“Whosoever commits sin transgresses the law, for sin is the transgression of the law” ( 1 Jn. 3:4) If there is a definition of sin in the Bible, we have it in the last clause of this verse: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” It means the transgression of God’s law. God’s law may be transgressed by thought, by feeling, by words, or by actions. As we learn from other portions of the Word of God, there are wicked thoughts, wicked feelings, wicked words, and wicked actions. This definition is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient for our present purpose.
The only accurate gauge which we have with which to measure the enormity and heinousness of sin, is the punishment that God has decreed against it. God is infinite, unlimited in all His attributes, infinite in love, in mercy, in compassion, but when we find the terrible punishment God necessitated that He metes out to man because of sin, then we can have some concept of God’s reaction and feeling toward the greatness of sin. Paul said in a discussion of the Law of Moses, that the Law was given “That through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13).
Many are the unpleasant things which befall man in this life which come as a consequence of man’s sin and disrespect of God’s law. From its earliest history, the world has been laden with a vast burden of woe and pain and death. The journey of human life is strewn with tears. The whole earth on which we live has become dotted with cemeteries. Death, preceded by incalculable pains of the body have been our history. “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). All of this pain and woe, Paul said is caused by sin. It is a punishment the infinite God laid upon man because of his sin.
“Is there then any punishment after death ?” Notice particularly Luke 12:4, where Jesus addressing his disciples, said, “My friends, be not afraid of them who kill the body, but after that have nothing more they can do.” They can take your body and burn it and dismember it, but that does not hurt your soul. They have no more that they can do which inflicts any pain upon you. “But,” He continued, “I will forewarn you whom to fear. Fear Him who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell.” Furthermore, in Luke 16, the rich man died (verse 22), and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment in the flame, so there definitely is punishment after death for the alien, and unfaithful.
The word “judgment” is used and applied many times to judgments that occur here on earth. Many imagine that this is the only use of the term. But the Apostle told us in Heb. 9:27, “that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” In addition then to all the judgments on earth, there is a final judgment that comes after death. This judgment will be universal in its nature. “So then each one of us shall give account of himself unto God” (Rom. 14:12). “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him, then shall he sit upon the throne of His glory and all nations shall be gathered before him” (Matt. 25:31 f; Jn. 5:28,29). “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” (Rev. 20:12). So the judgment following death will be final and universal in its nature.
What is to follow in the way of punishment, if anything? Rationally speaking, were there no punishment provided there would be no point in having a judgment. God’s infinite justice necessitates punishment to those who have violated His infinite holiness by disobeying His righteous commands. Do you remember how this punishment is set forth in the Bible? “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Everlasting Fire! A lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The most excruciating torture, I believe, that human flesh can experience, is to be burned with fire, and that represents this suffering after the judgment. Furthermore he said, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Men gnash their teeth only, when they are enraged against themselves, when they are tormented with anguish and self-reproach.
Now finally, how long will that punishment which comes after the judgment, and which is described in these horrid terms, endure? How long shall the punishment last? Christ stamped the word “eternal” upon the duration of the sinner’s punishment. “And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal’ life” (Matt. 25:46). Eternal punishment for some and eternal reward for others. There are people who would tell you that the reward for the righteous will last forever, but the reward of the wicked will be completed at death. In other words, death is the final and complete punishment. Annihilation is the punishment for the sinner, but remember, the Lord said “eternal punishment” and “eternal life.” If “eternal” life means forever, then “eternal” punishment means for the same duration. We know from their meanings that there is no end for either.
We see then God’s infinite hatred of sin by the fact that he is going to punish the sinner with everlasting punishment in the lake of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. How is it, then, that a man or woman, can consent to live in sin day by day and still realize the awful consequence of such a life? Knowing that they shall incur this awful penalty, that if they were to die today, this would be their unending fate, how can they fail to reproach themselves for being sinners, and to fly away from it to the only means of escape found in Christ Jesus our Lord?
But thanks be to His blessed name; however, great the sins committed, however numerous they are, and however just the awful sentence that has been passed against us, there is a way of escape. This is had by obedience to the terms laid down in the gospel of Christ. “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). There is salvation through no other means, so we must be saved by obedience to the gospel.