Is God a God of Second Chances?

When I first mentioned to my wife, Alice, that I was going to write
an article discussing this rather popular saying, I mentioned it might cause
people to be a bit defensive, and of course she immediately became defensive.  When you read the title, you, too, may have
thought, “You’re wrong—God is a god of second chances.”  I understand there are many examples in the
Bible where God apparently gave people second chances.  If the Bible had a hall of shame, we would
find many of the same names that we find in Hebrews 11 (often known as the
“hall of faith”). 

The second chance message reaches deep inside and outside the
church.  Everyone, no matter his or
her view of Jesus, seems to find common ground around the belief that God
gives second chances.  So does this well-known
statement reflect the gospel?  Here are a
couple of other modern sayings:

1) Today’s the first day of the rest of your life.

2) God can give you a fresh start.

3) Today’s a new opportunity to get things right.

These clichés may sound harmless on the
surface, but we should weigh their biblical merit.
 Is a second chance gospel sufficient, or even helpful, for
communicating the real message of Christ?

Actually, I’m not sure it is.  A second chance gospel
disguises the good news by only revealing half of it—the half that says Jesus
died for sins.
 Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome
God forgives sin. The fact that God is merciful is a beautiful
truth. But if Jesus only died to forgive sins, humanity
is still in trouble.

What’s missing from this understanding is the imputed
Jesus credits to believers—a righteousness that leaves
nothing to chance.  Whereas a second chance
gospel may declare that Jesus erases sin, it also implies He leaves behind
an empty spiritual ledger and a morally neutral heart.  This belief promises fresh hope by
saying “God gives infinite chances,” but underneath carries the depressing
message “God forgives; now the rest is up to you.”

This thinking waters down the authentic gospel in two ways.  First, it implies man isn’t helpless regarding
righteousness—that he only needs a clean slate and a second chance.  Second, it teaches Christ’s sacrifice
isn’t effective—that mankind still needs to “get things right” via a vague
number of reboots, much like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog

While this sounds great on the surface, it actually constitutes
some of the worst news people could hear.
God giving second chances summons the picture of God saying to us, “Okay,
you did your best and failed, so I am going to give you another chance to prove
yourself.”  In what world does this sound
like good news?  We don’t always pass the
second test, either.  When we read the
Bible and hear what it says about us, we realize we need something better than
second, third, and fourth chances to fail again.  

Apart from grace, our “hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked.” (See
Jeremiah 17:9)  Without Jesus, our best
intentions and efforts are filthy rags in the sight of our Holy God and leave
us in our sins. (See Isaiah 64:6)  Thankfully,
because of God’s overwhelming love and grace towards us, He offers us something
better than a second chance.  Finally, since
there’s zero chance humans will obey God perfectly (See Romans 3:23), why
would Christians spread the news of a God of second chances?  Is it really good news to get a second chance
at the impossible?  What sinners need—and
what Christ provides—is someone who can take the test on their behalf,
once-and-for-all, and pass with flying colors.

This is where a second chance gospel misses the mark.  It points people to a false hope in a works-based
religion where they can get their life in order if they only receive enough
time and enough chances.  But Christians
don’t have to earn redemption through a series of righteous reboots.  Jesus secured our redemption through His
life, death, and resurrection.  And His
perfection is forever credited to the believer’s account.

But what about the Ninevites in the book of Jonah?  Didn’t they get a second chance?  While this is often proclaimed as the takeaway
from the book of Jonah, the overall biblical narrative reveals a different
lesson.  Look at Romans, for example.  Writing about Abraham, Paul observes:

“And he received the sign of circumcision, a
seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still
uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been
circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.”

This may be Scripture’s clearest verse tying together the
thread of salvation between saints in both testaments.  Old Testament believers weren’t saved by
sacrifices (See Hebrews 10:3-14) or circumcision. (See Romans 3:28-30)  Instead, those outward signs pointed beyond
themselves to saving faith in God.  

The believing Ninevites, then, didn’t get an empty, clean slate;
they received the credited righteousness of Jesus as a seal, just as
believers do today.  If we cap off
the account of Jonah with a second chance ending, we plague the Ninevites with
the burden of maintaining flawless righteousness after their repentance.  Of course, they couldn’t achieve this
righteousness any more than we can today.
No wonder Jonah’s complaint doesn’t have anything to do with fresh
starts.  He doesn’t cry, “For I knew you
are a God of second chances!”  No, he
cries, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is
why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and
compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from
sending calamity.”
(Jonah 4:2)

Grace and mercy.  It is for these gifts bought on the cross, not
for the hope of a second chance, in which believers can draw near to God in
confidence.  Thanks to Christ’s credited
, believers shouldn’t be lured by a form of legalism that
offers an ever present refresh button on life.
Rather, we should strongly proclaim that our Savior’s righteousness is
perfectly sufficient for all time.  Through
Calvary, God didn’t grant a second chance to humans; He provided a holy
Substitute—the second Adam—who got it right the first time on our behalf.

This entire post may seem like nitpicking, but when we describe
God’s salvation wrongly we encourage people to trust in themselves rather than
the grace God offers.  God giving second
chances makes us trust in our own works of righteousness and will lead to
self-deception that causes people to miss the Kingdom.  Abandoning our own good works to trust in
Christ alone who gave Himself for us leads to salvation which brings glory to
the Father.  Since what God produces in
us through His Gospel is infinitely better than our efforts at self-redemption,
let’s run from encouraging people to try harder and point them towards the
glorious offer of grace in Jesus Christ.

God is not the God of second chances; He’s the God of Substitutionary
. (See Romans 3:9-18; 23)  This
is where real hope is found.  This is the
place of real peace and rest at the feet of Jesus.

Reproduced with permission from Russ Sharrock.

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