Suppose we sin. God punishes us. We repent and ask God's forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered and died to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven. We learn our lesson, turn from our sin, and stop sinning. And God forgives us.
But the trial God put us through, the punishment for the sin that God used to wake us up and bring us to repentance, continues.
Is God still punishing us for a sin He has forgiven? Is that possible?
When we understand that the purpose of the punishment is to enforce a lesson we will remember, for our good, the answer is, yes. God may continue to punish us for a sin He has already forgiven.
A prime purpose of a trial or punishment for a sin we have not repented of may be to bring us to repentance - to wake us up and help us realize our need to repent and stop sinning, or if it is a one-time sin to help us realize our need to make amends and be determined not to repeat the sin. Once we have repented and turned from our sin, that purpose has been achieved.
But there can be a secondary purpose for a trial or punishment even after repentance, and that is to reinforce a lesson and continue to remind us that there are unpleasant consequences of sin.
There is an example in the Bible of a man who was punished by God for a sin even after he repented and God forgave him.
King David sinned in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. He committed adultery with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. She became pregnant, and to cover up his sin, David murdered Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1-27).
God used Nathan the prophet to confront David and make him realize what he had done (2 Samuel 12:1-12). David repented, and God forgave him. "So David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Nathan said to David, 'The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die' " (2 Samuel 12:13).
But God had declared punishments that would come upon David because of his sin. " 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the Lord: 'Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun' .... because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:10-14).
Did those punishments come upon David even after God forgave him? Yes. The child died (2 Samuel 12:15-23). Absalom, David's son, killed another of David's sons, Amnon, for raping Absalom's sister (2 Samuel 13:1-29). This was the beginning of the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy that the sword would not depart from David's house. Then Absalom himself rebelled against David and was killed by Joab and his men (2 Samuel 15:1-37, 2 Samuel 18:9-15), fulfilling what God said, that He would raise up adversity against David from his own house. David's friend and counselor, Ahithophel, joined Absalom in the rebellion, and later committed suicide (2 Samuel 15:31-34, 2 Samuel 16:20-23, 2 Samuel 17:23, Psalm 55:12-15).
Even after God told David through Nathan that he was forgiven, He said the child born to Bathsheba would die, which it did.
This happened, and it was an occasion of suffering for David (2 Samuel 12:15-23).
What was happening here? If God forgave David as indicated in 2 Samuel 12:13, why did God punish David after forgiving him?
God forgave David spiritually. He was not cut off from a relationship with God. God did not take His Holy Spirit from David (Psalm 51:1-19). The death penalty - eternal death in the lake of fire - was not hanging over David's head. David would not lose his salvation because of this sin. In that sense, he was forgiven.
But God wanted to reinforce a lesson. David had some suffering to go through to thoroughly learn the evil consequences of his sin. This suffering, this punishment, was for training and educational purposes, for David's good. There may also have been some justice involved. Uriah, if he were alive, would perhaps have wanted vengeance. Uriah had no opportunity for that, nor had he the right to take personal vengeance for himself even if he remained alive and had opportunity. That is not because vengeance is wrong in itself, but because it belongs only to God. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).
And in this case, God may have extracted vengeance on Uriah's behalf upon David in David's physical lifetime.
Whatever the reasons, God punished David after forgiving him.
This is something to remember. If God brings a trial upon us because of our sin, a punishment for sin - maybe a health problem or other ongoing trial - and we repent and turn from our sin, if the trial continues, that does not mean God has not forgiven us or is unjust. God may simply want to reinforce a lesson for a while.
This physical life is a test, but also a training program. We are being taught and trained. Trials and punishment are part of that training. As much as we may hate trials, they are part of the program. We have to trust God that He knows what He is doing and has our best interest in mind.
We must not give in to discouragement in these cases.
"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11).
How to submit humbly and with a right attitude to the punishments and trials God gives us is an important lesson we must learn if we are to grow spiritually and overcome our sins.