Joe (a real person, but not his real name) was a young man and a new Christian. He had a good job with a fair amount of responsibilities. Somewhere along the way, he took advantage of those responsibilities and the freedom entrusted to him and became involved in an illicit activity – once. He came to me for spiritual counselling and told me about what transpired. He consoled a teenage girl who came to the afterschool program where he worked. She felt alone in the world and he was a good listener. He was a single man barely out of his teens and they formed a bond. Things progressed to far and they became intimate – once. He realized his mistake, told her he was sorry and even admitted his wrong to his supervisors. He did not try to cover up his actions. He was truly sorry for and knew what had occurred was criminal and sinful. Because the events involved others and reflected poorly on Christianity, Joe confessed his sins not only to God, but to the church as a whole asking for and receiving forgiveness. More on Joe later in this post.
When I think about Joe, I think about a misunderstanding that I continually observe in our society. Somehow, we think that if we apologize the other party has an obligation to forgive and relieve us of consequences. If both parties are Christians then forgiveness should be a part of the formula (cf. Matt 5:23-24; Matt 18:15-17; Eph 4:32; Col 3:12-13). But does forgiveness necessitate the removal of consequences?
Does forgiveness necessitate the removal of consequences?
Let’s turn back to Joe and his story as case study. Joe lost his job as a result of his actions and because of the nature of his actions he spent time in jail. He will also carry this record with him for a long time his lifetime.
- Apologize? – Yes!
- Repent to God and fellow Christians? – Yes!
- Forgiven? – Yes!
- Release of consequences? – No!
Is that fair?
Is that right?
Is that justice?
Ask David. David was King of Israel when he had an adulterous relationship with a married woman (Bathsheeba) and then when his initial attempts at covering up the sin failed, David, the King, had her husband killed in battle so he could comfort Bathsheeba and take her to be his wife. The prophet Nathan speaks for God and shows David the full nature of his sin. We pick up the story in 2 Samuel 12:11-14, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”
- Notice that David confesses his sin (I have sinned against the Lord).
- Notice that God forgives that sin (The Lord has put away your sin . . .).
- Notice there were still temporal consequences (Nevertheless . . .).
When I sin against God or man, I must apologize, I must repent. But know that even when forgiven, there may still be physical consequences that I must endure.