I have talked to many people over the years that have been wronged. When I have spoken to them about the need to forgive, the response, “I could never forgive them!” And then they offer a reason such as, “I could never forget.” Another response might be “If I did they would take advantage of me!” Many of us have failed to be free by holding onto wrong thinking. Grace (or Mercy) can but many times does not erase consequences.
I like to tell a story. Let’s say that you trusted someone to live in your home. And let’s say that they steal things for cash, the reason for the need for cash really does not matter. When confronted they confess and ask your forgiveness. It is at this point that you struggle. Now there are many reasons that you may struggle. It probably boils down to the broken trust. Broken trust for many is the real issue. Now this situation could relate to any kind of violation of trust. What most of us fail to understand that trust is something that is earned. Now every relationship starts off with certain trust points. Now people that have had their trust violated in the past tend to offer less trust and those from good relationships tend to offer more trust. The point is that after the initial relationship trust is built or destroyed based on actions.
I think that it is important to understand that forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. Let’s say that after the person who stole from you confesses you forgive them. Does it mean that everything goes back to the way it was before the offense? Well it depends on the offense, the frequency of the offences and even the character of the individual. You may decide to not impose any consequences but I would suggest that you should. Why, because trust is something that is earned and forgiveness is something that is granted. When you forgive someone you are choosing not to hold the offenses against them any longer. Yet, forgiveness does not erase consequences. The Bible calls this restitution. Restitution serves a number of purposes. First, the cost of restitution is a strong motivator for the individual not to commit the offense again. Second, restitution provides a tangible way for the offender to practically demonstrate remorse through his actions. It is actually character building. And third, restitution begins the process of rebuilding trust in the relationship.
It is easy for followers of Jesus to confuse offering grace (forgiveness) and consequences (rebuilding trust). I was reminded of this in my recent studies in 2 Samuel 12. It is the account of Nathan confronting King David with the consequences for his sins of committed adultery and the killing of Uriah, which at the core was David’s rejection of the Lord in his life. And as you read the passage, David faced some very hard things because of his sin. But God also wanted David to know that He forgave Him for the sin but there would be consequences. “David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13)
There are several lessons for us in this account of David’s failure and God’s grace. First, is there are consequences for every sin, whether we realize it or not. This should motivate us to walk close to the Lord. Second, we are reminded that God’s forgiveness does not always erase the consequences. This too should motivate us to live for God and not for ourselves!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson