Reading all the blogs and comments about what happened with Bob Coy reveal that lots of people confuse these two categories which results in two basic responses. Some people question his salvation: “how could anybody really be a Christian and make the mistakes Bob has made? Off with his head.” Others say, “Wait a minute. We’re no better than he is so why does he have to lose his job? After all, don’t we believe in grace and forgiveness?”
The first group needs to be reminded that God’s love for us and acceptance of us does not in any way depend on what we do or don’t do, but rather on what Jesus has done. Who we are before God has nothing to do with us—how much we can accomplish, who we can become, our behavior (good or bad), our strengths, our weaknesses, our past, our present, our future, and so on. Who we are before God (our identity) is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not ours; his strength, not ours; his performance, not ours; his victory, not ours. Our guilt is met with his grace, our failures with his forgiveness, our mess with his mercy. God only loves bad people because bad people are all that there are.
The second group needs to be reminded that consequences on the ground of life are real. Real people make real mistakes that require real action to be taken. So, for instance, we can talk bad about our boss without sacrificing one ounce of God’s acceptance because, before God, “our sin has been atoned for, our guilt has been removed.” We stand before God clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. Justified. In forever (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our job (horizontal consequences). We can make the mistake of driving 100 MPH on I-95 without losing a bit of God’s love for us because “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our license (horizontal consequences). When we confuse consequences with condemnation and vice versa, we don’t know how to make sense of things when tragedies like what happened to Bob (or us) take place.
The truth is that when we are in the throes of consequences for foolish things we do, our only hope is to remember that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In fact, the kind of suffering that comes from the consequences of sin is like a brush-fire that burns away every thread of hope we have in ourselves and leaves only the thread of divine grace.