A guest post from Aaron Wilson…
You’ve heard this phrase before, right? Perhaps you’ve seen it on a bumper sticker or sung it in the chorus of a song. Here in the South, it almost always makes the top ten list for favorite Bible verses. It’s surprising, therefore, to discover that this saying isn’t in the Bible at all. It’s even more shocking to discover that this idea actually runs counter to the gospel.
To help see why, let me paint a picture of a “second chance” Gospel at work: You decide that as a Christian who has been given a second chance, you’re going to stop indulging in a particular sin that’s plagued you. You do alright for a week or so, but then you fail. You feel that you’ve dirtied that clean slate that Jesus gave you and you’re discouraged that it took so short a time to mess things up.
But wait! A friend shares that God isn’t just a God of second chances, but of third and fourth chances also. So, you set out again trying not to sin, but guess what happens in another few days? Again you hear, “God is so great and forgiving; He’s a God of infinite chances.” So more time passes and you enter into a cycle of asking forgiveness, trying to be good, failing, and shame…asking forgiveness, trying to be good, failing, shame…
This is where many Christians live. There’s a good chance that this is where you live. There is little good news for your soul when it comes to Christ. You may hope that when you die you’ll make it to Heaven, but for right now, you still feel dirty, weak and frustrated. At best you’re asking, “Is this what Jesus died for?” At worst you’re asking, “Am I really a Christian?”
This is frustrating because it’s a half-hearted Gospel. It’s the half that believes that Christ can forgive your sin, but it leaves out another important work of Christ—that of crediting you with His very righteousness. When the Bible talks about Jesus’ righteousness, it means His moral perfection, His unstained goodness. We need this moral perfection to get into Heaven and stand before God.
Imagine that you are at the Olympic aquatic center. The best swimmers in the world are there. You’re told that if you can win gold against these athletes, you can get into Heaven and be with Jesus. Your heart sinks. If you’re like me, you can’t even swim four lengths of the pool, so you know that you’ll never be able to beat these conditioned and gifted athletes. But wait! God is a God of second chances right? Maybe with enough chances, with enough training, with enough time, one day way in the future, you’ll be able to win that gold medal. Well, I haven’t told the worst news yet. You’re an amputee with no arms and no legs. You can’t even swim. You won’t only lose every time; thirty seconds into the pool you won’t be breathing anymore. You are literally dead in the water of righteousness.
This is a picture of what we do when we try to be good enough to attain to the righteousness that God demands. We strive and fail, and so strive harder and fail grander. All the while we’re just flailing around in water that will soon be the death of us. This is why it’s not good news that God would be a God of second chances. We don’t need a second chance. We’d forfeit that one too. What we need is a Holy Substitute who gets it right the first time! We need someone to step in and win the race for us. We need someone to suffer in our place for our sin and we need someone to be perfect in our place before God. This is Jesus! This is the full picture of the Gospel.
You see, the cross is a two-way transaction between Jesus and Christians. On the cross, our sin leaves us and goes to Christ. He suffered for it and buried it with His death. But also on the cross, Jesus’ righteousness is given to us, credited to us as our very own. God sees us as righteous because, through the cross, Jesus gave us His very righteousness. There is so much more to marvel at in the Gospel, but this dual truth—that on the cross Jesus got our sin and that we got His righteousness—is paramount to living joyfully as a Christian. It is the powerful core of the Good News.
We’ll be celebrating Easter in a few weeks. As we ponder the glory of the resurrection, let’s leave any “second chance” theology buried in the tomb and thank God that a resurrected Savior declares that Jesus, our only chance, got it right the first time for us!