What the Bible Says About Second Chances

God is patient in giving us second chances—and not just one, but continual second chances. Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” God savors opportunities to offer second chances and is eager not to punish us when we truly seek forgiveness for our sin (Joel 2:13).

We see this most vividly in God’s offering up His only Son—Jesus Christ—for the forgiveness of our sins. As the Apostle Peter explained, “‘[Christ] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed'” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus lived the sinless life we couldn’t live and died the gruesome death we should have received, to offer us a second chance at life with God.

Both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to a forgiving God. Think of Moses, who murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15); Jonah, who fled from God’s command (Jonah 1); David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:14-17); Rahab, who was a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2); and Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus after spending three years with Him (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-17 and 25-27). Each of these—and dozens of other men and women like them in Scripture—stand as monuments of God’s grace (Hebrews 11).

None stands taller than Jesus, of course, who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). His ministry, he said, would be marked by fresh starts and second chances for those whom many view as outcasts.

And that’s exactly what we see when we examine Jesus’ life. We see how He redeemed and elevated people others convicted and condemned. We see that He professed the unfaltering power of redemption in their lives.

Zacchaeus the tax collector, for example, was considered a sinner by his neighbors (Luke 19:1–10). When Zacchaeus shows he has changed and is making amends by giving possessions to the poor, Christ responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house.” When the criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus asks for Him to remember him, Christ responds by saying He will see him in paradise (Luke 23:32–43).

But Jesus doesn’t envision His forgiveness stopping with Him.

Read the rest of my article on Prison Fellowship’s blog.

[Video] A Roadmap to Personal Renewal

I got called in to pinch hit for my pastor when he came down with something nasty and lost his voice. So I reworked an old sermon on Hezekiah’s renewal from 2 Chronicles 28-30. Here’s video of the sermon. (Note the now ironic intro mentioning Tiger Woods not winning a major for several years … which he did when he won the Masters yesterday.)

Brief Thoughts on Digital Minimalism and The Four-Dimensional Human

After seeing Tony Reinke’s high praise for Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human, I decided to look it up through my local library, and found a free audiobook through Hoopla. I’ve been listening to it on my morning runs for the last two days, and already, I can see why Tony was so impressed.

Scott treads what is, at this point, well-worn ground about the limits and abuses of the digital tech we swim in today, but he does so in a fresh way. It’s hard to believe the book came out in 2015 (and equally hard to believe how long ago that seems in the scheme of the digital landscape).

The premise underlying the name of the book is that we now live in a four-dimensional world, one where we can easily operate outside of the previous limits of time and space — or at least it seems we can. Digital tech (think iPhones, social media, Skype, etc.) promise to put others in the “same room” as us, even though we are obviously in different ones. This ability to be both here and there at the same time is the fourth dimension.

He illustrates the title and concept by pointing back to a 1959 horror film called 4D Man. Here’s the film’s premise from IMDB:

Two brothers, scientists Scott and Tony Nelson, develop an amplifier which enables a person to enter a 4th dimensional state, allowing him to pass through any object.

You can probably already see the parallel to modern-day tech. Our screens are like that amplifier, allowing us to pass through the normal bounds of physical location to be present with others around the world.

But in the film, Scott soon discovers a problem with his newfound ability: Each time he passes through something, he ages rapidly. While he has found a way to enter the fourth dimension, he realizes he cannot do so without it taking a toll on his body.

And so it is with digital tech today, in my view. We can choose to enter into that fourth dimension through the screen, but we cannot do so without it taking a toll on our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, and on others. While we feel as if we can be both here and there at the same time, we were made to be here. The fact that we can operate outside of that parameter does not make it untrue, and just because we can be here and there does not mean it is good for us.

My question has always been: “If we limit the amount of time we spend in the four-dimensional world, can we limit its negative effects and live an improved 3-D life?”

This question is also at the center of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, which I’m reading right now. I’m 100 pages in, and so far, Cal’s answer seems to be yes, but not without the limits. The limits are everything, he explains, because there is a law of diminishing returns with tech use, just as with certain processes. There are real returns (rewards, benefits) with a certain amount of use, but beyond that point, the returns start to diminish. The input increases but the output decreases.

I find this to be true in my own life. When I use helpful services, tools, or software in small, healthy doses, I typically enjoy the returns, in terms of time saved, connecting with others, etc. These are the times when I understand the fourth-dimensional tools to be in service of my three-dimensional life.

But when I forsake my third-dimensional world for the fourth-dimensional one, those returns begin to erode, until I am giving more and more of myself to something that returns less and less (sounds a lot like idolatry).

I’ll probably be writing more about these two books as I go along, but those are some initial thoughts and reflections.

The Importance of Reading the Bible as One Big Story

The Bible is not primarily a book about morals. Though Scripture has a lot to say about how we live and act, it’s not primarily a manual for moral living.

The Bible is not about us. It’s about God.

Edmund Clowney, who was a professor and theologian, said that if we read a particular story without putting it into the bigger story about Christ, we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to try harder rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ.

In the end, there are only two ways to read the Bible: as if it’s all about us or all about Jesus. In other words, is it basically about me and what I must do, or about Christ and what he has done?

Who Is the Book About?

If we read David and Goliath as a story that’s giving me an example to follow, then I’m reading the story as if it’s ultimately about me. And I have to muster the strength or courage to face my giants and win my battles. But if I read about David and Goliath as basically showing me about salvation through Jesus, then the story is about him. Then I can see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin and death) for me, which is the only thing that will give me the courage and strength to face my giants.

The Bible is not a collection of fables; it is not a book of virtues. It’s a story about how God saves us. That story works out in the four movements of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

When we read stories disconnected from the whole, we lose their grounding in the redemptive arc of the Bible and place the significance solely in the events or details of that one story.

For an example of how this works out, let’s look at John 3:14-15 where Jesus says,

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jesus is referencing the story of the bronze serpent found in Numbers 21:4-9:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

In this passage, Jesus puts the serpent story into the bigger story with himself at the center. The serpent story sheds light on how Jesus saves us (it only takes a look to be healed or saved, and that he is made to be like the sin that’s killing us) — but it also means that we can’t understand the serpent story without realizing it’s pointing us to Jesus.

Jesus is the truer and better version of all the characters and stories we read about in the Bible.

A Word of Caution

Now, we do have to be careful of allegorizing when we read the Bible as one big story. Allegorizing results in strange interpretations that require a stretch in a text’s meaning.

Allegorizing has two bad effects:

  1. It results in arbitrary interpretations. It’s a way of getting a text to say almost anything we want, instead of living under the authority of God’s Word.
  2. It fails to honor the author’s original intended meaning.

We guard against poor interpretation and allegorizing by doing a proper inductive study of a passage before looking for Christ in the text and trying to connect it to the larger story of the Bible. When we keep both things in mind, we’re able to see how a passage is part of the larger story and points to Jesus. And when you understand that God has been pointing to Jesus from the very beginning, your study of the Bible becomes a whole new adventure.

Reading the Bible with the “big picture” in mind is much more than a good skill or approach to reading the Bible. The ultimate goal of reading Scripture with the one big story in mind is to grow into the image of Christ as we realize that we are a part of the Bible’s one big story.

How New Testament Authors Read the Bible

My last post explored how Jesus told us to read the Bible: as one big story with himself at the center. The New Testament writers handled the scriptures the same way.

Seeing Christ in the Psalms

For example, Hebrews 1:14 quotes Psalm 91:11-12: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

But when we look at Psalm 91, we don’t find anything to indicate that this text is about Jesus:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place —
the Most High, who is my refuge —
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Now, did it take supernatural knowledge to know that Psalm 91 was about Jesus? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely, especially given what Jesus taught, that the early church knew that everything in the Bible was about Jesus.

Seeing Christ in the Prophets

Other New Testament writers also quote passages from the psalms and prophets that clearly show they read the words of Scripture as being all about Jesus. In his first letter, Peter writes,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Peter shows that the Spirit of Christ in the prophets was pointing to the person and work of Christ in their writings.

These are just two of many examples of how the New Testament writers view the Bible as one big story with Jesus at the center.

What we see in the New Testament usages of the Old Testament shows us how the early church read the scriptures. That means both the Apostles and everyone else in the church were able to interpret the Bible Christocentrically, or with Christ at the center.

And it gives us permission and direction to read the Bible in the same way.

The Story Within the Stories

To summarize, every part of the Bible is about the historical unfolding revelation and accomplishment of the gospel salvation through Jesus.

There is a story within all Bible stories of God’s redeeming a people for himself by grace in the midst of their sin. When Jesus says the Bible is all about him, that means all the major themes, figures, genres, and storylines are reflective of and fulfilled in him.