We’ve had in WORLD over the past few months a run of investigative stories involving evangelicals caught in sexual sin or fiscal controversy. We don’t enjoy such stories, and they certainly take much more time than the average story to write and edit, because we have to triple-check everything—but when people send us information and plead with us to expose nationally significant corruption, it’s hard to say no.
Some readers value these kinds of stories and some despise them, but almost all have questions about leaders caught with pants down or hands in the pockets of others. Tullian Tchividjian on The Gospel Coalition website last Friday discussed such situations and emphasized “an all important distinction that we often confuse: no vertical condemnation does not equal no horizontal consequences,” and “horizontal consequences do not equal vertical condemnation.”
Tchividjian noted that some say about the offender, “Off with his head,” and others say, “Why does he have to lose his job? After all, don’t we believe in grace and forgiveness?” The Coral Ridge Presbyterian pastor wrote, “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 (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.”
Tchividjian continued, “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).”
He gave another example: “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 are in the throes of consequences for foolish things we do, our only hope is to remember that … it is impossible to out-sin the coverage of God’s forgiveness, because the sins we cannot forget, God cannot remember.”