How does punishment for our sins work?

Feb 21, 2022

As much as God rants and raves in the Old Testament about those who do not follow His will and His Commandments, Deuteronomy 28 makes clear that the punishment or blessing for our actions and words is fore-ordained in our own choices, not because God can’t wait for us to sin so that He can rain punishment on us–as I was taught as a child. Deuteronomy 28 has two parts: Blessings for Obedience and Curses for Disobedience. The first verse states the blessings:

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God…” [v. 1-2]


The 15th verse begins with these consequences:

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you…”


Deuteronomy is very clear that we choose the consequences of our actions—blessings or curses, as we decide what we are going to do or say. The blessing or curse is a part of the choice we make. God doesn’t have to do a thing but watch us choose. He has already established what will happen afterwards. I think this is why, when we do or say something that does not follow His laws and commands, we are anxious, thinking that at any moment the axe will fall on us. We know because our conscience—if we listen to it at all–tells us that what we are choosing is wrong. We experience guilt and shame for our choices, but we bury those emotions when we choose something that brings curses. Now the difference between someone who is more blessed than cursed and someone who is more cursed than blessed is that the former is more at peace and the latter lives with anxiety, knowing that the axe will fall in his or her life sooner or later. But the ones choosing something that will curse them ignore their conscience and continue down their path of destruction. Nothing but true repentance can change the outcome of their lives.


God gave us free will, the ability to set our lives off in a good or bad direction. And He put the onus on us for the consequences of our choices. It’s not that human beings will ever be perfect in following these commandments, but that God looks at the direction we are going in as well as each choice. If we have repented of our past errors in judgment and turned back to His ways, we are forgiven. If we choose to continue disobeying His commandments, we grow more anxious and fearful. We know we are doing wrong and we’re just waiting for the axe to fall.


I think that is why we humans are so good at projecting our sins on to other people: judging them, isolating them, even oppressing them. When we refuse to look at our own behavior and to own the choices that would bring curses down on us, we project our sins onto the people that we have harmed. Look at how we have judged Black people as oversexed, criminal, lazy and more. This becomes our defense against any stain of sin on us from enslaving them and still not accepting them as equals some 150+ years after slavery ended with the North winning the Civil War. Even if we were not slave owners or directed racism against Black Americans, we have participated in a society that has oppressed them.


Jesus said, “The truth will set you free (John 8: 31-32). He is acknowledging that when we own all that we have said and done that was wrong, we no longer have to defend ourselves. We no longer need to project our sin onto others. We are free to live, really free, to live blessed by God. What a relief! No more walls around us to protect us from our own sin! No more looking over our shoulders for the curses we expect. “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”[1]


  1. I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested and a 40-day journaling guide to the Ten Commandments. Email me at and I will send it to you, free of charge.
  2. My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.


Questions to ponder over the week: Do I believe that my blessings for doing God’s will and my curses for not doing it are in my control? How committed am I to following Jesus’s Two Great Commandments? to love God above all and to love my neighbor as myself? Do I live in gratitude or in anxiety? Am I free? really free?


Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who follow His laws and desires for us faithfully, even if we are not always perfect at it. May we be forgiving of ourselves and others for our failures, so that we can start fresh again.


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