On a couple occasions within the last month or so, I’ve met up with one of the high school students I used to lead at Calvary Fellowship. It was actually quite random how it all started, really. He sent me a text late one night – right when I was considering going to bed since I had worked for twelve hours earlier that day – asking to meet up and to bring my Bible. Since the only thing on my agenda that night was watching episodes of Suits, which I’ve already seen (three times at least), I figured it was a good idea.
Most of our conversation was catching up since the last time we got together and talking about him starting a high school Bible study. Before he wanted to start the study, though, he wanted to talk a bit about it all with me just to get an idea of what’s going on. Which book did he choose? Romans. Yeah, I know. Not the easiest book to discuss right off the bat.
But it was a great discussion that night and I’m hoping the future meetings will be even more fruitful. And even though we only read through one chapter that night, there was something that has stuck in my mind ever since.
It comes from the final passage of the first chapter:
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” – 1:24-28
Given the fact that the presidential elections are right around the corner, this passage seems to raise a stir for homosexuality topics. But that wasn’t what we discussed when we first opened up Romans, so I’ll save the political stuff for what might be a later post. What my high school friend pointed out, as I have above, was the fact that “God gave them up” to the error of their ways. He, as well as I, had a difficulty understanding God giving up on someone. Would He really give up on us like that?
It’s a tough question to answer effectively given the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark, which involved a global flood wherein humanity (save for about a dozen people) was wiped out. God clearly seems disappointed that He even created man (Gen. 6:5-7). And yet, something tells me we aren’t really seeing the whole picture.
If God had truly given up on humanity right before the flood, then why did He create the nation of Israel? Why did He stay with this particular group of people for thousands of years, despite their repeated rejections of Him? He could have turned away, He could have found a new group of people to lead, or He could have wiped the earth out again and start with a clean slate. But He didn’t. Why?
When Jesus is asked on how many times we should forgive each other, He says, “Seventy times seven,” (Matt. 18:22). No, Jesus isn’t saying only 490 moments of forgiving are allowed one person and when you run out, well then you’re screwed. He’s saying that one ought to forgive… period. I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m simply saying Jesus said it’s something we’re supposed to do as His followers.
What if there was a limit, though? What if we did have a certain number of get-out-of-jail free cards, but once we’ve used our last one, then we’d be done? It certainly changes the way you think about how many mistakes you’ve made, doesn’t it? Maybe for the first 100 or 150 mistakes we don’t really feel the loss of those free passes. But once you’re under 200 or even 100 mulligans, then you really start to feel it. Every mean word you might say when that one driver cuts you off suddenly doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily.
I don’t believe there is a certain number to the times God will forgive us. But I believe that He does in fact turn us over – or as Paul says He “gave them up.” I believe that at a certain point, He’ll let us have the consequences of our actions – both the good ones and the bad ones. What we really have to decide, then, is how many chances are we going to take before we make the change He’s been waiting for us to make all along?
I believe there are a ridiculous amount of chances we each have not to “get things right,” but to commit to the right path. Jesus even says that the way is hard and narrow to righteousness, which means no one is going to stay on the path every step of the way. At some point, we all slip, get lost, or flat out turn around. What really matters is whether or not we decide to press on in spite of our slip ups and shortcomings.
Over the coming weeks (maybe months) I’m going to be working on several posts about forgiveness. It’s not as easy of a concept as we’ve made it out to be: Sometimes we run into situations where we don’t want to extend (or receive) forgiveness. Be it pride, pain, or a little bit of both, we sometimes have difficulties in practicing forgiveness. So I’m hoping to see and study what Scripture says on the topic. Hopefully, it’ll help… for my sake and yours.
In the mean time, it’s important to know and remember that though there are plenty of chances, the clock is ticking. Which opportunity number is going to be the one that you chose to truly follow God down the narrow path? And what if there wasn’t going to be a “next opportunity”?