Consequences and Punishment

There are many teachings in regard to the topic of forgiveness that need to be understood. One of the most important aspects of understanding and properly applying forgiveness is understanding the difference between consequences and punishment.

A “consequence” is something that arises or happens because of something else. The word itself broken down into its parts (“con” = “with” and “sequence” = “order”) gives us the understanding of “with order”. When I was about 10 years old I fell off my bike and chipped a tooth. The tooth being chipped was a “consequence” of falling off my bike, but not a punishment. A punishment is a specific type of consequence. It is a “punitive” consequence – that is – it is to inflict a penalty for an offense, fault, etc. When I was about 10 years old my dad saw me throw my bike around while playing. The swift justice to my backside was a penalty, a punishment, for my disrespectful and negligent behavior. Was it a consequence of my actions? Yes. But it was a specific type of consequence. All punishments are consequences, but not all consequences are punishments.

Now applying this to the topic of forgiveness we need to understand that when it comes to forgiveness, we are forgiven of punishment, but that does not mean there are no consequences; and when using the word “forgive” it may be used in relation to a specific punishment while others still remain. Take the example of David in II Samuel 11 and 12. David had committed adultery (II Sam. 12:10), murder (II Sam. 12:9), and blasphemy (II Sam. 12:14) – ALL of which were crimes punishable by death (Deut. 22:22; Num 35:16-30; Num. 15:30). David confesses that he has sinned to which Nathan responds, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” Here, the Lord forgave David, and removed the punishment of death, but there were still consequences David would endure because of his sin. (II Sam. 12:10-12 & 14) So we have a scriptural example where the Lord demonstrates that forgiveness has taken place, but there were still consequences that would follow.

Consider a modern application. Say for example, an elder of the church (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9) is found to be living a double life and is married to two women. He repents of his sin and asks God’s forgiveness. While the sin will be forgiven him (I Jn 1:9), a consequence would be that he would lose his eldership. It is not punishment; rather, the consequence of his actions is that he is no longer qualified.

Take another example. A wife finds that her spouse is cheating. If she divorces him, does that mean she hasn’t forgiven him? Absolutely not! She can forgive. She can cover his sin in her own heart and not harbor ill will or seek vengeance. But divorce is not vengeance… it is a RIGHT. It is a right that God grants to those who have had an unfaithful spouse (Matt. 19:9). In other words, divorce is not a punishment against the unfaithful spouse; but instead, is a right of release for the faithful one. In fact, one may divorce their spouse AND forgive them, while another might remain married to their spouse and NOT forgive them. The sign of forgiveness is not the divorce, but the will within the heart of how you treat the other individual. (Mt. 18:35)

We are commanded by God to forgive others. In fact, our own forgiveness depends on whether or not we forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15). But we must not misunderstand the principles of forgiveness, and this one in particular, that consequences and punishments are NOT always the same thing.

By David Osteen via Grace Gazzette, September 26, 2010, Volume 5, Article 43

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