My family and I are fond of playing a particular series of popular computer games, where the player takes the place of a detective and must find clues and solve puzzles to identify the culprit. We play as a family, helping each other figure out how to best proceed. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves baffled or, worse, we guide ourselves into a bad misstep: we step too far and fall off the stepping stones, or we blunder so badly that we are sent packing, or we accidentally cause a small explosion, or we take too long figuring out a puzzle in the middle of the winter wilderness...you get the idea. Every game contains several crucial spots in which the unwary detective can make an error so bad that it stops the game. A screen pops up with the message, “You have made a fatal error. Would you like to try again?” The player must select either “Yes” or “No”, thus either returning to a point just before the fatal error, or returning to the beginning of the game.
When we find we have made a fatal error, we are relieved to have the option to say that we would like to try again, that it’s not a permanent failure that results in having lost all of our work. Thinking about this made me think about repentance. So often, it’s easy to think of repentance as what we have to do; it may take on a negative feeling, associated as it is with having made another kind of fatal error: sin. Paul doesn’t call it a fatal error, but he does write, “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). In Ezekiel 18:4, the Lord Himself says that “The soul who sins shall die.” When we commit sin, we place ourselves under the death penalty once again, and we have to take action in order to step back under the sacrifice of Christ.
It’s hard to say we’re sorry, and it’s hard to repent: to realize that we have stepped outside God’s rule in our life and that we have to admit our mistake. But repentance itself is not a chore: it is a divine gift. This is implied in Acts 11:17-18, where Peter defends his actions in baptizing Gentiles by saying, “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
The ability to repent and turn again to God is a gift, a gift that God wants us to use when we have made a fatal error. He doesn’t take pleasure in seeing us caught in perilous places and under the death penalty. To repent is to change one’s mind and purpose, to turn towards God instead of continuing away from Him. And when we repent, the sin we pursued is removed, as God Himself says in Ezekiel 18:21-23. “‘…if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’”
When we turn away from God, we are given a similar message to the one my family gets when we make a misstep in our computer game. Sin is a fatal error, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice and God’s gracious gift of repentance, we are able to say, “Yes, I’d like to try again.”
For more information on God’s commandments and eternal life, request a free copy of our study guide Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion