We may remove the stigma of an action, but the consequences remain.
Freedom of choice has been imbedded in our culture. Congress has passed “Freedom of Choice” laws guaranteeing our right to make personal choices in many areas of our lives. A sexual act between consenting adults, once was considered immoral or even illegal, has become the accepted norm. I remember a science teacher in my high school losing his job because of an illegal sexual act. (At least it was illegal then.) That would never happen today, because the sexual act was (at least was intended to be) a private act between consenting adults. After all, it wasn’t anybody else’s business, and it didn’t hurt anybody else. Right?
Oh, but it did. There were many people impacted by that man’s action.
Our personal choices to exercise our freedom have consequences—good or bad, beneficial or harmful. That science teacher’s choice not only cost his job, but resulted in his wife experiencing shame—and ultimately leaving her job as an English teacher. (She had a significant influence that benefited me greatly in college.) She was innocent but became collateral damage from her husband’s choices.
I remember this quote by Jen Wilken in a recent edition of Christianity Today: “Personal guilt yields collateral suffering. Personal holiness yields collateral blessing.” It just makes sense, doesn’t it? As the apostle Paul put it: “For none of us lives to himself alone” (Romans 14:7).
In my book, God in His Own Image: Loving God for who He is … not who we want Him to be, I described how parental actions can affect generations that follow. The consequences can roll on for decades. Even centuries.
Throughout the Bible we discover examples of people making foolish choices that hurt not only themselves, but innocent by-standers as well.
Just three chapters into the Book of Genesis we find the first example. Adam and Eve exercised their freedom to eat forbidden fruit. Everything on earth changed—for the worse—that day. New words entered their vocabulary. Words like guilt, shame, fear, separation and death. Collateral damage from their wrong choice included being evicted from their home. No longer enjoying their utopian environment, they now struggled to put food on the table. Disharmony and distrust uprooted unity in their relationship. They would bury their second-born son—the victim of a brother’s jealousy.
Their sin and the resulting curse of death and separation from their Creator have plagued every person that has drawn breath on this planet. (Including our Lord, who voluntarily took that plague on His own shoulders.) Our first parents’ choice to act independently of God is the root of every criminal act, every divorce, every abortion, every casualty of war and every disease.
Mankind’s defiant choice to act independently of God also resulted in a universal flood, destroying every living soul except eight members of Noah’s family.
Israel’s rebellion against the God who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage extended what would have been a short journey into 40 dreadful years in the desert. Every adult over the age of 20 perished. Their children and grandchildren experienced collateral damage from their parents’ sin.
Perhaps you’ve heard the name Achan. His choice to keep gold, silver coins and a Babylonian robe after the fall of Jericho is a prime example of one man’s guilt yielding collateral damage. Achan was killed, along with his family, just as God has warned back in Deuteronomy. His “secret” sin also cost the lives of many Israelite soldiers in the battle against Ai. More collateral damage.
How about David? A man with a heart for God abused his position as king, choosing to have a one-night-fling with Bathsheba. Two consenting adults (I assume Bathsheba consented) enjoyed a secret tryst. Nobody knew. Nobody was hurt, or so David thought. When an unwanted pregnancy followed, David sought to protect his public image. But there would be collateral damage to pay. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was killed by the command of David. The baby died. David’s children also became collateral damage. One son was murdered by his jealous half-brother, Absalom, who would also attempt to assassinate his father.
That’s enough biblical evidence to demonstrate that personal guilt can result in collateral damage.
How about the second part of the quote: “Personal guilt yields collateral suffering. Personal holiness yields collateral blessing?”
When we choose to do what is right—righteous—others will experience the blessing. Biblical examples, once again, abound.
Noah’s choice to obey God preserved humanity. We are living evidence.
Abraham’s choice to obey God blessed his descendants, Israel. Through Israel, the nations have received the blessing of the birth and life of Jesus Christ. I am the beneficiary of Abraham’s choice to trust God.
Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, expressed confidence in the principle that doing good deeds results in blessings to the giver. Jewish believers, like Paul, had shared the gospel with Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire. These Gentile believers were now sharing a large financial gift with Jewish believers back in Jerusalem who were suffering serious deprivation and near famine conditions. These Jewish Christ-followers were now being blessed by their Gentile brothers and sisters in Rome.
I share a personal example. One day back in the early 1950’s a field representative from The Moody Bible Institute visited our farm in western Nebraska. He shared the gospel with my mother and told her about evangelistic meetings being held at The First Baptist Church in Sidney (about thirty miles away). My parents attended one of the meetings and responded to the gospel. Now I am the recipient of that visit from the Moody rep who took the time to plant a seed in my mother’s heart. I later attended Moody and the rest is history. Righteous actions result in collateral blessings.
Even more dramatic is the fact that you and I enjoy extravagant blessings as a result of the righteous choices Jesus made. Through his life, death and resurrection we can experience the forgiveness of sin, the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, the blessed hope of Christ’s return and the promise of spending eternity in His presence.
Meanwhile, He has given us purpose and meaning. Everything we do, in submission to Him, will be rewarded. Nothing is in vain. In fact, had Jesus chosen not to do the right thing, we would be lost, without hope and without God in a world without purpose.
The blessings continue to fall like refreshing rain, resulting in the sweet fruit of harvest.
Some people recoil at the thought that one choice—in a garden by two ancestors living millennia ago—should continue to negatively impact us today. They respond, “How unfair! Why should I pay for something I didn’t do?”
That’s the objection Paul responds to in Romans 5:12-21. He reminds us that just as one man’s sin condemned every person to death, another man’s righteous actions offer forgiveness and righteousness to all who will trust in Jesus and receive God’s offer of reconciliation.
So today, when struggling with temptation, let us remember that every choice we make has consequences. Some positive. Some painfully negative. Some may even cause pain for innocent people that weren’t involved in our decision.
Let’s choose to bless others through our choices to do the right thing.