There are many things in our world that have penalties. At the present I am suffering the penalty for loving more chocolate than I ought. We find penalties for poor diets. We find penalties for failing to recognize the limits of our bodies, perhaps after too much lawn work. Maybe we’ve learned about penalties because of poor spending habits. One thing we may note though is that penalties inherently bear a negative consequence. The word penalty likely comes from the Latin word for “pain”. We find in penalties a form of pain incurred by “breaking a law, rule, or contract” at least according to the Oxford dictionary.
Does Scripture warn us about penalties? I imagine the answer to that question depends on whom you ask. As the case can be in our ordinary lives, you can get a variety of answers to the same question depending on who you ask. For example, “What do you think about the president?” Unlike the ordinary spheres of our world, in matters of Christianity, we don’t want to merely gather together other people’s opinions. We don’t want assumptions or perspectives. We want the truth. So with that in mind, what does the Bible have to say about penalties?
Every penalty in Scripture is connected to sin. Sin is our unwillingness to love God as He deserves. Sin may involve actions which are wicked. Sin may involve failing to do what is right. But in all things, sin is a dishonoring of the name of God, it is a horrific undervaluing of His character and a rejection of His right to reign over us.
What does sin warrant? Or to put it another way, what is the penalty for sin? All sin deserves God’s eternal punishment and separation from Him forever. Sin may be overlooked in our world, but the God who sees all things cannot ignore unrighteousness. If God ignored sin, He would cease to be God because He would have to deny His nature. The angels who ever worship God proclaim, “Holy, Holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3 AV) God’s holiness necessitates that sin be punished.
What does the Bible say about the punishment of the wicked? Jesus speaks about this matter more than anyone else in Scripture. Jesus speaks about the future punishment of the wicked in the parable of the marriage of the king’s son, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13 AV) This same end is echoed in other teachings of Christ (cf. Matt. 25:30, 41, 46). There are many other texts to consider, but what is sufficiently presented is that everyone who denies Christ, who fails to repent of their sins and believe in Him, they shall receive the penalty for their sins, which is death, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Why do we talk about punishment at all as Christians? We do so for the sake of love. Love drives us to call out in frenzy when we find a neighbor’s home on fire in the middle of the night. Love leads us to scream out for help if we would have an intruder in our home. Love guides us to cry out for the name’s of our children when they are lost. Love calls us to action. All sin leads to death, and if we are indifferent about that reality we ought to wonder if our hearts have ever been raised.
We must speak the truth in love to those who are presently living indifferently in sin. We must pray that these truths might startle them to consider the reality that there is more to life than these present moments. We must remember that there was never a greater gospel preacher than Jesus, and He did not pull back from speaking on the difficult subjects. If Jesus speaks about the penalty of sin, then so shall we. But we echo His aim, which is to warn this world to flee from the wrath that is being store up against sin. Flee from the judgment that is coming as Paul warned the men of Athens, “[God] now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained . . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 17:30-31; 16:31 AV)