Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

No one can sin and get away with it, even if it appears that nobody else knows about it. We are able to hide many things from people, but we cannot escape anywhere from the eyes of God who is watching us all the time everywhere (Heb.4:13). One day all of us have to give an account of our lives to God. There are laws that God has set in place regarding sin that come into effect the moment we sin. Thankfully, He has also set in place laws regarding how He will deal with sin when we repent, and that is the essence of the Gospel Jesus came with.

A closer look at three consequences of our sin will be useful for us to understand how to live better.

1. Punishment
God will punish all sin. He has to because He is holy and righteous and He doesn’t even want to look at sin (Hab.1:13). God’s justice demands punishment for sin. He has told us very clearly that the punishment for sin is ‘death’. God told Adam and Eve that the day they disobeyed Him, they would die (Gen.2:17). This includes physical death. If Adam and Eve had not disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but instead eaten from the tree of life (which they were permitted to), they could have lived without death. However, death came into the world as a result of their sin. Physical death came to Adam and Eve many years later, but what happened to them as soon as they sinned was that they died spiritually. They lost the free access, fellowship and closeness they had with God. The Bible says sin separates us from God (Isa.59:2). If we do not get reconciled with God during our lifetime, then this separation will remain forever, and that is the punishment for sin--any sin.

2. Natural Consequences
We know that sins have many consequences on earth. Our own conscience gets defiled, we may lose our boldness and become confused, we may feel guilty and ashamed, relationships may get spoilt, people may lose their respect for us and confidence in us, etc. We may face human punishments from our employers, courts or other authorities. We may get sick if our sinful behaviour such as drunkenness, drug addiction or sexual promiscuity affected our bodies. Our family may suffer because of the sinful way in which we behave towards them or from the lack of good example or care we should have given them. Our children may learn from us and carry our sinful behaviour into their generation. Many people in such situations do not realise that these are consequences of their own sins, and instead they blame God for ‘doing these things’ to them.

3. Discipline When unbelievers sin they face only the above two consequences. But if the children of God sin, sometimes God may discipline us in order to teach us to repent and not to repeat our sins (Heb.12:5,6). It is very important to understand that discipline is not the same as punishment, but something that God does for us in love and for our good. Discipline from God is painful, and it may look very much to us as if God is angry with us. No, He is seeking to get us back to Him. Actually, if God doesn’t discipline us at all and we are able to sin and seemingly get away with it, that will indicate that we are not His children at all, because it is only His children that He disciplines (vv.7,8). God doesn’t discipline us every time we sin, but only when the sin is especially serious or when we have been ignoring His warnings for a long time.

This discipline may take different forms, including loss of connection with God, things going wrong in an inexplicable manner, sickness, financial loss, etc. Many times the mode of discipline is related to the sin we have committed. (At the same time we should avoid thinking that any such experience we have is an act of discipline from God. It may be a natural event, or it may be even an attack from the devil. We need to ask God to show us whether He is trying to tell us something through such events.) Somebody has described this as God trying to get our attention through ‘shouting’ out to us through such experiences because we have not caught on to His ‘whisperings’ or neglected them. Sometimes the natural consequences also serve as discipline because we learn how serious our sin was and seek to turn away from it.

Dealing with sin
When we come to God the first time it is through acknowledging ourselves as sinners and receiving the free gift of forgiveness through Jesus who has taken our punishment in our place. Then God takes away His wrath against our sins and the punishment that we deserve. He washes away the record of our sins with the blood of Jesus Christ, and makes it white like snow (Isa.1:18). He will not remember our sins (hold them against us) anymore (Heb.8:12).

This is how God deals with the ‘punishment’ of sin. But that does not mean that there will be no natural consequences as mentioned above, or discipline. Remember the examples in the Bible such as when God forgave David when he sinned with Bathsheba but did not let his son live and also allowed strife to come up in his family (2Sam.12:7-14). Forgiveness dealt with David’s guilt and punishment, but God allowed the natural consequences and His discipline to come into effect.

Maybe we are not always able to differentiate between natural consequences and God’s discipline. However what is needed is not an accurate dissection in our mind of the experience we are going through but that we should learn from them to become more careful with sin.

If we are confused about differentiating between God’s forgiveness (taking away the punishment) on one side and the natural consequences and discipline on the other side, we can be affected in different ways. Even though God has taken away the punishment, we may think He has not because we experience the natural consequences or the discipline. We may think God is angry with us or that He is out to catch us, even though He has taken away His wrath from us (1Th.5:9). We may ‘feel’ He has not forgiven us even though we have confessed our sins (1Jn.1:9). We may conclude that He is a hard God whom we can never please. Etc.

But the fact is that He has forgiven us (declared us ‘not guilty’) and taken away our punishment. He allows the natural consequences of sin to affect us and He disciplines us so that we may learn not to sin again but become more and more like Him. There is no ‘anger’ behind these but only love for us (Heb.12:6,10). Certainly they are not pleasant experiences for us, and we do suffer under them. But God’s desire is that we can ultimately enjoy the pleasures that would result with the transformation into His character.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, July 2012

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