When Consequences Outlive Grace

When we started the church in 2002, our mission statement was “Helping people find their way back to God.” We had no clue what we were doing, we just knew we wanted our church to be a church for people who had given up on church.

One of the couples that helped us start the church truly had the gift of evangelism. They invited everyone. They invited neighbors; they invited co-workers; they invited parents at their kid’s school; they invited family members; they were the best marketing our church had.

About a year after the church started, our friends’ Uncle Fred and Aunt Judy started coming to church. Why?? Because our friends invited them. 🙂 This was huge because Fred hadn’t been to church in a long time. He had given up on God years before. For some reason, Fred and I connected. He was a little older than my parents but I loved how honest he was and how he just said what was on his mind. For the next few years, we grew really close to their family.

There were a lot of people devastated when I resigned in 2005 because of the affair…but Fred and Judy were at the top of the list. Despite their hurt, Judy reached out to me to tell me how much they loved me and appreciated me. Until this past Friday, we hadn’t seen them in over 4 years.

Fred and Judy both have cancer. Judy has battled it for almost 10 years…Fred for the past two. When Trisha and I arrived in Indianapolis on Friday, we dropped the boys off at the hotel and went to see Fred at an assisted living facility. He is not doing well and we wanted to spend some time with him.

It was such a sweet time to catch up with Fred and Judy. We told stories; we laughed; we prayed; Trisha sang a song for him; we cried. As we were getting ready to leave, Judy hugged me tight and started to cry. She simply said, “We miss you guys so much.”

As we were driving back to the hotel, I had this thought cross my mind: There are times in our life where the consequences of our choices outlive grace. No matter how much grace is given, sometimes the consequences live on. Let me explain what I mean.

My wife has forgiven me. Aunt Judy has forgiven me. They have both extended unmerited favor to me…grace. They also both live with the consequences of my choices. Despite their forgiveness, the consequences live on. For Judy, the consequence she lives with is that I am no longer her pastor. That doesn’t mean I’m not forgiven, but it is a consequence. That consequence outlives the grace that’s been given.

I’ve been struggling to process and articulate this principle.

I think too often in my life and maybe you are like this too…we equate the consequences of our actions with a lack of grace. If we experience consequences then somehow we must not be forgiven. I don’t think Godly grace was ever designed to take away consequences. It’s purpose was to take away the penalty for sin…not the consequences for sin. My problem is that I often want the easiest path possible. So when I say I’m sorry, I want all the ramifications of my choices to go away too. Sometimes (often) it doesn’t work that way.

How do we live in grace even as we experience our consequences? How do we not feel guilty all the time when we see someone else hurting as a result of our choices? Here are a few things I’m trying to do:

-Recognize the consequence of your choice for what it is and not a lack of grace.

-Remind yourself (daily) that God’s grace is truly sufficient.

-See the consequences of your choices as an opportunity to bring God glory.

This is as fresh of a blog post as there is…I am still processing a lot of these thoughts.

What are your thoughts about consequences outliving grace? Do you agree or disagree?

17 Responses to When Consequences Outlive Grace

  1. So often I want the grace and consequences to be the same. This was a good reminder that they are not.

  2. Pingback: A Do-Over | Refine Us

  3. Jeff Markley

    Consequences only outlive grace if grace is not truly grace.

    Grace is a perfect restorer of all things, it is complete. Consequences are evidence of imperfection and incompleteness.

    Flawed human beings mix law and grace because we are unwilling to truly die to self. If we would truly die, and be found in Christ, and live from the essence of His Spirit, even the mind formed laws which dictate expectations on ourselves and others and are used to accuse, or hold ourselve and others hostage to the past would be transcended. The accuser truly would be overcome.

    But, as is sadly the case in most all of Christianity, we continue to hang on to our rights, our feelings, our expectations and never really transcend into a place which understands that the yoke truly is easy and the burden is light, no matter what is going on in our lives.

    Grace won’t expect forgiveness from someone we may hurt, but truth be told, if you’re actually experiencing Grace (the life of God within you, the spirit of Christ) you won’t feel guilty, ashamed, or like you have to make up for something you’ve done.

    The person who doesn’t forget is the person who still lives by the law and judges after the flesh and who holds onto their “right” to be treated fairly. News Flash folks…you were called by the One who was treated unfairly, to the point of crucifixion, and loved through it. You have that same Spirit in your earthen vessel, not to help you do better, but to transcend and live through you.

    Lets not water down grace because we are unwilling to die, and fail to believe in what we have received. To those who screw up, repent. To those who get screwed, repent. The mistake made is evidence of a lack of grace in the person who screwed up. The idea of having to “work through forgiveness” is evidence of a lack of grace in the person who “got screwed”. You’re both the same, you’re both living by the flesh.

    Transcend people of God, stop caring so much for this life and your rights.

  4. Joan Jackson

    Oh Justin, It is so weird that I even found this post, as I am not much of an computer person and rarely am I on it. Today I am working on remodeling Mike’s house as they look forward to an additional bedroom for their baby girl arriving on Aug 18th according to Casarean schedual.

    Living through the building of Genesis and the tough time in your marriage and the consequences of your unfaithfulness to Trish and the people who loved you at Genesis, I have been touched by your profound words. It really touches my heart to see how God has revealed this truth to your heart and how he has already used it in the lives of the people who have commented on these thoughts.

    I’m so glad that God continues to use you and your enthusiasm to advance the kingdom of God and to minister to all of us who are so imperfect in our lives and our understanding of God’s grace.

    Thank you for ministering to Judy and Fred. It meant so very much to them and to those who love them. This is such a very hard time for all of the family those of us close to them.

    God bless you and your sweet family. I miss you!

  5. ** Originally posted this on the wrong blog…ooops lol

    Thanks! Just what I needed to hear right when I needed to hear it. Btw I met Tricia at Armed and Dangerous and LOVE her. She speaks truth laced with compassion and grace.

    Crissy

  6. PJ

    I used to talk about consequence vs. forgiveness a lot when I worked with youth. The most powerful illustration I remember hearing was that of a child who disobeys his mother and goes in the cabinet under the sink. As a result, the child is poisoned and made very sick. Fearing punishment, the child begs for his mother’s forgiveness, which she was more than willing to extend. Unfortunately, for the young boy, his disobedience resulted in something more than forgiveness could make right– he may be forgiven, but he is still poisoned.

  7. Justin,

    You are so correct! My dear wife, Susan, has forgiven me and has shown much grace. But she has not forgotten. God has the ability to chose to forget…we humans do not have that ability. Thus, consequences outlast grace.

    *Memories can be a fulfilled dream or a brutal nightmare
    *Friends can rejoice with you or be distant & cold
    *The church can stand by you or they can shun you & your family
    *Your family can provide loving comfort or abandon you
    *Your kids can rebuild trust in you or be bitter to their death

    One thing is for sure, our God is a gracious and longsufferinging. He will never leave us, even if we leave Him.

    I would love to meet you by phone, email or f2f someday. God bless…

    Jerry Sinclair
    Faithful and True of Jacksonville, FL
    (affiliated with Dr. Mark Laaser)

  8. Great thoughts!!! I completely agree that consequences out live grace. And it can be hard.

    My husband’s consequences for being an accused sex offender still linger and affect our family even when grace and forgiveness has been given and received (and I say accused because almost three years later the case is still pending).

    We were both on staff at a church. There were consequences in those church relationships, along with friends and family. Limits were placed on normal, everyday things we tend to take for granted.

    My husband has been radically changed through the power of Christ and His grace. Consequences linger even though our marriage and our family has been restored. And I believe it’s so we have an opportunity to shine Jesus to a very hurt and broken world. It’s all for a purpose. It’s all for good.

  9. Excellent post. I think you said it so well here “Recognize the consequence of your choice for what it is and not a lack of grace.” Grace never takes away consequences and those consequences effect so many people. It’s a ripple effect. Thanks for this.

  10. Thanks for writing about this, Justin. I love that you are willing to tackle some of the tougher questions and things that aren’t easy to hear. I have found that too many times people believe in some altered prosperity gospel in which once you are forgiven, all of your problems disappear. I believe God wants to redeem all of mankind. I believe He is true to His word. I believe that He will absolutely forgive us when we confess with our hearts and ask Him to. But I don’t believe that He will then free us from the consequences of our actions.

  11. cshell

    Great, great post. All things I have been wrestling with the last year. My life is a billboard for consequences…and I have had such a hard time understanding Grace completely and then actually accepting it.

    Thanks so much Justin for your perspective…it’s also nice to know I’m not the only one working through it.

  12. Oh goodness, Josh & I were JUST talking about this very thing as we struggle with the consequences of years of mismanaging our finances. We have made leaps and bounds in how we view and spend money and give money, but we are still paying heavy consequences and being impacted in ways we could not have anticipated due to those actions from years ago.

    As we’ve tried to figure out what our new normal is going to be once we move to Nashville, I am constantly reminded that we need to focus on looking for what God is providing, and not chasing after the status quo.

    Blessings,
    Lindsey

  13. Jason

    You nailed this one.

    I think one of the most difficult ways for us to live this principle out is in our relationships with others. Parents who want to take away all consequences for their children’s choices in the name of grace and in doing so set them up for future failure.

    Or wives who want to offer grace to an abusive husband by not holding him accountable for his actions.

    God offers us grace AND allows us to reap what we sow. (Gal. 6:4)

    This is difficult to try to try and live out. Sometimes it is hard to know where that line is.

    • I am one who has chosen to offer grace and forgiveness to an addict and fight to stop a cycle of abuse. I have struggled to keep boundaries in place and I believe tough love is sometimes harder on the enforcer than the recipient. I was not prepared for the far reaching destruction betrayal has caused our children and extended family. Thankfully, God has given me strength and a support system of friends that have kept me moving forward.

      I appreciate your posts Justin and your candor. I know and believe in His Sovereignty.

  14. Sarah

    This is so great and timely for me! It is exactly how I feel but have not been able to express. I’ve suffered with a different kind of betrayal. My husband is addicted to Heroin and is currently in rehab. I write him every day and I have printed off many copies of your posts. (You need a print me button FYI! :)) It is very hard for him to understand that when he apologises and I forgive him it’s still not completely over. I don’t fully trust him yet. Thank’s Justin!

    • I think this is a powerful, powerful post, and the key element of what is missing in the many, MANY teachings out there about grace. I think there are so many misconceptions that grace + forgiveness = no consequences. There is also a principle that we reap what we sow…but grace is that God can take even that and use it for His glory. Perhaps when you were removed from the position of pastor in Fred and Judy’s lives, it forced them to dig a little deeper in God for themselves rather than depend on you to lead them in the faith. The beauty of grace is that God truly works ALL things together for good, even the consequences of our actions. He is perfectly balanced in that way, and I think that balance is lacking in the concept of grace that is being taught today. I appreciate your swinging the pendulum back to the middle! 🙂

      • Amen Kimberly.
        And thank you Justin. This may have been a fresh post but you have a wonderful ability to clearly articulate the gospel, the good news even when it seems like bad news… 🙂 I appreciate your willingness to bring these truths to the table very much. You are a gift.