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Dooley Noted: The God of second chances

Have you ever needed a second chance? Maybe it was a marriage that ended in shambles? Or a lie that you thought would never be exposed? Perhaps a public disgrace left you reeling? Maybe it’s a secret sin that leaves you laden with guilt? Whatever it is, the lingering thoughts follow a predictable pattern:

  • How could I be so ignorant?
  • I don’t deserve to be happy . . .
  • I can never forgive myself . . .
  • Even God won’t take me back at this point . . .

How are we to recover from such haunting lies?

Thankfully, the Bible has a message of hope for those weighed down by their sins. Outside of Jesus Christ there is no forgiveness for the blunders that litter our past, but under the canopy of His grace new beginnings are possible. Unbelievers can start over by calling out to Christ for salvation. Wonderfully, the Bible says that that if we repent of our sins (Luke 13:3, 5), believing that Jesus died and rose again (Rom. 10:9-10), we can call out to the Lord for grace, and be saved from our iniquities (Rom. 10:13).

But what about Christians who make a mess of things? Fortunately, the Bible reveals that God is also eager to restore His wayward children. The forgiveness of Peter after his denial of the Lord reveals the necessary steps of our renewal. Throughout the gospel of John, darkness is often a picture of evil and lostness. Consider, for example, that Nicodemus only came to see Jesus at night while he was lost (John 3:2), Judas betrayed Jesus at night (John 13:30), and Mary Magdalene visited the tomb of Jesus while the darkness of death still hovered over the earth (John 20:1). Yet, at the beginning of John’s last chapter there is a subtle clue that Jesus was ready to restore his backslidden disciple when the text hints that the day was now breaking (John 21:4). In other words, for Peter, and all of us, living under the darkness of sins lies is no longer necessary.

Next, Jesus reminds Peter how he came to God in the first place. After fishing on the sea of Galilee all night without catching anything, Jesus shouted from the shore, “Cast your net on the right-side of the boat (John 21:5-6)!” The scene is remarkable on its own, but even more so when you consider that Jesus was intentionally recreating the first day that Peter followed Him (see Luke 5:1-11). For us, these events are a reminder that returning to Christ is possible when we reset our hearts to the love we had for Him at our conversion. The joy of following Jesus, not legalistic rules, is key to walking in victory over our sins.

When Peter realized it was Jesus calling, he jumped in the water and began to swim. Once he reached the shore, there was Lord preparing breakfast by a charcoal fire (John 21:9). This, too, reveals another step in the restoration process. A charcoal fire only appears one other place in the New Testament and is also related to Peter. Under the darkness of night, after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied the Lord three times while warming himself beside a charcoal fire (John 18:18). Thus, by cooking breakfast in this way Jesus was taking Peter right back to the place where he broke his fellowship with God.

For us, the lesson is straightforward. If you want to be right with God again, sweeping your sin under the rug is not an option. Pretending that we have the right to live as we choose only deepens our separation from God. We must learn to yield in the very places where we once chose to rebel if we want to be right with the Lord. The place where fellowship was lost is the only place it can be regained. But how does Jesus help Peter right his wrongs? And how will He help us?

We should note that Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions meant to mirror his three previous denials. By asking, “Do you love me?” Jesus is not, as some assume, differentiating between three variations of love. Instead, He is helping Peter answer correctly what He so badly fumbled just days before. Note Peter’s confidence when He responded to Jesus the first time. “You know that I love you Lord (John 21:15)!” After two inquires, though, he only responds, “Lord, you know all things (John21:17).” Perhaps Peter realized his previous confidence was unmerited and he needed to proceed with caution and humility. Finally, he was dealing with the greatest disappointment and offence of his life, seeking to make restitution for his egregious transgression. Frankly, second chances, if they are real, rarely make us arrogant. 

God will offer us the same opportunities when we stray, but we cannot fake repentance. If you’ve messed up someone’s life, you cannot hide in the closet and whisper your repentance to God. You cannot publicly defame the name of Jesus and secretly make things right with Him. Living in perpetual error while boasting a relationship with God is not the new beginning that Jesus has in mind. Instead, we are to turn from our wicked ways and humble ourselves. Recommitting ourselves to God is the surest sign our second chance is real. God is willing to restore each of us. How are eager are you to come back to Him?

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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