If You, LORD, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You that You may be feared. – Psalm 130:3-4
What does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? “There is forgiveness with the Lord,” but after forgiveness, what does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? Will He remove the consequences of sin from the sin that is forgiven, or does He leave the consequences, even when He forgives the sin? And what about the sins of unbelievers? Since all their sins are unforgiven, does the Lord bring on these people all the consequences of their sins? I was thinking about this recently and wanted to share some brief thoughts.
THEOLOGICAL TRUTH, BUT GOD IS GRACIOUS
It must be said up front that God’s forgiveness of sin does not mean that God will remove the natural consequences of sin. God is never under any obligation to remove any of the consequences of any person’s sin. If the worst consequences of every sin came to pass, God would not have violated any of His justice. He would remain perfectly just. God is obligated to forgive all the sins of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, but He is obligated to remove none of the consequences of anyone’s sins. Having stated this theological truth, we need to also state that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8),” and, because of His grace and mercy, He ordinarily chooses to remove the consequences of people’s sins, of believers and unbelievers alike.
THE GLORY OF GOD’S GRACE
Now, we should consider these things for a moment to understand the greatness and the glory and the compassion of our God. Because God is gracious and merciful, and because He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to become flesh and to dwell among us and to die on the cross for us, and God has obligated Himself to forgive all the sins of every person who believes in Jesus. God has promised that any person who believes in Jesus is forgiven of all their sins and will never come under judgment. But while God has obligated Himself to forgive the sins of believers, He is not obligated to remove any of the consequences of those sins. But because God is, by His very nature, merciful and gracious, and because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), then God ordinarily and usually chooses, by His perfect wisdom and for His glory, to remove the consequences of people’s sins, not only those of believers, but also those of unbelievers, even though the sins of the unbelievers are not forgiven and even though unbelievers remain under God’s wrath and judgment. Think about how foreign this is to our human experience. In this world, we expect enemies to receive no mercy, but God’s mercy manifests itself by usually (but not always) removing the worst consequences of the sins of His enemies.
In Romans 9:22, we read that “God, though willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” What this means is that God deferred His wrath and His judgment on the reprobate, even though they were destined for hell.
In Romans 3:25, Paul writes that, “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Again, God delayed judgment because of His grace.
Paul is addressing the pagans in Lystra when he says that “In generations gone by God permitted the nations to go their own way,” while still giving them rains and good things. The point is that God’s common grace means that He defers His judgment, and He often removes the consequences of sin.
SDG rmb 12/12/2020