By being generous to others we are giving a gift. We give to others out of love, not because we expect something, other than appreciation. Of course appreciation is demonstrated when those who are helped love the giver. The intention can't be to buy love, but only to give. Love is merely the normal human response to charity.
On the other hand, we can help those who are able as well. Sometimes, they are less fortunate than we are for various understandable reasons: long-term sickness, large families, a poor economy, etc. If they are already working, then we still give to them. If they are not working, but able to, we give them help through wages. Providing a job to those able to work is also an act of love.
If the worker works productively and is a good employee, his paycheck is a reward for doing right things well. If the worker is careless and lazy then rather than a pay check, the payment is a pink slip.
Therefore, there are rewards and punishments. Both are wages. The righteous master rewards the worker with what he deserves. His desire is to reward with good things, but only for right things done. Rewarding bad behavior or laziness is positive reinforcement, but creates negative behavior. People use that technique, but it makes mischievous children worse. On the other hand fear of negative consequences is positive punishment in operant conditioning. It seems to be an oxymoron, but it's the threat of punishment to create right behaviors.
Now let's look at a passage in scripture:
Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."First off, this was written by the apostle Paul to the faithful saints in Rome (Romans 1:7-8). Paul is presenting the dilemma "to sin or not to sin" to Christians. After expounding on grace versus law, or freedom v. slavery, as it can be called; Paul offers the outcome of choosing wrong. Note two things: 1) Both of these possible outcomes are for faithful saints, and 2) "death" means the absence of eternal life, or spiritual death.
For the Calvinists out there, be sure that your unpardoned sins will at some time catch up with you! Romans 3:25 indicates that past sins are propitiated by his blood, meaning that future sins are atoned for, but must be repented of. Being a faithful saint is not living in prolonged sin without regard to the tears which God cries for us, not to mention the blood he shed in our place! This last statement should induce repentance in those who have sins not repented in their lives.
God offers two things as an outcome to behavior. Just like we mold our children's behavior through operant conditioning, God molds us! Why take the trouble? Because as a good parent he loves his children!
Positive reinforcement is used: the gift of God (for not sinning - called righteousness) is eternal life, and incidentally that's through the giver of live, Jesus the Christ.
Positive punishment is threatened as: the wages of sin is death. Remember that he is counseling faithful saints on how to live right, or in the will of God. As a just God he promises reward (gift of eternal life) for those Christians who are righteous, or eternal death for those who sin. His goal is not to make his children rebel, but to submit to his authority. He shows fairness in his expectations because he doesn't owe the gift, but it being available is grace.
Within that operant conditioning lies justice. Jesus is the giver of eternal life. However, he is the judge as well. The punishment is fair. It's the same for everyone. We get to choose our own punishment for rebellion. We don't like to think that Jesus, the author of love, will allow us to be punished, but he must to motivate right behavior (Matthew 25:31-46).
A wise parent offers reward and punishment. He not only is the bearer of rewards, but punishment as well. That must be in order for the parent to be effective and respected. It would be horrendous if the father rewarded, but then get another to punish. That's what dictators do!
Paul wrote this so that Roman Christians, in the citadel of sin, would stay away from the temptations there. They needed to know that there are consequences to sin! He also wanted to remind them that if they stay away from sin, it's worth it, for a gift lies ahead; what he often called "the hope of salvation" which leads to salvation. In effect this is the Abrahamic Covenant repeated in the dispensation of grace.
Shorthand for the Abrahamic Covenant is: be righteous and you shall be rewarded, sin and you shall be punished. Not that with the Jews God was faithful and gave them thousands of chances to change. However, after they did what was right in their own eyes over the years, God punished them with dispersion and death.
We don't worship two Gods. Jesus and the Father are just because they are one. God is the giver of gifts and the punisher. Jesus cries for us, but yet he must be just. Just as an innocent Adam chose sin and was punished, an innocent Christian who chooses sin over God, must not test God's patience. It's not like he's standing there with a whip just waiting for a chance to use it, but that he mourns as we bury ourselves in sin.
His desire is that we obey him out of love (the gift we don't deserve is the reinforcement) rather than the fear of eternal death (positive punishment), but if it takes that to keep us from turning to Satan he will certainly use it! That's just.
Personally, I came to trust Jesus, not because I loved him, but because I feared eternal death. Jesus offered eternal life so I took the gift that was offered, and it was free on top of it! Because he gave me the gift, I love him for it, and as such I endeavor to live right to please him out of gratitude. It helps me to please him if I know in advance that salvation is not a ticket to sin, but freedom from the bondage of sin. I am still allowed to sin. That's my choice, but there is a danger in living for sin. By offering just consequences, he actually helps me to not kill my own spiritual self!