Updated: Oct 30, 2021
For another blog post along the same lines of New Covenant thinking you can go to the blog post by The Gospel Perspective called "Does The Holy Spirit Convict Believers of Their Sin?"
With The Gospel In Mind
The Gospel is the most important lens through which we look at the scriptures. Let's explore, as a foreword to answering the question in the title of this article, the message of The Gospel.
The Gospel is the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel is simple. It is total forgiveness of sins as well as Imputed and imparted righteousness through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). Justification means we are right with God. It is our state, and it is where we live. We do not perform any deeds to accomplish rightness with God. As believers in the finished work of Jesus, we have peace with God. Peace with God means we are not His enemies, and we are not at odds with Him anymore.
Rom 4:25-5:1 KJV "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:"
We also need to consider and remember the fact that our sins have been forgiven. A major part of our acceptance with God and even the promises of The New Covenant in Jesus' blood is the fact that God has totally forgiven, forgotten, and will not count our sins against us (Romans 4:8). Please take note of what The Holy Spirit declares in Hebrews chapter ten. Every shortcoming you have ever made and ever will make has been forgiven. All of our sins were in the future when Jesus died. Your forgiveness was bought two-thousnad years ago and God decided before we were ever born that, when we accept His Son, our sins would be made as if they never happened. Jesus bore the total weight of the punishment for our sins. (Isaiah 53:5)
Heb 10:15, 17 KJV "Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, ... And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Again, we see that our forgiveness is in the past tense. It all occurred the moment we believed.
Col 2:13 KJV "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;"
Punishment For Sin?
"If you are a child of God, He will spank you and punish you for your sin so that you won't do it anymore."
"You better live for God or else He will cause bad things to happen to you because of your 'disobedience'."
"If you don't do *fill in the blank* God just might slap you real good on the side of your head."
I even recently heard a preacher say that God just might kill your children just to get your attention! Many of those are all statements that I heard over and over as I was growing up in church. These are methods of manipulation and ways of putting pressure on people to do what you want them to do. I will go ahead and leave a little philosophical secret that I found: It doesn't work. Pressure and punishment for wrongdoing out of wrath or anger doesn't bring people closer to each other. It drives them apart. Nobody knows this better than God. This is why He says it is His goodness, grace, and forgiveness that help us to mature in Christ.
Dealing with God isn't like messing up at work, where any good boss would probably say something like, "There is a little grace for sincere mistakes. Please don't let this happen again, or else".
First of all, God is not judging your performance. He is not your boss. Second, He says that His grace isn't little. God says that grace is overflowing in such a way that we are being dealt with as if we never messed up.
The key passage used by those who would cause believers to have an unnecessary fear of God and punishment for sin is Hebrews 12:5-7.
Heb 12:5-7 KJV "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"
I thought Jesus took our punishment? I thought that our correction and chastisement was taken out on him? Justification means that we are right with God. As in, your behavior doesn't determine whether or not he is on good terms with you as an individual, the blood of Jesus did that. This thought of us being punished for our sins from God as His actual children doesn't fit with The Gospel. It actually directly contradicts it. Now, certainly there are natural consequences for sin that occur as a result of poor behavior, but they do not come directly from God. I am talking about God purposefully scourging you for messing up.
Some might think this verse is talking about sincere correction. No, it isn't. This passage uses the phrase, “scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”. This is raw beating in the sense of when Jesus was crucified.
This is not how God treats children who are forgiven and justified. The Holy Spirit in chapter ten says that He forgives our iniquities and then totally forgets them. So, what gives? This concept doesn't line up with so many promises we have received in Christ.
Out of Context
This passage has been so abused and taken out of it’s context over the years by religion in general that to put it back into the perspective of grace and the Gospel I may need to be a little lengthier than usual. I do apologize.
There is a greater context to this passage than even chapter twelve, or the letter of Hebrews itself. To understand this we will need to look at why this letter was written, to whom the writer was addressing the letter, and what He was quoting when He implied God beats people when He receives them as children.
Who Is The Writer Addressing?
The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear who He is speaking to in the first few sentences of the letter.
Hebrews 1:1-2 “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”
There is only one group of people whose fathers God spoke to in times past through the prophets. In fact, the title of the letter is a pretty good indication of who the audience is. The Jews. Saved and unsaved. Believers and unbelievers alike.
What Is The Overall Message of Hebrews?
The letter to The Hebrews is a treatise written with the purpose of convincing the Jews to turn from The Old Covenant made through Moses and to fully understand and accept The New Covenant made through Jesus. The whole point is Jesus is better than Moses. The New Covenant is better than The Old Covenant. Mt. Zion is better than Mt. Sinai.
This letter is filled with convincing analogies and warnings not to reject Jesus; and to believe in and rest in the finished work of Jesus. The author is strongly using passages such as chapter one, three, six and chapter ten up to this point to appeal to the Jews to keep working on their understanding of The New Covenant and to turn from the old and accept the New.
At the end of chapter twelve the statement is used, "But ye are come unto.. Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:" (Hebrews 12:22-25)
He is appealing to these jews in chapter twelve (the context of the passage in question about punishment for sin to believers in Christ) not to refuse the blood of Christ. I can say with absolute certainty that He is not speaking to believers when He is speaking in chapter twelve.
Some Key Phrases From Chapter Twelve
Chapter twelve appears to be the climactic point of the writer's pleading. He is really trying to bring it home at this point. He uses certain phrases to convince them, and he is working hard to help them change their minds and help the jews around them to accept and believe in Jesus and The New Covenant.
Some of these key phrases are:
Look to Jesus! "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2 KJV)
Please consider Jesus before you give up trying to understand The Gospel altogether! "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." (Hebrews 12:3 KJV)
If you don't receive the holiness that Christ offers through His finished work, you will not see the Lord! "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:" (Hebrews 12:14 KJV)
Do not fail to obtain the grace of God (the only way this would happen is if you rejected Christ.) "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God;"(Hebrews 12:15 KJV)
You have not come to the mount where the Old Covenant was made; You have come to the mountain of The New Covenant, Jesus and His blood that speaks. Do not refuse Him that is speaking! (Hebrews 12:18-25) "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:" (Hebrews 12:25 KJV)
We can clearly see five different exhortations to receive Christ and not to refuse Him in chapter twelve alone. This indicates that the overall context is not to believers.
A Proverb As Unto Sons
In his pleas and attempts at convincing the Jews, the writer of Hebrews uses approximately twenty-seven passages from the Old Testament to convey the message of "Jesus plus nothing". He brings it home in chapter twelve by explaining that God is going to chasten them and correct them as sons to bring them to faith in Christ. We can see from the teaching of Jesus that this is how the Holy Spirit convicts the world and brings them to faith in Christ. However, we do not ever see in The New Testament writings that the Holy Spirit convicts believers.
"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." (John 16:8-11 KJV)
The writer here is quoting a Proverb from a Hebrew collection of wise sayings mostly penned by King Solomon. This would have been very familiar to the Jews that were being addressed in this letter. They would have understood the language because God often referred to the children of Israel as “His People.” In Hebrews the writer sets up His quotation by saying something to address these Jews specifically.
Hebrews 12:5 (KJV) “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:”
Aha! He is setting the stage for His reader’s (a jew) recollection of Proverbs 3:11-12. How does he refer to the proverb? He basically says, "You have forgotten about how God spoke to you in Proverbs as sons!"
"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:3, 6-11 KJV)
Allow me to share a few footnotes on these underlined passages.
God loves these people and He is constantly convicting them of the sin of unbelief.
God also refers to himself here as everyone's Father. As in, "the father of spirits". Everyone has a spirit so everyone is as a child to him. He will try to get them to turn to Jesus by His correction.
He does this correction for their profit so that they could be partakers of the Holiness of God by belief in Jesus. This is the only way to be holy or to express holiness.
The temporal chastening and gentle correction because of their unbelief will eventually yield the fruit of righteousness through their belief in Christ. Righteousness only comes through faith in Christ. (Romans 4:13, Philippians 3:9-11)
The Holy Spirit will convict of the sin of unbelief until that is corrected through faith in the finished work of Jesus. Then because of the blood of Jesus, when we believe on Him, God will forgive and forget our sins and will produce righteousness through His Spirit within us working His way on the outside (Phil 2:13). No pressure. No fear (2 Timothy 1:7). No condemnation (Romans 8:1). No guilt. Our punishment for sins was on Jesus. No exceptions!
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5 KJV)