God’s forgiveness is at the centre of our faith, as it is only by His grace that we can be forgiven and restored into a right relationship with the one true perfect and holy God. It is our joy, but it is no cheap grace, and although we are forgiven and accepted when we confess our sins, that does not mean that we are spared the consequences of our freely made decisions.
Attending the EU-UK Forum Conference this week, about which there has been much comment in political and press circles, I was struck clearly again by this truth that we must live with the consequences of our actions.
This conference had contributions from Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and expert panellists from both sides of the channel. It became clear that some of the speakers felt that many in the UK have not come to terms with the consequences of the UK’s freely taken decision to leave not just the EU, but also the single market, the customs union and many EU programmes, such as Erasmus, Horizon Europe and Copernicus.
Listening to various contributions from UK academics and journalists, my mind turned to Numbers 13 and 14, with the story of how the people of Israel decided not to enter the promised land after the 12 scouts returned. All the scouts agreed that the land was good, just as God had promised, yet 10 of them gave into fears about the strength of the inhabitants there. The people listened to the 10 over the other 2 - Joshua and Caleb - and refused to obey God’s command to enter and take the land. As a result, they incurred God’s wrath.
Remorseful at the effects their rebellion had had, they tried to pretend nothing had happened. They put on their armour and went up to attempt to take their land, even though God had told them not to do so. The result was that they were defeated and forced to run back to Moses with their tails between their legs. Yes, God had forgiven them (Numbers 14:20), but they had to live with the consequences of their actions (Numbers 14:28-35).
‘How does this relate to Brexit, you may be wondering?’ The official from the European Commission said a number of things, which disconcerted the most fervent pro-EU panellists from the UK. One was that some decisions are binary. Either a country is a member of the EU, or it is not. The UK has decided not to be a member of the EU and therefore it must come to terms with that reality. Many things that the EU does are for its members only, and the UK had chosen not to be a member.
The Commission official said that there were only two things the EU wants from the UK - (i) to accept the consequences of its decision to leave the EU, and (ii) to implement what it has signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. He said that many in the UK approach the Commission asking to get back various things that the UK had before as the reality of the UK has lost becomes more evident. For many of these, the current unsatisfactory situation is the inevitable result of the UK no longer being a member of the EU. It is not possible for the UK to have its cake and eat it.
Jesus said something very similar in Matthew 12:30 - “whoever is not with me is against me”. It was this verse that the Spirit used to convict one of my friends when we in our college Christian Union. The reality of the choice - to belong to Jesus or to reject Him - led him to give his life to Jesus, and today many years later he is being used mightily in Jesus’ service. He understood the consequences of that decision, and built his life on Jesus as a result.
Whilst our attitude towards Jesus cannot be said to equate neatly to EU-UK relations, there is a similar need to recognise that what we make of Him carries certain consequences to which we must be reconciled. Paul talks in several of his letters of the impossibility of enjoying the life of the flesh if we are in Jesus. In the baptism vows, we are called on to renounce sin, the world and the Devil. We cannot serve two masters. It is a binary choice; we follow Jesus or we deny him.
The Bible shows that while we may fail to obey Jesus, the offer of forgiveness by the grace of Jesus through repentance is there. But just as the Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness for 38 more years as the consequence of their sin, we too may find the consequences of our sin unpleasant. That does not negate God’s goodness, but it should inspire each of us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, to walk in obedience by loving his Son Jesus and keep his commandments (1 John 3:19-24).