Often pastors and Christians use well-intentioned, but unhelpful phrases to try to convey the great truths of the Gospel. One of the worst offenders is the phrase, “God gives second chances.” Usually we hear it expressed this way, “We are all sinners and even with the best intentions, we continue to sin. But God gives us a mulligan, a second chance to redeem ourselves. As a matter of fact he gives us third and fourth chances. Our God is so awesome that he gives us unlimited do-overs.”
This sounds good to us because we like to think God is good, loving, and fair according to our standards of good, loving, and fair. We remember the times our teachers let us retake the test or when they gave us an easy extra credit assignment. Men love using their mulligan on the golf course to replace a shank with a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway. And so when we hear God gives second chances like this we like it because we know he sees our best efforts to do the right thing and gives us another shot to make it right.
While this kind of language sounds great on the surface, it actually constitutes some of the worst news people could hear. “God gives second chances” conjures 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. When I use a mulligan off the tee, it’s usually to hit the ball further in the woods. In the same way, when we know what the Bible says about our sinful nature, what makes us think another chance to try our best isn’t going to put us in the position of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to see it roll down again?
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. Without Jesus, our best intentions and efforts are filthy rags in the sight of our holy God and leave us in our sins.
Thankfully, because of God’s overwhelming love and grace towards us, he offers us something better than a second chance.
When we consider what the Bible says about our sin and God’s holiness, you soon realize we have a problem bigger than needing another shot at doing our best. We aren’t doing our best. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Then in Romans 3 he reminds us that there is none who is good and no one who seeks for God. We stand before God condemned because of our sins and a second chance would not make things better.
God offers us something better than a second chance. He sent his Son who would never need a mulligan. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father in all things before offering his life for us on the cross of Calvary. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” This means the person who trusts in Jesus receives the gift of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. We stand before the Father, not with him seeing our sins and failures, but draped in the perfect life of his Son. Why would we want to continue to fail at proving ourselves to God when he gives us a right standing before him as a gift through faith in his Son.
Picturing the salvation we receive from God as a second chance leaves us with a huge problem. Our failures are still there. Sure, there may be one time we got things somewhat right in our own strength, but we leave a litany of failures and blunders behind us. What are we going to do about those? They can’t simply be erased by one good effort.
“If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus, who obeyed God perfectly, gave his life for us. In his death he took our sins upon himself, receiving in his body the penalty for all our sins. Because he offered himself up as an offering to the Father for us, we receive the gift of forgiveness when we trust in Jesus. No longer do we stand before the Father draped in our failures, instead he wipes them away and holds them against us no longer. No second chances are needed because the Father does not remember the failed first chances.
We use colloquial sayings about second chances because we have lost the beauty of what God does for us when we come to Christ. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We beg for more chances because we know we are guilty and we long for acceptance before God. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, being accepted by God is not only possible, but it becomes a reality. There’s no need to ask for more chances, because God effects in us an eternal salvation.
We are united with Christ when we have faith in Jesus. We belong to him, he lives in us, and we stand before the Father with the same standing as his Son. The Father doesn’t condemn us, but instead he declares us to be righteous before him. We stand before him as if we had never sinned and robed in the perfect life of his Son. We would have no hope before God if we appeared before him with our shoddy efforts, but because of Jesus we enjoy the experience of being fully right with the Father.
This entire post may seem like arguing over peccadillos, but when we describe God’s salvation wrongly we encourage people to trust in themselves rather than the grace God offers. “God gives 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 Christ Jesus.
“Ordinary People and an Extraordinary God“
For Further Reading:
The Cross of Christ by John Stott