What are some examples of God’s judgment of believers in the New Testament?
We’ve already discussed some of the judgments of God in the New Testament, like judgment beginning with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). We also went in-depth about judgment at the Lord’s Supper.
But the New Testament has other judgments. First of all, just about everyone is familiar with the Great White Throne judgment. This judgment is only for unbelievers. Believers will go through the Bema judgment for rewards. I’ve discussed these two judgments in a previous Q&A.
Ananias and Sapphira
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) are another example of God’s judgment upon believers in the New Testament. They chose to grieve the Holy Spirit by lying about the amount of money they pledged to the church (Acts 5:3-4).
They didn’t have to lie. They could’ve told the church they were giving part of what they earned instead of all of it. But they didn’t do that. They said they were giving all of it when they weren’t.
Peter receives a word of knowledge from the Lord that they held back some and lied to the Holy Spirit. This wouldn’t have been a sin except that they lied to the Holy Spirit. And he takes that very seriously. The Holy Spirit doesn’t mess around.
For grieving him, Ananias falls dead at Peter’s feet. Now that is the conviction of God! Sapphira, his wife, comes in later and doesn’t even know her husband is dead. She tells the same lie and experiences the same penalty.
Now you might ask, “Why such a severe punishment? This sounds like the Old Testament.” The serious nature of lying to the Holy Spirit who lives within us and knows everything we do shook the church to its core (Acts 5:11). We shouldn’t even try to sin against God in ways.
I don’t question this couple’s salvation. What I question is how far away they were from God when they decided to lie. They challenged and tested the Holy Spirit. Their hearts were callous before him. So I question how close to God they were by the time they made this decision. Let us never get that close to the edge!
Expel the Immoral Brother!
A final surprising example of extreme judgment comes from Paul concerning an immoral brother in the church. Paul brings up the matter of a man who has a sexually immoral relationship with “his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
This is probably his stepmother, otherwise Paul would have simply said, “his mother.” But even if this is a stepmother, the standard of holiness among believers is much higher than this. Paul comments that even the pagans do not allow such arrangements (1 Corinthians 5:1).
Worse than this, the Corinthian church boasts about such “spiritual freedom” (1 Corinthians 5:6). They allow sin to masquerade as freedom in Christ among them. So Paul deals with it when they don’t.
This also seems harsh. He tells them to expel this immoral brother and hand him over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:2, 5). So they cast this man out. For some of us, it’s hard to understand Paul’s comment about the man’s soul being saved in the Day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5).
It’s almost as if Paul is saying that handing him over to Satan will cause his soul to be delivered when he suffers without the fellowship of the church. But have no fear! This incident works out better than the one in Acts 5.
Later in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul forgives this man and tells the church to forgive him and welcome him back into their fellowship again (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). This man has felt such sorrow over his sin that he is asking forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:7).
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, God’s judgment reminds the church that he is sovereign and that revering the Lord must continue. The fear of the Lord reminds us of his power when we get too comfortable.
In the case of the immoral brother, God’s judgment through Paul in the church actually saves the life of the man and brings him back to the fold. We must remember that in those days, Christians were considered atheists because they didn’t worship the Roman gods. They were shunned in the marketplace and in their neighborhoods.
Without the fellowship of the church of Christ, they were alone in this world. The loss of fellowship hurt this man so much that he was sorrowful and repentant. And that truly repentant spirit brought him back to God’s family.
Judgment can remind us of God’s power and high standards. It can remind us to fear the Lord and review his name because he is great. And it can also teach us that God is gracious when we are repentant.