New City Catechism 18.3
Question 18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?
Answer: No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.
God judges sins both in history and at the end of history. There is a final judgment coming, but the word “final” indicates that there are other judgments that precede it. How does God judge sins in history?
One way God exercises judgment in history is by authorizing governing authorities to punish evildoers so that evil may be restrained, and society may continue to function in an orderly way (see Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). When a governing authority punishes someone for a crime in a just manner, God’s own wrath has been executed (in a measured way) through that authority. Another way God exercises judgment in history is by the simple cause-and-effect processes that govern his world. For example, a person who is lazy and undisciplined often ends up suffering consequences that are unpleasant as a result. He may lose his job, squander his money, and end up out on the street and hungry. The book of Proverbs speaks much about the order of God’s world that often (but not always) rewards good behavior and punishes wrong behavior. One final way that God’s judgment is exercised in history is by his providential rule over extraordinary events of judgment. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, it was an act of judgment from God because of the sinfulness of the people (Dan. 9:1-15; 2 Chron. 36). Judgments from God have been carried out on many nations and cities in history, including Babylon, Assyria, Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, Tyre and Sidon (Isa. 13-23).
But all these judgments in history are measured judgments that are hints of a great judgment to come. Many sins have been committed throughout history that have never been fully answered, and thus justice remains to be done. At the end of history when Christ returns, he will bring everything out into the open for judgment. Those who are found in him on that day will enter into eternal life, and all who have sins to answer for (not having a mediator to answer for them) will face God’s unending wrath in the lake of fire. Nothing is more important than standing before God righteous on that day, and there is no hope for us to do so apart from Christ.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Revelation 20:11-21:8. What does this vision teach about what will come at the end of history? What do “the books” represent? What does the book of life represent? What is the most important thing you can do to be ready for that coming day?
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