God Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?
Principle 9: God’s eternal forgiveness does not absolve us from practical, earthly consequences.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption . . . Galatians 6:7-8
This concept is often confounding for the addict, who early in recovery, finds forgiveness in God, only to find that the world isn’t as merciful. The addict may have burned everyone around him countless times with years of destructive behavior, but now he’s been sober for a week. He’s found God, and he wants the world to get on board with the fact that he’s been born again.
He’s bitterly disappointed and even angry then, when he finds that those around him aren’t yet true believers in his transformation. The addict often prays, asking God to remove the consequences of his behavior. God, get me out of jail. I don’t want to go to treatment. Give me my job and my family back. If my past is in the past, and if you’ve forgiven me, get me out of this mess.
This kind of thinking reveals the addict’s persistent self-centeredness. He may be sober, but he still wants what he wants, and he desperately wants to avoid painful consequences. The addict hopes to be let off the hook, not just in the afterlife, but here and now. He may have robbed someone to buy drugs yesterday, but today he found God. I’m a new man. God’s forgiven me! Why can’t you?
On my way to treatment, I had the audacity to wonder why God allowed such a disaster. When I got caught, I made my tearful confession and I asked forgiveness. Why then, did I have to leave my job and go to inpatient treatment?
En route to treatment, I read today’s passage, which provided the slap in the face I needed. God may be forgiving, but he also made the world in such a way that I reap what I sow. Looking back, I had to admit that I had been sowing the seeds of my disaster for the previous 10 or 15 years. Even though I was eternally forgiven, I had created a spectacular mess that wasn’t going to be undone overnight.
Though we often treat him like one, God isn’t a genie-in-a-bottle to be used only when we get caught. He is far more interested in our transformation than he is in our circumstances. If it takes self-inflicted misery to bring us to genuine repentance, then he will allow us to suffer painful consequences, even while forgiving us. In following God, he does repair and rebuild but this doesn’t happen immediately. Forgiveness may be instant, but putting life back together takes time.
Author’s Note: I’m currently writing through the principles that have helped me understand my condition as a Christian who still has very real struggles with my destructive appetites. I’ll include the full list here for reference.
- God created us to live in communion with Him, but man’s sin fractured that communion.
- We all struggle with flaws in our corrupt flesh nature, though it has different manifestations in all of us.
- When we come faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again into a new, perfect spirit life and restored to communion with God, but we still carry this gift in a flawed flesh life.
- Though God may graciously deliver us from some thorns of the flesh, some battles are lifelong, requiring the ongoing work of denying self and following Christ.
- We may always feel the gravity of the flesh, but we are not to live enslaved to it. We are meant to know and experience freedom daily in Christ.
- The Christian life (discipleship) is a continual process of abandoning (crucifying) the flesh nature and following Christ.
- Though we will fail, there is always grace and forgiveness for those who believe in Christ.
- Though we are forgiven, we are not to use grace as an excuse to continue in our destruction.
- God’s eternal forgiveness does not absolve us from practical, earthly consequences.
- As we all labor, we must be continually honest about our battles. It is not helpful to construct a facade of perfection. In fact, such a facade is detrimental to recovery, sabotaging it.
- We should regularly meet together with other believers with the purpose of spurring each other on to the pursuit of God.
- God provides the only adequate replacement for our pursuit of self. This is core to recovery and identity. Though we try to find purpose, joy and fulfillment in self, we find the answer to our deepest needs only in God.
- Transformation (sanctification) is not an automatic process. It is our responsibility to daily do whatever it takes to deny self and follow Christ. The Holy Spirit always does his part. We must do ours.
- God allows the daily battles and honest struggles of recovery to deepen our awareness of our constant need for God.
- Our eternal identity as Christians is in our new life in Christ. Acknowledging our persistent flesh life and its battles does not deny our position in Christ bur rightly identifies the forgiveness and power that alone can be found in Christ as we daily experience life through Him.
- God saves us from ourselves. We must tell others what He has done for us.