Thursday, February 14, 2008

"The God of the Second Chance" — sometimes

By Dan Phillips@

Not sure how many times I've heard it said and/or preached that "God is the God of the second chance." But it's a number larger than one.

Usually the Biblical backdrop is Jonah, "the reluctant prophet." ("Reluctant" as in, "So, you say head East? Hm... where's the quickest boat heading West...?")

Now, strictly, I don't myself think of Jonah in "second chance" terms. He didn't try to serve God, fail miserably, and get a "second chance" at it. Rather, he tried to run away from the revealed, binding will of God; was arrested, swallowed, sunk, shaken, stirred, thoroughly marinated, then thrown back into service, indeed loving God, but not so much loving what he had to do.

But in a way, that is a second chance. "Do this." "No." "Here's a second chance: do this."

Other Bible characters do get multiple opportunities. Pharaoh certainly did, though the net effect of his hard-hearted response was to glorify Yahweh (Exodus 9:16; 14:4, 17-18). Nebuchadnezzar did (Daniel 2, 3, 4). Herod did (Mark 6:17-20). Felix did (Acts 24:24-26).

But not everybody did. For instance, Esau's irreversible selling of his birthright and loss of his blessing is a chilling example (Hebrews 12:16-17). He did not get a second chance.

Moreover, Belshazzar didn't get a second chance as Nebuchadnezzar had. A foolish feast, the hand writes, aged Daniel scorchingly pronounces his doom — and he's gone (Daniel 5; hear my pastor's fine sermon on that passage).

Nor is anyone guaranteed limitless "second chances." Herod Agrippa ran out of chances (Acts 14:20-23). Israel ran out of chances before their fall to Assyria (2 Kings 17:7-18). Judah ran out of chances before their exile in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). Hearers of the Gospel run out of chances (Hebrews 1:1-4; 3:13; 12:25).

It is a great, immeasurable act of folly to assume that God's grace today means He'll spare us tomorrow. Today's show of divine mercy is no guarantee of forbearance tomorrow. In fact, today's show of grace obliges us to repent today (Romans 2:4; Hebrews 3:7-19).

Here, I think, is a proper statement of the tension:

The Bible holds out great hope to the repentant man or woman who scarce dares to dream that God could accept him or her in Christ.

The Bible holds out no hope to the unrepentant man who presumes on the longsuffering of God, and who misinterprets His forbearance as approval (Romans 2:4-5).

And so, whether in preaching, writing, or conversation: if I am dealing with someone who knows full well that he is thumbing his nose in God's face, shall I comfort Him with thoughts God's endless patience and kindness and grace and "unconditional forgiveness"?

Or shall I not earnestly and soberly point him to the fact that he's already run out the clock, that he's already in extra innings, that he hasn't a leg to stand on, and that he needs to do business with God on God's terms, and do it now?

Which would be truer? Which would better serve God, and my friend?

Now is not solely "the acceptable time" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

It's the only time.

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