One of the conversations that I have found myself having on occasion with counselees regards the issue of the punishment of God. A person will be suffering for one reason or another, and they will assume that their suffering is the punishment of God on their lives for something they did in their past.
Often I will try to help the person to recognize that, if they are in Christ, all the penalty for all of their sin has already been fully punished in Christ on the cross. Yet it is still hard for them to see that God is not adding some extra punishment to them.
Of course I understand that God chastens his children. He disciplines all he loves. But he disciplines us for our good and his glory. God never gives a Christian the penalty for his or her sin. That penalty was paid in Christ as our substitute.
I was happy, then, to come across the following in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology regarding this very issue:
Throughout our Christian lives we know that we never have to pay any penalty for sin, for that has all been taken by Christ (Rom. 8:1). Therefore, when we do experience pain and suffering in this life, we should never think it is because God is punishing us (for our harm). Sometimes suffering is simply a result of living in a sinful, fallen world, and sometimes it is because God is disciplining us (for our good), but in all cases we are assured by Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (nasb).
The positive purpose for God’s discipline is clear in Hebrews 12, where we read:
The Lord disciplines him whom he loves….He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:6, 10–11)
Not all discipline is in order to correct us from sins that we have committed; it can also be allowed by God to strengthen us in order that we may gain greater ability to trust God and resist sin in the challenging path of obedience. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus, who, though he was without sin, yet “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). He was made perfect “through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Therefore we should see all the hardship and suffering that comes to us in life as something that God brings to us to do us good strengthening our trust in him and our obedience, and ultimately increasing our ability to glorify him.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 811.