Christians are not convinced that the second is true. They mistakenly read the statement as, “It is impossible to sin.” Of course, that is false. That would contradict the first truth, “It is possible to sin.” We know that sinning is possible because God made provision for Christians when they do sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
I have addressed the second truth elsewhere. (For a complete discussion of that, see Dead and Alive: Obedience and the New Man.) The first truth is my subject today.
It is possible to sin. Not only is it possible; it is also probable. In fact, it has already happened.
When a Christian sins, there are immediate consequences. The first consequence is discipline from God.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11)This discipline will probably show up in your conscience. If your conscience is not responsive, then getting caught by an authority helps.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servant, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:5-10)The immediate and perhaps long-term consequence of sin is the loss of your joy (and secondarily, the loss of the other fruit of the Spirit). “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
There is a way out of this discipline, a way to be returned to the joy of the Lord. First, know that God’s discipline is not punitive; it is corrective. You are not being made to pay for your sin. Jesus paid for it already.
The purpose of the pain of discipline is to bring to our attention that we have displeased God by our disobedience and that we need to repent and confess this sin to God. This is what happened to David in Psalm 32:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5)Keeping silent causes the discipline to continue in:
• wasting away
• groaning all day
• God’s hand heavy on you day and night
• sapped strength
When I acknowledge my sin and do not cover it, God forgives the guilt, and I am blessed.