You are here

“Forgiveness vs. Consequences”

“Forgiveness vs. Consequences”

    In plain language the Bible teaches that there are consequences for the sins which humans commit.  No other place is this fact so readily apparent than on the pages of the Old Testament.  Three familiar accounts from Old Testament history will sufficiently exemplify this great truth.
     First, in Genesis 3, we learn that Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the tree which God had forbidden them to eat from (or touch).  As the chapter progresses, we see that God removed our ancient grandparents from the Garden of Eden for that error.   Question: Could Adam and Eve ever be forgiven for their sin of eating fruit from the forbidden tree?  Yes.  Could they ever go back to the Garden of Eden?  No.
    In the second place, in Numbers 14:13, Moses began interceding for the Israelites, because God sought to strike them with pestilence and disinherit them (for disbelieving His promise to be with them in the conquest of Canaan).  During his intercession for the people of Israel, Moses asked God to forgive their sin; and God did (vs. 20).  Question: Did God forgive the Israelites’ sin of disbelief and rejecting Him?  Yes (see 14:20).  Did that generation of Israelites get to enter Canaan?  No (see 14:22-23).
    In the third place, in Numbers 20:8, God told Moses to speak to the rock, so that it would bring forth water for the Israelites.  Instead of speaking to the rock, however, Moses spoke to the people, and struck the rock twice (an action not commanded by God).  This was a sin upon Moses’ part.  Question: Could Moses be forgiven of his sin of striking the rock instead of speaking to it?  Yes (in fact, Matthew 17:3 is a good indication he was forgiven).  Did Moses get to enter Canaan because of his sin? No.  
    From these Old Testament accounts, one thing strikes us with unmistakable force: even though God may forgive someone’s sin, there are consequences for those sins which have abiding results.  Also from these accounts, we need to notice that a distinction should be made between the forgiveness of sins and the consequences of sins.  To receive ‘forgiveness of a sin’ does not imply that there will be no consequences for the sin which was forgiven.    

A Modern-Day Application

       In recent weeks, from several areas, some very heartbreaking reports have come to my attention.  Apparently, many members of the Lord’s church are being taught error (or at least hold to error) relating to a person’s “pre-Christian” divorce and remarriage eligibility.  By “pre-Christian” I am referring to what a person may go through (relating to divorce and remarriage) before they decide to become a Christian.

    The error which many unsuspecting Christians are being taught is this: that a non-Christian, who divorces his mate (for a different reason than the one exception Jesus gave in Matthew 19:9) and remarries (a different mate) before becoming a Christian, may remain in the second marriage (with God’s approval) because his sins were washed away at baptism.  In other words, they are saying that an adulterous union (before baptism) is made non-adulterous by baptism, or that a person who was not eligible to be married before baptism (because of an unscriptural divorce) is now eligible to be married because baptism washed their sins away.
    I have personally had conversations with those who espouse this view or teach this view.  On more than one occasion, the advocates of this view have charged me with teaching that baptism does not wash away all sin.  That is, since I teach that people in adulterous marriages must dissolve those marriages to be right with God, then that supposedly means baptism washed away all but the person’s sin of adultery. It hardly needs to be stated, but I do not teach that baptism washes away all sins but adultery.
     Honest as they may be, what these misguided brethren are really doing, in making such a contention, is confusing the forgiveness of sins with the consequences of sin.  Such mistakes will never lead one to accurate conclusions.
    The Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, though difficult to accept, is easy to understand.  In speaking to some Pharisees who wanted to know if He permitted divorce for just ‘any old reason,’ Jesus made clear that there was only one reason God permitted divorce (Mt. 19:9).  [As a side note: God is the One who joins man and woman in marriage.  Shouldn’t He also have the right to say upon what basis they can separate?]  Christ’s law on divorce and remarriage is clear: Unless one gets a divorce for the reason that their spouse physically cheated on them, then they do not have God’s approval in that divorce; and anyone they marry, after their unauthorized divorce, would be entering into an adulterous union with them (cf. Mt. 5:32).  Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19:9 is for everyone (notice the “whoever”), not just Christians.
    Everyone who remarries, after an unauthorized divorce, “commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9).  The Greek verb, which translates “commits adultery” in English, is in the present tense...meaning continuous action. That means this: the person who thus enters a second, unauthorized marriage literally enters a state of “living in adultery,” and remains there until the adulterous marriage is dissolved (i.e., repented of).
    So our misguided brethren, who say I am teaching baptism washes away all sins except adultery, have missed a key point in Bible teaching: that the ‘forgiveness of sin’ is not the same thing as the ‘consequences of sin.’  Yes, a person who unscripturally divorces their mate can be forgiven for that sin; but the consequences of that sin are that they must remain unmarried or reconcile with their initial spouse (1 Cor. 7:11) if they wish to be right with God.  May God strengthen the church to lovingly, yet firmly, teach this difficult truth to a world that has been ruptured by the plague of divorce.  Only then can we say that we are the friend of Jesus--when we are willing to teach and practice exactly what He taught and practiced (John 14:15, 21).