“You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequence.”
As Havilah Cunnington tossed out that statement from the stage at my church, all I could think was, “Yep.” My head flooded with memories. How many times had I cried out in frustration to God because I didn’t like a hand I’d been dealt? How many times had I cried out “It’s not fair!” when my disobedience was the catalyst for a resulting consequence?
I’m not sure at what age it happens, but there seems to come a time when we make decisions based on the consequences we assume are before us. Have you ever been convinced to do something by this phrase?: “Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?” I know I have. I’ve also used it when I needed a partner in crime for an “adventure” I wanted to take.
Romans 5:12–14 (NASB) reminds us that humans have been underestimating the consequences of sin since our beginnings:
“Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”
Through one man, sin entered the world and death reigned. I wonder if Adam and Eve would have made a different choice had they understood the heartache they would face after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2). When I reflect on my own impulses, however, it’s easy to guess that eventually their human nature would have convinced them that satisfying their immediate desires was worth whatever consequences they might encounter down the road.
The thing we all forget when it comes to satisfying immediate desires is that the effects can last for generations. While we are talking about sin, it’s important to remember this isn’t about a specific action. The telling of a lie can affect a family just as tragically as a murder. This truth makes me feel helpless, until I back up a few verses in Romans 5:
“While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:6–11 NASB)
Consequences can feel like punishment when I’m on the receiving end. Even when I logically understand that my actions have led to the results I’m dealing with, the feeling of isolation that wells up when I’m confronted with my wrongdoings can quickly turn to shame, unless I remember that Romans 5:1–5 places the rest of chapter 5 in context. Paul reminds us that just as sin entered the world through one man, one man’s death defeated sin. I love Romans 5:5 (NASB): “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
Jesus accepted the deserved consequences of my sins before I committed them. Regardless of how unfair a situation feels as it resolves, the truth is grace replaces the ultimate consequence I deserve from God for disobedience —death.
Romans 5 reminds me that although I can’t choose the consequences of my choices, I can turn toward God at any point in my journey. His grace is always there, always enough. I just need to ask for the grace that extends immediately and lasts a lifetime. The gift of God’s grace isn’t always what I deserve, but it is always in my favor.
While Cunnington’s statement is correct, it isn’t complete. Because of grace, you can also choose your response, which determines your ultimate destination.
Photograph © Yimeng Yuan, used with permission