Forgiveness Does NOT Mean No Consequences

Forgiveness Does NOT Mean No Consequences May 24, 2017

Many modern Christians seem to view sin as if it is such a minor detail in the overall equation, when the reality is that our understanding of the sinfulness of mankind is central to our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we fail to grasp the seriousness of sin, we fail to grasp the power of the gospel and the extent of Christ’s forgiveness – yet ultimately, we fail to grasp the holiness of God. It would seem evident that many likewise, fail to realize that sin has lasting consequences that do not disappear upon one being forgiven in Christ.

The clear caveat I am making here is that I am not speaking of condemnation. The Scripture is resoundingly clear in saying that those who are in Christ, that is, those who have believed the gospel and repented, find forgiveness. Though the sin nature that still dwells in us seeks to wage war within our body and hold us captive to the law of sin – we know without hesitation there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 7:23-8:1). Furthermore, we know that the gift of grace is not like the sin of Adam, which brought condemnation; this gift has brought us life in Christ and justified us (Rom. 5:15-16).

We also know that our sins are counted as far as the East is from the West (Ps. 103:12); that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just in the forgiveness of our sins and that He cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9); that Christ, once and for all, accomplished our redemption (Heb. 9: 25-26). There is ample, Biblical witness to make this much clear: if you are in Christ, your forgiveness is sure because of the sufficiency and extent of Christ’s sacrifice – and it cannot and will not be taken from you, for He will keep us firm to the end, so that we will be blameless on the day of our Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:8).

However, there is not a single reference within scripture indicating that sin, even though forgiven, will not have consequences. In fact, just the opposite is maintained, as it is explicitly maintained that if the Lord does not discipline you, you are not only unloved by the Father, but you are not received as a son or daughter of God (Heb. 12:6, 8; Ps. 119:75; Pro. 3:11-12; Rev. 3:19). This is the purpose why those in Christ are not to make light of the discipline of the Lord (Heb. 12:5) and to count such disciplinary action against them as a blessing (Job 5:17; Ps. 94:12, 119:71). For though discipline is not pleasant at the time, it produces righteousness and peace for those who have trained by it (Heb. 12:11). The discipline of the Lord is indeed a good thing, as it brings us to share in His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

Yet notice that there is no qualification on the time length of said discipline. Instead, we find simply that there is the command to endure through the discipline because of what it will accomplish in you (Heb. 12:7). In fact, there is no commendation for being under this discipline (1 Pet. 2:20, 3:17). Instead, Christians are simply commanded to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12-13). It is expected that if you do wrong, you will not only be judged accordingly and be disciplined by God, but that you bear under that discipline so that you may be restored.

First, there is an aspect here speaking toward right judgment of one’s self. Paul, though speaking in the context of division amongst the brethren, picks up this same exact theme in 1 Cor. 11. Paul highlights that due to the divisions and factions within the church, some who have participated in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner became sick while others died (vv. 27-30). He then demonstrates that this is a form of discipline from the Lord. For what purpose? The discipline of the Lord in this particular instance had a means of keeping them from condemnation (v. 32). In other words, division within the church is not simply frowned upon, but if coupled with a cavalier attitude in taking the bread and the wine, can get you killed because you have profaned that which is set apart and consecrated. Discipline then serves the purpose of bringing Christians to sobriety – for God does not take sin lightly.

Secondly, there is an aspect to discipline that demonstrates rightful consequences to our actions. Though one may be forgiven for murdering an individual, it is right for them to bear the guilt of their crime. Likewise, it is right to not trust a gossip with confidential matters or allow a thief to have full, unsupervised access to the church’s bank account. One would also be quite foolish to allow a sex offender to work in the children’s nursery or give an adulterous wife/husband. There are ample applications to this principle, but the point is that forgiveness does not look like unabashed foolishness and blind trust.

Third, there is an aspect to discipline that demonstrates God does not take sin lightly. Sin is what put Chris to the cross, it is what has separated mankind from God and has carried countless people to hell, and it has produced innumerable, horrible conditions upon this earth as we sin against one another. Ultimately, those who are unreconciled to God will be met with an altogether terrifying level of judgment from God as He pours out His wrath upon them. It is richly described with metaphorical language likening this outpouring of wrath to a winepress being stomped upon – except the winepress will not pour out wine, but blood that shall reach the bridle of horses at a distance of roughly 183 miles (Rev. 14:20).

In all of this we must come to understand that forgiveness of sin certainly does not mean you will not be judged in any capacity. The Scripture teaches that you and I will be judged and held to account. We will not be condemned if we are in Christ, but we surely shall face judgment and be disciplined as a result. Furthermore, this discipline may be present in your life until the day you die. Think of David, who as a result of him taking census, brings a plague upon the nation of Israel that killed 70,000 men (2 Sam. 24). His response? “I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done…Please, let us fall into the Lord’s hands because His mercies are great…”

Think of David yet again, who as a result of sending Uriah to die and taking Bathsheba as his own wife, not only lost his unborn child but gave his enemies occasion to blaspheme (2 Sam. 11-12). His response? “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13). In fact, the entire life of David is a testimony to the faithful discipline of the Lord on His servant. His household was in continual tumult, ending in the death of some of his own children. He was defrocked from his throne a number of times in the midst of revolt on all sides, brought continual war upon the nation of Israel, and more. The testimony of David’s life reveals the fact that not only was he esteemed as a man with a heart after God – but that in the midst of this, he was severely punished, but not condemned, for his wickedness.

When we look at another’s sin and pardon them without hesitation, saying that they not only deserve forgiveness, but no punishment whatsoever, we not only preach a half-truth, but demonstrate we have little concept of the utter holiness of God. Sin is never something to be taken lightly. Sin always has consequences. The reality of death even demonstrates that though forgiveness can be found, there is yet punishment for sin. Some will also suffer loss in Heaven as a result of their sin, even though they will be saved (1 Cor. 3:15). The sad reality is that most have simply bought into the lie that sin deserves no recompense, and in so doing, they have not only cheapened the sacrifice of Christ, but the offense of their sin before a holy God.

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    I fear you are trying to rob the word “forgive” of any meaning. In all the Biblical examples you give God’s chastisement is corrective, not punitive: its purpose is expressly to induce the sinner to return to righteousness. You instead seem to be suggesting that God “forgives” a sinner yet punishes them anyway, effectively denying God in any meaningful way forgives sins.
    If you are saying the Bible is clear God will ultimately not permit us to persist in sin and will bring his punishment to bear if this is necessary to bring us out of it, I agree with you. If you are trying to redefine “forgiveness” so that it includes not actually in any tangible sense forgiving sins, I would say you are attempting to re-write the Bible.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Iain, corrective chastisement undoubtedly, always carries a punitive element. The word chastise, is itself, synonymous with the word punishment. It can’t help but have that – and it seems you are either willfully conflating terms on what I explicitly made a distinction on, being that condemnation is radically different than corrective punishment, or you see forgiveness in a one-dimensional aspect that simply means that no matter what we do, there are no punitive consequences whatsoever, which would still conflate the terms. But you obviously don’t believe the latter…

      Ultimately, there’s really no way of getting around the fact that no matter what, some form of retribution comes for sin and even your wording shows this. Heck, life experience shows this. If I shoot a person in the face and get shot by the police, even though I am a believer, that is undoubtedly a punishment for murdering someone. Unless you think that corrective chastisement means positive reinforcement, then you can’t really get around the fact that the blood of Christ spilled on the behalf of sinners is nothing to be trifled with.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        The title of the blog is “Forgiveness does not mean no consequences”. The trouble is that is pretty much what “forgiveness” does mean (at least in do far as the “consequences” are instigated by the person granting the forgiveness). To forgive someone exactly does mean not punishing them (or at least ceasing to punish them) for whatever it was you are forgiving them for. As I said, you can’t claim to have forgiven someone and then go on to punish them anyway: doing so demonstrates you don’t know what the word “forgive” means.
        That there are ongoing consequences for sinning which alert a person to the fact that they are sinning and thus induce them to stop I do not deny. Insisting that every sin will be repaid with its requisite retaliation, however, is an express denial of the possibility of forgiveness. I am still not clear whether you are maintaining this latter position.

        • Gilsongraybert

          Yes, sin does get punished and has lasting consequences – and not simply with unrepentant sin. This is not in contradiction with forgiveness offered through Christ. The only way that you can view these things as contradictory is if you believe punishment always exclusively means condemnation (eternity in hell) or you believe forgiveness means that you can’t be punished. In either case (or both) it is patently false. Simply because one’s positional status has moved to being in Christ does not mean they will not suffer repercussions for their actions. They won’t be condemned, but sin surely gets punished and ends with a loss of heavenly reward (not in the sense of salvation, but whatever God has in store for rewarding those who are His).

          • Iain Lovejoy

            As I thought, you do not believe in the forgiveness of sins, and change the meaning of “forgive” to mean “not forgive” to support your position. If I am released from my debt because I have paid it I have not been forgiven it; you cannot claim that amounts to “forgiveness” by just changing what the word means.

          • Gilsongraybert

            Oh good grief, you will twist anything you can for an occasion for slander. You do it on every post you comment on, and you started right off the bat in saying I’m trying to re-write the Scriptures. Coming from the one who routinely rejects the Scripture’s teaching on things even as basic as sexuality, it would be humorous if it weren’t actually sad.

            I earnestly and regularly pray for you, that you would not only come understand sin for what it is, but that you’ll come to see the Scriptures in their proper regard, so that you might see Christ for just how magnificent He truly is.

        • Gary Ciesla

          The consequence we suffer may be in the body, if we have repented of our sins, forsaken them, and now “walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit,” as Romans 8:1 declares. An ex-smoker may suffer from lung cancer; a bank robber may have to serve time in prison; a sexually promiscuous person may suffer the consequences of AIDS or STD’s. If we have repented AND FORSAKEN our immoral lifestyles, we will be forgiven by the Lord, but may suffer consquences in the flesh.

  • Keith Kilburn

    This is a lesson that many find hard to understand. There is a clear difference between punishment and consequences. The punishment was paid already by Christ’s cross. Consequences may never cease until eternity (like contracting disease from drug use). You’ve made it clear. Thank you.

    • Denny

      Right on.

  • pc

    I’ve been in a church community group with people who believed that once you say “I’m sorry” to God, all yours sins are forgiven and you can live free from the consequences of your offenses against the people you sinned against. Life is never so black and white because what we do and say not only affects our relationship with God but also our mental health, spiritual health, physical health, and also our relationships with other humans. In my experience the leadership tried to “forgive” someone who committed a sexual felony by secretly speaking with him about it, receiving his apology (without requiring him to repent to the woman), and then pretending like nothing happened because he was “forgiven.” He definitely had an incentive to make forgiveness mean not having consequences for his sin. With the help of his church and Christian school, he’s now a youth pastor. And the consequences of his sin and the complicity of his church continues on because they’d prefer to their version of “forgiveness” where the offender gets the green light to re-victimize the victims and not be held accountable for it.

    As you illustrate, it’s like giving someone convicted of embezzlement a job managing the books. That’s not health for the person who embezzled money because you’re temping them and it’s not health for the business or the clients. If someone struggles with violating people sexually, they shouldn’t be allowed in positions of trust and power over young impressionable people. But maybe they could still manage the books and they could still work on forgiveness, rehab and reconciliation all the while.