Having examined the question “Is there a difference between God’s forgiveness making it as though we never sinned and God’s forgiveness making it that we never sinned,” let us move on to the differentiating between forgiveness and consequences. We can rely on previous work for a foundation: certainly David’s consequences did not dissolve. Was he forgiven? Yes. Were there still consequences? Of course. Could God bring consequences to David’s life for something both God and David were supposed to forget had occurred? That’s absurd. Does God’s forgiveness cause the sin to have never originally occurred? Also absurd. Otherwise, God truly could not have caused Absalom to sleep with David’s wives (consequence) as He prophesied He would do.
There are ultimately three types of sins.
- Sins against God
- Sins against man
- Sins (or crimes) against government
Some sins are mixtures of all of the three. For example, you can lie to your brother and be guilty of the first two categories, but lying is not a crime. That being said, there have been times in history and even today in other countries where it is illegal to read a Bible, which would be a crime against a government but not a crime against God. Of course, if you murder someone, you just sinned against all three. For your restitution to be satisfied before God, you need to repent and ask for forgiveness. In the case of murder, you also need to go to jail because your forgiveness from God does not take away your guilt as a criminal. While James makes it clear that all sin separates from God in a “guilty of one, guilty of all” way, you cannot argue that absolution in God’s eyes precludes our responsibility to pay restitution, either to man or the government.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:1-4
Peter reinforces this concept in 1 Peter 4:15-16:
“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Even in the Old Testament Law, restitution had to be made, and there were various levels of restitution based on the severity of the sin, forgiveness aside. For example, Exodus 22 talks about various levels of restitution for stealing. If a man stole an ox, he had to pay back five oxen. If a man could not afford the restitution, he sold himself as a slave. However, according to Leviticus 20, the penalty for adultery was execution: asking for “forgiveness” did not preclude the natural consequences. This also shows that while all sin separates, not all sin is equal. And certainly the consequences of all sin are not equal. Moreover, God makes it clear through His Word that lawbreakers are to be punished by the authority that He established through government leaders. Returning again to previous work, casting sin as far as the east is from the west does not mean it never happened. It means that it did happen, and God separated the divine penalty of our sins from us in a manner that is absolute and final through the cross. In no way should it be construed that it separates us from earthly penalties.
Sin has been loosely defined as “missing the mark.” I suppose that definition works, except that the English connotation is that it doesn’t matter what the action is: if it misses the mark, it’s all the same. After all, James 2 tells us that if we are guilty of one sin, we are guilty of all. This passage is severely misunderstood, just like Matthew 4:21 was not intended to communicate that lust in the mind is as bad as acting on adultery. All sin separates us from God. Certainly. But not all sin is created equal. It takes a little more time in the gutter before someone is willing to move from hating their boss to actually getting up and murdering them. Or the man who entertains a prohibited fantasy about a coworker: that man needs God’s forgiveness just as much as the adulterer, but the time it takes to get from one to the other is the difference between learning to control your thoughts and losing your pastorate. The difference between hating someone and murdering them is you go to jail if you murder someone.
The next issue that must be dissected is whether being forgiven of the divine penalty of sin precludes us from consequences in ministry. Our text will be the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications for eldership.
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7
If God’s forgiveness meant the sin never originally occurred, then this list of qualifications is essentially nullified, especially the notion of being beyond reproach. Throughout our history, the pulpit has been understood to be a place that is to be revered. There has always been an understanding that the sanctity of preaching needed to be preserved, and Paul’s qualification that a man be “beyond reproach” was indicative of that need. To be beyond reproach means that the world cannot look in and tear apart the credibility of the man behind the pulpit because of his past life. If the world could look in and say “that man has always been a thief among us: how foolish that he is now behind a pulpit” is to fall into reproach by not having a good report of them which are without. Certainly, Paul’s stipulation that such a man be above this sort of reputation is proof that our sin being “under the blood” is not the same thing as being “beyond reproach.”