Too often, we use phrases to try to simplify the Gospel message, but they end up obscuring the Gospel. Possibly the worst offender in this category in the phrase, “God gives second chances.”
We love second chances. We love the idea that God gives us unlimited do-overs when we mess up. We love to hear that God gives second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances. It makes it sound as if God is tolerant, reasonable, and kind.
I want to say this as plainly as I can–God does not give you second chances. He gives you something far greater. “God gives second chances” misrepresents the Gospel in three significant ways, but understanding the truth will give us deeper joy and fruitfulness in the Christian life.
“God Gives Second Chances” Misrepresents Human Nature
I once heard a pastor talk about how much God loves to give second chances. In endeavoring to put this in everyday terms, he told the congregation, “God loves to give mulligans.” Folks who pick up their golf clubs and hack through eighteen holes of golf appreciate this phrase. A “mulligan” is an opportunity to replay a bad shot. In theory, the bad shot gets erased and your good shot counts.
Here’s where the illustration breaks down though and demonstrates one major problem with “God gives second chances.” When I get a second chance to hit a shot, I usually hit it farther out in the woods than I did the first time. The second chance goes no better than the first.
In the same way, we often think that if God just gives us a second chance, we will get everything right this time, but we know this is not the case. When you understand what the Bible teaches about the human heart, you quickly realize that we are not going to get our first, second, third, or hundredth chances right enough for us to make ourselves right with God. We, by nature, have hearts that go astray. They are deceitful and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9) Take all the extra chances you want. You’re not going to get your life right enough.
“God Gives Second Chances” Misrepresents the Work of Christ
When I started writing this post, I was concerned that people would read the title and think that I was saying God isn’t gracious, kind, and good. The more time I spent thinking about this, the more I realized that weaning ourselves off this phrase and others like it will help us to better magnify the grace and kindness of God.
God gives you something better than a second chance–he gives you Jesus. Jesus got everything right on his first try. He walked in perfect obedience to the Father. He loved the Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He loved his neighbor as himself. Jesus never sinned, but he died. The wages of sin is death and Jesus bore the wages for something he never did himself. He took our sins upon himself and died in our place. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The Christian Gospel is not some method for self-improvement. It is a story of redemption. Through Jesus, rather than pushing up the rock of our good works up the hill only to see it roll back to the bottom again and again, receive the benefits of his perfect life. Through Jesus, rather than laboring day and night with the mistaken notion that we can pay God back for the wrong we have done, we enjoy the endless benefits of his death for us. We cease laboring and striving to please God on our own. We rest in Christ alone and receive the forgiveness and righteousness that we always knew we needed.
“God Gives Second Chances” Misrepresents How We Grow as Christians
When I was growing up, I spent many hot summer afternoons playing pickup basketball with my friends. Though we weren’t playing for a trophy or money, our pride was at stake. We usually started off playing best two games out of three. It was not uncommon though for a team to lose the second game and then ask, “Three out of five?” Then, a little while later you would hear, “four out of seven?” The idea was that if we had just a few more chances, we could prevail over our opponents and go home feeling like winners that day.
In the same way, we often think about the Christian life in terms of God giving us one more chance and then us asking for another when we fail. When we fall into thinking about the Christian life in these terms, we revert into a works-based mindset that thoroughly misunderstands how people grow as Christians. We do not live the Christian life by falling on our faces and getting up to try harder with God watching in the background telling us that we can keep trying again.
To live a life that brings glory to God, we have something better than a second chance, we have the Holy Spirit. Everything that God calls us to do or commands us to do, he gives us the power to do. The Spirit works within us, teaching, convicting, and empowering us, so that we can live a life of obedience, fruitfulness, and maturity. We don’t labor alone. The Spirit is at work within us and we rely on him.
What about when we fail? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) God forgives. He wipes the guilt away. We don’t have to promise to do better. We bask in the freedom of forgiven sin.
This does not make us passive, though. We don’t sit back and say, “God forgives and I have the Spirit, so I get to do nothing.” God’s redemption and the power of the Spirit compel us to make every effort to grow and to live in a way that honors and pleases the Lord. The good news of the Gospel drives us deeper into the Scriptures and deeper into prayer. It propels us to love our neighbors, to live holy lives, and to seek to be fruitful and faithful in the work we do.
The next time you hear someone say, “God gives us second chances,” say to yourself, “no, he gives me something far greater than that. He gave me his perfect Son. He gave me his Holy Spirit. He justified me, cleansed me, changed me, and gave me hope. I don’t need a second chance. Because of Christ, I have all I need.”
“Why You Should Study Theology“
For Further Reading:
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
Gospel by J.D. Greear