Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Can there still be consequences for forgiven sin? That's a question I had to ask myself as I was reading through an account of Israel's greatest national failure, their refusal to occupy the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14). Because many said they would rather die in the desert than trust the Lord and boldly march into the land to do battle with its occupants, the Lord gave them exactly what they wanted: he condemned them to four decades of trackless wandering in the desert until every adult had finally collapsed in death. Not one of the rebels would inherit the land.

It says in Numbers 14:20 that God did indeed forgive their sin; he didn't wipe them out entirely. Their posterity would still go on inherit the Promised Land. But can there still be consequences for forgiven sin? Or, better yet, can God still hold us to the consequences of sin which he has forgiven and canceled? If they're truly forgiven and atoned for, shouldn't any lingering effects be removed? If God is not unjust, then how can he forgive and yet not relieve sin's effects?

If our sins are forgiven in Christ, is he still punishing us? No. In Hebrews 12:6 (quoting Provers 3:11-12) it says that "the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Those whom he accepts are accepted on account of having been forgiven of their sins through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12). God's wrath no longer remains upon them (John 3:36). So this punishment cannot be a punitive one; rather, it's disciplinary. A father spanks his child to train his child to obey and choose the right way ahead of time. God often chooses to let the results of sin unfold in his children's lives in order to teach us the death and fruitlessness of violating his created order, that is, his law. In the ensuing pain of sin God is mercifully weening us from our vain idolatries and is forming in us a glorious love for him alone. Hebrews 12:10 says that God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness"--and "without holiness no one will see the Lord" (v. 14). God's consequences are part of how he strengthens his children to endure until the end and not set our hearts on evil , by which we would fall short of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).

Furthermore, the painful results of sin can never be punishment--for that would be far too small to offset the grievous nature of our sin. Do we really think that losing a job, rocking a marriage, or bearing some measure of public humiliation for our sin is really enough to make full satisfaction for it before God? Absolutely not! Only there at the Cross is justice and satisfaction and reconciliation all in one. Only in the disfigured Man of Sorrows who cried in the shadows, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is enough punishment for sin. Everything else can only be at best a mild "slap on the wrist" in comparison.

In a strange way, I believe that willing submission to sin's effects shows not little, but great, faith in God's grace, mercy, goodness, and lovingkindness. We don't think, "Dang, God is punishing me for this sin." We know that would mock the Crucified Redeemer and neglect that our reconcilation in him. Humbly submitting to God's rod of discipline is full of faith because it's believing that accounts were in fact settled in full upon Golgotha. God has justified us in Christ and will never condemn us (Romans 8:1, 32-39). So we know what now comes our way must be corrective, not vindictive. It is for our good.

So we ought to rejoice that God our Father is chastising us. It proves us his sons, forms in us "the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:10, 14), and validates our genuine faith so that we will be uplifted in praise and honor (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Maybe the question to ask isn't "Can God justly give temporal consequences for eternally forgiven sin?" The answer is, Yes, he can, and he does. Who am I to question God? But rather we should be glad that he does do so--for he does it as even a merciful act of his favor toward wayward sinners.


Ted M. Gossard said...

I can't help but think of David. Yes, Nathan told him his sins we're forgiven, but that there would be grave consequences for his sin.

Good words, Andrew. Actually encouraging, for really we all need them.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Well said.