What does forgiveness mean? When discussing God’s grace and forgiveness in light of God’s Law and justice, there seem to be two camps in the Christian community that sit on opposite extremes of the continuum. On one side there is the camp that says that God is so loving and so forgiving that He will always forgive you no matter what you do and no matter how many times you do it. On the other side of the camp there are those who say that God cannot tolerate sin and that when you finally cross over the line for the final time, you cannot be forgiven.
Today’s story in Numbers 14 sheds some light on the issue for us. The Israelites were complaining against God and were not willing to trust that God would actually deliver the promise that He had made. They saw the giants in Canaan and could not see how they could possibly defeat this formidable enemy. Their fear drove them to the point of even wanting to kill Moses and elect another leader to take them back to Egypt. This was a major sin of rebellion.
Here are some observations and application points from this story…
- Following God is a scary thing and the natural reaction is to run back to the familiar land of slavery and sinful patterns.
- God takes obedience to Him and trust in Him very seriously.
- There are consequences to sin and to rebelling against the name of God.
- God is a forgiving God, and will always forgive the repentant.
- Forgiveness does not remove consequences.
- When we move on without the blessing of God, we will always fail.
Let’s camp on that phrase, “forgiveness does not remove consequences.” God forgave the rebellious generation. He continued to lead them through the wilderness for another 40 years. His presence went before them and He provided the food they needed every single day. They had a relationship with Him, but He did not allow them into the Promised Land.
This is a truth pill that is very hard for us to swallow. There are consequences to our actions that will have a lasting effect on our lives. If you take drugs you will damage your body, permanently. If you drink and drive, you may kill an innocent person and they will never come back. If you get a divorce your children will be emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives. If you lie you will tarnish your trustworthiness and will have to work very hard to build back trust.
Does God forgive drug addicts, drunk drivers, divorcees, and liars? Absolutely. If we truly repent and ask for forgiveness then He has promised that He will remove the guilt of that sin from us as far as the east is from the west. Will He remove the consequences? No. Will a person who has had an affair, divorced their spouse, remarried, and is living in a blended family situation ever be able to experience the wholeness of a united and sanctified family? No. They will not get to enter into the Promised Land of the blessing of family that God intended for them. Does that mean that they cannot know God or follow Him? No. It just means that they cannot pretend that they are “all better” now that they are forgiven. There are deep wounds of relational devastation that will carry on throughout the generations because of those actions. God can heal those wounds and work with those wounds to make strong scar tissue, but the scars will never go away.
Here’s the point. Be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m going to commit this sin, even though I know its wrong, because I know that God will forgive me afterward.” That is dangerous thinking. When we do that we will be like the Israelites who said, “Oh, Lord, we’re sorry for rebelling, we want to go fight now.” Moses said, “I’m sorry, that’s too little, too late. God will not be with you in that endeavor.”
This is a heavy devotional, and perhaps a controversial one. Yet, it is important for us, as followers of Jesus, to never take lightly the instructions that we have been given. God loves us so much and has such rich blessings in store for us, that it would be foolish for us to flirt around with sin and miss out on the good stuff. We just don’t have time for that. Let’s keep our eyes focused on Jesus and keep loving each other with God’s kind of love.