We all know Scripture verses that show the vengeance of God toward unbelievers (2 Thess. 1:7‒10; Rev 16:8‒11; also Old Testament incidents and illustrations). But 1 Thessalonians 4:6 seems to indicate that even a believer can experience the vengeance of God. How can this verse harmonize with Romans 8:1?
Romans 8:1 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” First Thessalonians 4:6 reads, “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.”
We first need to note that God’s dealings with His people today differ in one sense from His dealings with His people in the Old Testament economy. For example, under the law system He at times sent death upon people for various transgressions. We also read of His direct punishment through various ordained natural disasters.
In our present dispensation, God does not seem to deal directly with people in that way. Rather, He allows disastrous happenings in the usual course of events. He also allows people’s natural “missteps” to speak to them and effect changes in their behavior or direction. In other words, today if a calamity, such as a flood, destroys someone’s house, God probably did not directly send the flood but simply allowed it. Nevertheless, He uses such occurrences for His will and purposes.
Romans 8:1, a powerful passage, assures us believers of God’s acceptance. We are declared righteous before Him (justified), and we stand in His grace and not under His wrath. All of these benefits are due to the work and merits of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf. As a result, we can rest in the hope of eternal life in Heaven someday, as well as trust God for strength and purpose for our lives here in the meantime. Ours is a life of hope, not condemnation.
The fact that we believers are not under God’s condemnation does not mean that we can live carelessly or selfishly. All our unconfessed sin must be judged. First Thessalonians 4:6 bears this out. The context involves the sin of sexual immorality. Paul warned the Thessalonians of the consequences of practicing vile deeds. If the believer did not confess and forsake them, they would experience God’s judgment. How?
God deals with sinning believers in two ways. First, He has set in motion certain laws (for our own benefit, not misery, by the way) that, if broken, will destroy the person who breaks them. A person, in effect, sins; and the sins he commits “catch” him. Sexual immorality is an especially vivid example of this principle, because we all have been made aware of the extremely dreadful and destructive diseases people acquire when they violate God’s laws. God doesn’t send AIDS to people directly; He doesn’t even have to, because they acquire the disease themselves. (I am, of course, referring to those who get the disease through sinfulness, not to those who get it through no fault of their own.)
Second, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). What an awesome day it’s going to be when we believers stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. At that time all of the unconfessed sins—the “wood, hay, and stubble” and the wasted opportunities—will be brought up. Although there will be rewards for faithfulness and “gold, silver, and precious stones,” many believers undoubtedly will stand empty-handed and ashamed.
The backslidden, disobedient Christian also needs to beware of “the sin unto death” mentioned in 1 John 5:16. This passage teaches that God can cut short a believer’s life due to his persistent sinning and carnality. God has to take the believer Home before his time as an act of divine discipline.
Thus we have no contradiction in these two verses, Romans 8:1 and 1 Thessalonians 4:6. We can rejoice in the fact that we are eternally secure in Christ. Yet we can suffer both in this life and at the Judgment Seat of Christ if we sin against God and His Word and don’t confess our sins and, with God’s enabling, change our ways. In these ways we could experience God’s “vengeance.”
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