There are certain catch-phrases that we as Christians use that would be wise for us to think through and evaluate for their truthfulness.
Thinking through what we say
Phrases like “God helps those who help themselves.” or “God, fill me with more of your spirit.”
Another one is the commonly-used statement “God is a God of second chances.”
Now please, I don’t want your ire raised at me before you take a few minutes and read this post in its fulness. I know what people mean by this statement, but what I want to ponder is the question, “Is it fully true? Is God really God of second chances?”
I recently heard this statement made and began to think it through again. And with other such expressions that are used within Christendom, we begin to hear them enough that we start to use them ourselves without going deeper than a surface understanding of its meaning.
I am not necessarily critiquing the use of that phrase or people who use it. My emphasis today is to maybe expand a bit how we look at second chances, obedience, forgiveness, and grace.
Allow me to start off by saying that the Gospel affords me power and grace that I do not deserve or merit. And though in this process of sanctification where each day I am being pushed to look more like Jesus, the truth is that I am going to stumble.
My flesh is weak. And I am easily drawn astray.
But yet, BUT YET, with each failing and going my own way, the Gospel reminds me that because Jesus drank the full cup of wrath from His Father, there is nothing left for me but…pleasure. My identity is not in what I do or who I am. My identity is fully found in the person and work of Jesus.
He is pleased with me. Period.
A look at second chances: Israel
In Numbers chapter 13 there is an interesting story about “second chances.”
If you read the account of Israel coming out of Egypt, there were multiple times where God reminded Moses and the people about two things: 1) the land of Canaan was a land of plenty, a land flowing with milk and honey.
and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17)
And 2) the people inhabiting Canaan had heard of Israel’s God and were fearful of their coming.
You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. (Exodus 15:13-15)
In Numbers 13 we see Moses choosing one representative from each tribe to go and spy out the land of Canaan. And though they should know that there is a great enemy there and God has already said that enemy is defeated, a poor report comes back.
So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’ (Numbers 13:25-33)
Though Caleb pleads with the people to go in and take the land, that it was theirs, the heart of Israel was turned. They were not going. The people grumble, and “blah blah blah, we’re not going in now and we want to be back to Egypt where life was good.”
And so God grants their request about the land. And they do not go in. And it’s a pretty steep judgment. Read what God says.
Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.’ (Numbers 14:28-30)
And so what do the people do? They cry out to God.
“We’re sorry God! We’re sorry! We didn’t mean it! We’ll go in and take the land! Really!”
And so they try to go into the land and they get thoroughly thrashed by the enemy.
Go forward 40 years. God now gives Israel a second chance to believe their God and take the land.
And they do.
Second chance or additional opportunity?
But was it really a second chance? Sure, it was a fresh start with a new people. But I am not sure it was a second chance. I think it was more of an additional opportunity.
“So,” you may ask, “is there really a difference?”
With a second chance, I envision a re-do, like hitting the restart button and doing that “something” again with no consequences or penalties. I just get…a second chance. And I believe there is some danger in that stream of thinking if we apply that to our God. If not careful, it can minimize our response to obedience with the thinking that “Well, God is a God of grace, He’ll forgive me and let me move on.”
Paul refutes this type of thinking in Romans 6:1-2:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
For Israel, it was not the same opportunity, a second chance. Israel failed to believe God and though Israel got the opportunity once again to go and take the land, an entire generation had to die before that could happen. Their disobedience was costly and those 19 years and younger who were now in their forties to sixties remembered that well as they went into the land without mom and dad, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters.
What might be lost
Again, I know what people mean when they talk about a God of second chances, but there is something lost each time we fail to believe or obey our God. What is lost is that opportunity with its blessings and its growth. We never get it back. God is a gracious God, and though falling seven times and the righteous rising again, there were six times that the righteous did fall and bear the brunt of that fall.
God, so full of grace and love towards me as His son, shows His theme of reconciliation to me every single day.
For example, there are times I choose to initiate a wrong conversation with my wife, a poor response to a trial, or a legalistic mindset with my kids or a coworker. But yet after confession and repentance, He allows me then a right conversation with my wife, a proper response to a trial, a new opportunity to show grace to one of my kids or a coworker.
He restores. He reconciles.
But please see this: it is never the same opportunity. It is never that second chance, like where I am asked to guess a right number, have a single try and miss, only to be told “I’ll give you a second chance.”
No, each wrong conversation with my wife, each improper response to a trial, each action or word lacking grace has consequences to it. There is always fallout. Disobedience always carries a cost. And that cost is what Jesus had to die for.
But the Gospel, because of what Jesus already did, frees me from and frees me to. Freedom from sin; freedom to righteousness. Granted, I am not to sit in despair and defeat when I have fallen once again. That is not Gospel-centered thinking. I am to rise up and go forward to an additional opportunity to do or say what I should have done or said originally.
And we see God bless in amazing ways that leave us dumbfounded.
Just like Israel – they did have another opportunity to walk into that land in faith, but it was not the same chance they had the first time. It was a different chance or different opportunity.
The value of first-chance obedience
My post today is merely to help you think. It is not to make you feel bad or guilty. It is meant to help us be more earnest about the first opportunities or chances that we have.
I look in my rearview mirror and see grace after grace after grace bestowed on me by my loving Father. And I am grateful for what is so underserved. And though I am thankful for every additional opportunity of obedience, I cannot help but wonder how things would be if I responded correctly to first opportunities or first chances.
Perhaps then I would not have to go through the pain that then, by God’s grace, necessitates an additional opportunity.
What do you think?
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