Forgiveness isn’t Pain Free
Today in my devotions I came across a familiar story that always seems to leave an impact. It is the story of King David who sins by murdering Uriah in order to have Bathsheba for himself. In this story found in 2 Samuel 11-12 David commits murder (Uriah) and adultery (Bathsheba).. two of those sins we seem to elevate above most others.
David acknowledges that the one who has done such a thing deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5), but in the end Nathan (the prophet in the story) says, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (12:13). This is amazing grace. God passes over the sin and takes away the penalty of death.
BUT even though the sin is taken away and the death sentence removed, Nathan says, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (12:14). In spite of forgiveness, some penalty for the sin remains.
I think it’s helpful for Christians to distinguish between the consequences of forgiven sin (verse 13) and the consequences of unforgiven sin. The penalty for unforgiven sin is rightly called a “penalty” and throughout scripture the verdict is death… and not JUST death, but everlasting death so that the infinite state of punishment reflects the infinite God we have offended. But when we talk about the penalty of FORGIVEN sin we should probably simply call that “discipline”. Discipline is an act of mercy on God’s part… it’s meant to guide us into obedience even though the death “penalty” has been removed.
This discipline reflects the displeasure of God for the sin, but the aim is not retributive justice. This is not condemnation. The aim of the consequences of forgiven sin is not to settle the accounts demanded by a just penalty: That’s what hell is for. There is a judgment whose purpose is to vindicate the right by paying back the wrong, and thus establishing equity in God’s kingdom of righteousness. This is done on the cross for those who are in Christ, and it is done in hell for those who are not.
The curse that we deserve came down on Christ at the cross if we trust in him (Galatians 3:13), but it comes down on our own heads in hell if we don’t (Matthew 25:41). “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). If he passes over sins and treats them, as he did with David, as though they are not worthy of punishment, that is only a merciful delay in the retribution. Either it will be made right in the cross, as Paul says so plainly in Romans 3:25, or it will be settled in “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).
But the aim of God-sent consequences of forgiven sin is not to settle accounts demanded by the penalty of justice. The aims of the God-sent consequences of forgiven sin are:
- to demonstrate just how evil and hateful sin is,
- to show that God does not take sin lightly, (even when he lays aside his punishment)
- to humble and sanctify the forgiven sinner.
Hebrews 12:6 teaches that “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” The purpose is not to penalize, but to purify. “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share his holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10–11).
Not all of the disciplinary pain ordained by God is a direct result of some sin we have committed, but all of it IS ordained for our good as forgiven sinners. This is such an important truth to teach in a world that is so quick to emphasize God’s love, tenderness and forgiveness to the exclusion of the God’s forgiving toughness. As a result many people have no categories to handle the consequences of the sins in their lives. So what happens? Often they either underestimate the preciousness of forgiveness or they accuse God of double jeopardy in punishing what he has already forgiven.
By the power of the Spirit, as we find and enjoy truth in God’s word, we must learn to be AMAZED by the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, and the joy relationship with God gives us… WHILE at the very same time we may be suffering from the consequences of forgiven sin. We must not equate forgiveness with absence of painful impact. David’s life is a vivid illustration of this truth. May God give us the grace to learn it and live it.