When we sin, we are guilty of violating God’s will and purposes in the world. When we ask for forgiveness and truly repent–turn from the sin, not just feel guilty about it–God removes our guilt. We are restored to a right relationship with God, yet there are still consequences for those sins. Even when we are forgiven, there are still consequences. Jeremiah reminded the people of this fact:
You act with mercy toward thousands upon thousands, but you also bring the consequences of the fathers’ sins on their children after them.
Sometimes those consequences do affect the next generation or even the one after that. If someone commits adultery and it results in divorce, that sin–even if repented and forgiven by God–will still have consequences that affect other people. Especially children.
We all live in community. This is why Jesus created a Church rather than a group of individuals. Our lives are intertwined with the people around us. For good or for bad, results and consequences spread. This is important to remember when dealing with sins in our own lives. Very often they can have consequences that spread out far from the immediate situation.
The next time you are tempted to sin, and you have that split-second hesitation where the Holy Spirit is telling you not to give in to the temptation and sin, remember that the consequences of sin can have effects that spread beyond you and affect the ones closest to you that you would never dream of hurting.
God’s forgiveness can remove the sin from us, but there will still be a lot of work to repair the damage to others our sins make. If you have already unintentionally hurt those around you with your sins, and especially if you have received forgiveness from God for them, intentionally seek out those who had to carry the consequences of your sin and ask for their forgiveness. In this way, you may be able to help be a vessel of healing now.