I was again overcome by the story of David’s sin against Uriah (murder) and Bathsheba (adultery) and God’s response in 2 Samuel 11-12. David acknowledges that the one who has done such a thing deserves to die (12:5). But in the end Nathan says, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (12:13).
But 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 put “penalty” in quotes because I think we must distinguish consequences of forgiven sin (v. 13) from consequences of unforgiven sin. The latter are properly called penalties. The former we should probably call “disciplinary consequences.”
That is, they are related to the sin, and they reflect the displeasure of God for the sin, but their aim is not retributive justice. They are not part of condemnation. The aim of the consequences of forgiven sin is not to settle the accounts demanded by retributive justice.
That’s what hell is for. There is a judgment whose purpose is to vindicate the right by paying back the wrong 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.
But the aim of God-sent consequences of forgiven sin is not to settle accounts demanded by retributive justice. The aim of the God-sent consequences of forgiven sin are (1) to demonstrate the exceeding evil of sin, (2) to show that God does not take sin lightly even when he lays aside his punishment, (3) to humble and sanctify the forgiven sinner.
Thus Hebrews 12:6 teaches that “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
This is immensely important to teach in a day when there is an imbalance of emphasis on the Father’s forgiving tenderness to the exclusion of the Father’s forgiving toughness. Thus many people have no categories to handle the consequences of the sins in their lives except to become less biblical and God-centered in their interpretation of life.
By the power of truth and the Spirit we must learn to revel in the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of glory, the joy of the Lord at the very same time that 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.
Cherishing with you the tough and tender truth of God,