Question: "What does the Bible say about second chances?"
Answer: God is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance fairly quickly. One of the amazing facets of God's character is His incredible patience with us. Psalm 86:15 says it well: "But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." Micah 7:18 says, "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."
The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Jonah, Mark, Samson, David, and others. All trophies of God’s grace.
Just as God is patient and forgiving, He wants His children to be patient with and forgiving of others. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12). He gives us second chances, and we must give the same to others. Jesus gives a stern warning to those who refuse to forgive, saying that if we will not forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:15; see also Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; and Proverbs 19:11). If someone is truly repentant, then we are obligated to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22).
Offering forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. Many people struggle to find the balance between showing mercy and enabling a harmful person to continue harming. We should be willing to forgive everyone who wrongs us, just as Jesus forgives us. But, when someone continues to unrepentantly violate another person’s boundaries, a wise person learns to set firmer boundaries. If a man has repeatedly punched you in the face, you can offer to forgive him; but you don’t stand within arm’s distance until he has proved over time that he has changed.
Giving someone a second chance means we give him another chance to earn our trust. But that does not mean we instantly forget what experience has taught us. Trust must be earned over time, and we are foolish if we give trust prematurely. We can have a loving and forgiving heart that also practices wise guardianship over our lives.
When we have wronged someone, we have no right to demand another chance. But we should work to earn another chance by continued demonstration of repentance and change.
Even God has a limit on forgiveness. In Romans 1:18-32, the apostle Paul warns us what happens when we continue to spurn God's patience and reject His call to repentance. Three different times, the phrase "God turned them over" appears. When we insist on running our lives the way we want rather than the way God wants, He lets us. Eventually, when our hearts are hardened against Him, He lets us go. He turns us over to a reprobate mind, one that can no longer seek God. At that point, sin has become our god.
There may come a time in a human relationship when the same thing has occurred – when forgiveness has been offered and restoration made possible, but one party refuses to repent and rejects all efforts to reconcile. It may be time to end that relationship. Second chances are no longer working. Ending a relationship is a last resort, but sometimes it must be done (Matthew 18:17).
God does everything possible to draw us to repentance, offering forgiveness and second chances (2 Peter 3:9). But if we continue to reject Him, the offer is withdrawn and, at death, there are no more chances (Hebrews 9:27). God’s grace is our model. We can offer second chances to others until a healthy relationship is no longer possible.