This is one of my favorite stories in the NT retold by Michael Kelly in his blog FORWARD PROGRESS. -STEVE
Let me tell you a story.
A long time ago, there was a man named Onesimus who found himself in a less than desirable life situation. He was, in fact, a slave, and not a very good one at that. It’s true that in the Roman Empire, slavery was much different than the institution we think of today. Far less brutalized, that what happens in the world today, Onesimus was more like an indentured servant and didn’t suffer nearly as much of the horrible treatment rightfully thought of in this century in terms of slaves and masters.
Especially not given that Philemon, Onesimus’ master, was a Christian. A beloved and generous brother, according to Paul.
Onesimus had run away, most scholars believing his running was because he had stolen something from his master. At some point in his running, had come to know the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was dramatically and permanently changed, and now was with Paul. And this is where we find the counter to some of our own misunderstanding of the implications of the gospel:
Paul was sending Onesimus back. Back to slavery. Back to his master. Back to face whatever consequences there would be for his escape.
There’s the rub, because isn’t there part of you that pushes back against Paul’s decision? Isn’t there part of you that says, “But Paul! He is a Christian now! Shouldn’t he be free because of his life change?”
For that matter, isn’t there part of us that thinks the same thing, that the gospel should free us from the consequences of our sin? That all will be forgiven, our slate cleaned, and a fresh start extended by all?
In a sense, that’s exactly what happens. The gospel frees us from the eternal consequence of sin. No longer are we staring down the barrel of the just wrath of God given to us rightfully for our willful rebellion. That punishment has been laid upon the back of Jesus Christ – case closed. But there are a host of other consequences that the gospel doesn’t free you from.
Onesimus had to go back. He had to own his sin. He had to deal with the implications of what he had done.
The gospel doesn’t free you from these consequences; instead, it enables you to stand under those consequences. The gospel enables you to fully own your sin because Christ has already fully owned it. Onesimus could go back to Philemon without justification for his actions, without trite explanations, without the blame shifting and focus averting spirit that is so tempting.
Instead, the gospel enables to go to those against whom we have sinned and simply own it. Stand under it. Accept the consequence with honor and courage.
In other words, the gospel empowers us to simply say, “I’m sorry.”
“I was wrong.”
“I have sinned against God and against you.”
“Forgive me, please.”
Jesus has freed us not only from the eternal consequence of sin, but the earthly need of justification. We can own our consequences because He has already owned our sin. So be it.