Having one’s sins forgiven doesn’t negate the detrimental effects they inflict on our lives. Case in point: The day after my wife confronted me (lividly) about my covert porn addiction I reported I’d humbly dropped to my regret-soaked knees before God and He’d mercifully forgiven my disgusting behavior. The lethal look in her eyes said God may’ve forgiven me but she certainly hadn’t. It abruptly dawned on me that, while God could and would fix what was wrong with my heart and mind, it’d be up to me to repair the damage my sin had caused in our marriage. God knew my repentance was genuine but proving it to my skeptical wife was going to be another thing altogether. It’d take time, patience and a lot of dogged determination.
What discourages many starting a recovery program is while they quickly recognize they are, indeed, improving – their circumstances aren’t. In fact, their situation’s often slipping deeper into chaos. Why? The Apostle Paul tells us bluntly, “…The payoff of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Now, since all humans die physically, the death he speaks of pertains to the things that make for a happy, rewarding life. Specifically, relationships with other people. Yes, God’s liable to punish individuals for intolerable, offensive acts and sometimes He does. The Old Testament verifies it repeatedly. But we’re also informed He’s“…Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” and that He “Forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). This means the majority of hardships and troubles we experience on earth are, more often than not, logical and predictable consequences of sin. In other words, God didn’t drive a wedge between me and my wife; my unrelenting obsession with pornography did. Truth is my Heavenly Father was lots more understanding about my addiction than she was. Matthew Henry wrote of God’s slow-to-anger heart, “It can endure evil and provocation without being filled with resentment or revenge. It’ll put up with many slights from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.”
However, we should never mistake God’s big, merciful heart as an indication He thinks sin’s okay. It never will be. He loathes sin passionately. Understand He’s lenient with us for a reason. Steve Gallagher wrote, “His patience is for the purpose of giving a person time to repent.” The Holy Word confirms it: “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come…” (2 Peter 3:9-10). We’d best keep that last phrase in mind. It’s mighty foolish for a Christian to persistently indulge in habitual sin, rationalizing there’ll be no “day of reckoning” in their future because Jesus has already suffered the punishment they deserve on the cross. God will put up with only so much wickedness, as the nation of Israel learned the hard way, before He intervenes. But I digress. God rarely sees a need to mess up our life. We do a bang-up job of that on our own, thank you very much.
Take note. God loves us more than anyone possibly can but we won’t truly benefit from His love if we don’t return it. The Bible states, “You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). But simply saying we love God without reserve and then, at the same time, intentionally disobeying His commandments won’t cut it. Paul wrote, “…Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). A grateful believer in Christ, my soul belongs to my Father God who rescued me from my sinful nature. Thus I owe the blessed Messiah He sent my unwavering devotion. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. The person who does not love me does not obey my words” (John 14:23-24). There you have it. No ambiguity whatsoever. Realize, though, that being a follower of Christ also has serious consequences. Your life may turn out to be more difficult. You could find yourself ostracized for your faith. You might get labeled a deranged “Jesus Freak.” Friends and family members may avoid you.
That’s when Christians are tempted to retreat into old habits and attitudes in order to “fit in.” We’ll retain our born-again status but start rationalizing that, since our massive sin-incurred debt’s been paid in full, we’re allowed to go easy on sin. Ironically, too many modern-day churches endorse that unscriptural mindset because it’s what folks prefer to believe. It’s the ever-popular “I-wanna-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too” syndrome. John MacArthur said, “Preachers tell people God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, but that’s only half the truth. God also hates sin and will punish unrepentant sinners… No gospel presentation’s complete if it avoids or conceals those facts. Any message that fails to define and confront the severity of personal sin is a deficient gospel. And any ‘salvation’ that doesn’t alter a lifestyle of sin and transform the heart of the sinner isn’t a genuine salvation.” In other words, stupidly trying to hoodwink God will have dire consequences. “For if they’ve escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first” (2 Peter 2:20). Thus if you haven’t yet completely repented of your sinful ways it’s time to go back to square one and step out of denial once again.