Two Eternities, Part 2

19 July 2011 by Daniel

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hellfire forever.

Sin is not without its consequence in this world, but frankly, most of us are concerned more about the consequences sin will have for us after we leave this world. That's where question 29 of the Larger Catechism comes in: What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

Let us cut to the chase: scripture tells us (Romans 6:23) that the wages of sin is death. Obviously it isn't talking about physical death, or we would all drop dead the moment we sinned. It is talking about the what scripture calls the "second death" which is God's final judgment against sin: the Lake of Fire.

A lot of people think of Judgment Day as the day God will decide where a person will spend eternity, but that is totally off. Where we are going to spend eternity will have been already decided long before the Day of Judgment; we are (all of us) condemned already on account of our sin (c.f. John 3:18). Judgment Day is simply the day that every condemned sinner will commence his or her sentence; that is, it is the day that guilty sinners will be cast into the Lake of Fire as a punishment for their rebellion against God.

If anyone who has ever sinned is condemned already, one might ask, How then do Christians escape this judgment --aren't they sinners also? Does God simply ignore their condemnation? If so, why doesn't God ignore everyone's condemnation? Well I am glad I wrote this article in such a way as to suggest you are actually asking these questions, because the answer is good news indeed.

God knew that Adam would rebel against Him even before Adam was created. So God chose to redeem some of Adam's race and did so in such a way as to avoid compromising His own righteousness. You see, it would be unrighteous for God to send anyone to hell if God let even one guilty person avoid Judgment. Thus redemption had to allow guilty to receive the full weight of their punishment, and live through the condemnation somehow. So God sent Christ to become a man and live a life so perfect that it would be unjust of God to allow Christ's sinless life to end. In this way (in Christ) God created a bridge (or, if you prefer, an "ark" c.f. 1 Peter 3:18-21 (especially v.21)), by which a condemned sinner could pass through God's judgment unscathed. Those who come to Christ for salvation, are baptized "into" Christ, a spiritual union described as being born again.

Thus when we trust God's promise to redeem us, that is, when we trust that God really did send His own Son to deliver us from this otherwise inescapable condemnation; We are united with Christ (born again), and through this union we are/were crucified with Christ (i.e. we are/were literally condemned in Christ), and we also died with Christ when He died. Through this shared condemnation and death we can say that we literally (as opposed to figuratively or as some kind of metaphor) that we were condemned in Christ. Yet because of Christ's perfect life, it would have been unjust to keep Him in the grave, and because we were still united together with Christ, when God (in order to satisfy all righteousness) raised the innocent Christ from the dead, we also (who were in Christ), were raised (in Him), having become partakers of His life (the very life that was raised). That is how Christians pass through God's judgment.

But everyone else (everyone who is not "in" Christ) must face God's judgment on Judgment Day, and that judgment is a lake of eternal fire. Those who are cast into it will suffer two torments forever: first they will suffer the torment of the flames, but more tormenting than this, they will suffer the torment of being without the same God they spent their whole life rejecting, and this for all eternity.