used as a warning example to New Testament believers (1 Corinthians 10:11).
On the other hand, although moral retribution is an important purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ, I do not maintain that it is the only purpose. God is able (and He has every right) to use such judgments to accomplish ALL the purposes He intends to accomplish. The intent of this article is to demonstrate the error of binding the Lord to only one purpose of judgment concerning believers. RETRIBUTION ALONE is presented in the Scriptures as a crucial purpose for judging some believers during the Millennial Age. Disobedient, unrepentant believers (who seek no mercy beforehand in godly fear) must be punished on the grounds of moral justice alone. The prevalent ignorance of this well-established principle of criminal justice moves many modern judges to let repeat offenders escape proper prison-time. They reason, "What good would such an extended stay in prison do for the rapist or murderer? We cannot undo the crime. Let us therefore concentrate on helping the criminal." We must not use such humanistic, darkened reasonings when interpreting the warnings to believers!