This is a heavy post. How do we perceive God’s punishment vs. the consequences of our sin?
Let me start it with an example from the life of a fallen pastor. This is a real question I’ve been asked, and asked myself. “As a fallen pastor, after I’ve been forgiven of my adultery, will God continue to punish me for the sin I’ve committed? Will He bring horrible calamities my way (cancer, sickness to my children) in the form of punishment as well as me facing the normal consequences of my sin (church people being angry, child support, pastors who ignore me, etc.)?”
They are two different things to be considered. God’s punishment for our sin and the consequences for our sin. When I counsel fallen pastors or women who have been with fallen pastors, these are two things that come up in conversation very frequently.
Honestly, it took me a long time to come to a biblical answer on my own, so please bear with me. I will quote Scripture and the work of others in this matter because it is such an important issue.
Let’s look at consequences first. When we sin, we own it. It is ours to bear. In Psalm 51, David acknowledged his sin before God after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He asked for repentance and to be clean before God. This is so important for any Christian who has sinned. We must come to a place of repentance before God. Our sin is against God. We must answer to Him for what we have done.
Let’s liken it to a courtroom. Let’s say we have been brought before a judge for the felony of grand theft auto. We might stand before the judge and say, “Judge, I am guilty of this charge. I repent of my actions and I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.” Does that mean we will get off without a penalty?
It reminds me of the scene in “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou” when Delmar had just been baptized and thought that his baptism had cleared him of all civil wrongdoing, including a Piggly Wiggly he had robbed:
Pete: The preacher said he absolved us.
Everett: For him. Not for the law. I’m surprised at you Pete. I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Everett: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi’s a little more hardnosed.
The problem is that even though a sinner is repentant, washed clean by Christ, we have to face the consequences of our actions. I know that after I committed adultery, there were many consequences to what I had done that I still face today.
Are those consequences the same as punishment? Here’s a quote from A. W. Pink, courtesy of Eric T. Young:
“But while the believer’s sins cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned (Rom. 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God’s children, and the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.”
When we lie, there will be consequences. When we gossip, consequences will come. When we commit any type of sin, there will be God-wrought consequences. They are a form of discipline. They may last long after we repent. We reap what we sow, friends. And when we do, the best thing we can do is to meet those consequences face to face with grace and humility, knowing that we cause the initial calamity, praying that overcoming the consequences will bring about glory to God in our sanctification.
What about punishment? Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of fallen people say, “I’ve repented of my sin, but I can’t help but think that my newborn child died because of my adultery,” or “I repented, but my new business/ministry failed because God was judging me because of my past sin. Is He still punishing me?”
I can’t give you a clear answer to every question, but I can turn to the Scriptures and help guide you along.
The best guideline is Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” But we must realize that for this promise is for those who repent. Christians who live in a constant state of disobedience and unrepentance are in a difficult place.
Romans 6 tells us of the life we live free from sin and also the life lived within sin: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23 ESV)
Unrepentant sin leads to punishment. Scripture is clear on that. It is punishment plus consequences. The beauty of it all is that when we confess our sin and turn from it, God casts that sin as far as the east is from the west and remembers it no more (Psalm 103:12). We still have to deal with the earthly consequences of our sin. That is the hole we have dug for ourselves. But we are free from the punishment that sin brings to bear upon us.
What are we to do? If you’re a fallen pastor, or a sinner who is living continually in sin, repent. Cast off that sin by confessing it to God. Find someone close to you with whom you can be accountable to and with whom you can share this with. You will need support and mentoring. Do no do this alone. Do not stand under the punishment of God.
Next, after you have repented, understand that you are free. God has forgiven you. When tragedy strikes, it is not the hand of God reaching down to punish you for your previous sins. He has cast that sin away. There may be consequences for your sin for a long time – people treating you poorly, financial payments, broken relationships – but know that horrible events in your life are not acts of God reaching out to punish you for past sins.
Once you have repented and have been forgiven, you are forgiven. Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
To tie it up with a personal example, when I committed adultery as a pastor, I was not repentant. I was therefore, under the divine judgment of God. He was free to punish me – He was my Heavenly Father and I was His follower. I was way out of line and not following His commands. My own actions and behaviors were enough punishment, but He was free to punish me further.
When I repented of my sins (under the divine influence of His Spirit), He forgave me of my sin. At that moment, my sin was forgiven. Were the consequences of my adultery gone? No. I still had many people who were upset with me, many broken relationships, and a long road of restoration ahead. The consequences still surround me today because of the sin I committed. But God is with me as I travel down that road, working all things together for His glory.
You are forgiven when you turn to God and repent. Consequences may follow, but they are not the same as divine punishment. Face the consequences with grace and take each day with a step toward the holiness of God, knowing “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.
Other helpful articles:
The Judgments: Past, Present, and Future – J. Hampton Keathley III (while I do not completely agree with his eschatology, his insights to this present topic are astounding)
Punishment vs. Consequence – Tony J. Alicea, Living in the Tension
What’s the Difference Between Punishment, Consequences, Discipline, Training, and Instruction – Brad Hambrick
Does God Punish Us When We Sin? – God Questions.org
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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