“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).
Very few things motivate us to give God our undivided attention like being faced with the negative consequences of our decisions. Regardless of our guilt, we find the courage (or nerve) to turn to God for help and oftentimes a miracle. We make promises to Him as if this would change His mind about our situation. Suddenly, we’re concerned for the welfare of others. We look for whatever leverage we can find to get God to do something on our behalf.
Many of us experience tension because we live daily with the painful consequences of sin. Mistakenly, we thought, hoped, or were told that once we accepted Christ, God would miraculously erase our consequences. With the daily evidence He has not taken away our consequences, some of us conclude we have not received God’s forgiveness. If God really loves me and truly forgives me, we surmise, surely He wouldn’t allow me to suffer as I am. We expect the financial problems that threaten our very existence to disappear once we accept God’s forgiveness. We count on God to heal a broken marriage or return a runaway child once we accept Christ as Savior. The person who lived a promiscuous life and is at high risk for AIDS is convinced that his relationship with God will eliminate this horrific nightmare.
Seldom is that reality. God is under no obligation to remove the consequences of our sin. In fact, He often allows us to live with our consequences as He faithfully loves and teaches us the lessons we would otherwise never learn. This is very difficult to accept, but often we learn our most valuable lessons as the result of the continuing consequences for something that happened long ago. A friend once told me in response to his consequences, “It’s just not fair! I quit drinking six months ago and I’m still not able to get a decent job. It’s just not fair!” My heart goes out to him.
If we struggle to understand why God allows us to suffer the consequences of sin, it is helpful to realize that forgiveness is relational, but consequences are circumstantial. The man who drank for so many years and develops cirrhosis of the liver knows that his disease has a direct link to his drinking. He knows, even though he may deny the truth, that as a result of his drinking, he is experiencing the negative effect of his choice to indulge in liquor. The woman who gave into temptation and has an affair with a coworker knows that her ruined marriage is the consequence of her choice to sow to her sinful nature.
There are many illustrations to explain this principle, but perhaps the most compelling comes from the Cross itself. Jesus gave us an example that cannot be argued or debated. As He hung there, dying for you and me, He was in the process of teaching us priceless truths for our lives today. Remember the criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus? (Luke 23:40-43). He was completely forgiven, yet moments later, he died a painful death. Forgiveness and consequences stood side by side. The criminal was forgiven; yet he suffered the full extent of the consequences of his sin. This act of forgiveness stands as a testimony of God’s grace, while the stark reality of sowing and reaping is portrayed for all of us to behold. Unlike many of us, who rededicate our lives at some point as Christians and vow to live as we should, that man did not have time to rededicate his life. He died within minutes of trusting Christ as Savior. Forgiven, yes; free of consequences, no.
It is never easy for us to face the negative consequences of our decisions, but nothing is so bad that we can’t rejoice in the grace of God and the forgiveness He offers. Many people who have become effective in leading the lost to Christ bear the scars of consequences God has chosen not to eliminate from their lives. We all have scars, but they have a purpose, not to cause us grief, but to be used as a tribute to God’s mercy and grace. The way we look at our scars makes the difference in how we face the consequences of our decisions. Whatever our consequences, whatever our scars, our attitudes will determine how we relate to the Lord. Either we will reach a point of understanding and thank Him for the daily reminders of His grace, or we will become bitter.
If there were no consequences, as the world tries to convince us daily, where would we be? Headed for trouble, most likely. The negative consequences of sin have led many into quiet desperation to the throne of God’s forgiveness. It did for me.