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Thank God for Do-Overs

Growing up, I was never especially athletic. I was more of an “on the team,” just not “on the field” kind of athlete. In high school and college, I had a group of friends who would often get together at a park and play volleyball. It was a great sport for me because it required a lot less running than basketball or soccer, and due to my shorter stature compared to many of my friends, expectations on my performance were pretty low. In other words, it was the perfect sport for me.

However, there was one aspect of the game where I couldn’t sit back and let other people dive over to hit the ball for me as it was barreling towards my position: serving the ball. Inevitably, as we would rotate our positions, I would have to serve. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty consistent at serving the ball over the net to the other team. That is, as long as I served underhand style. Underhand serving in volleyball is what elementary kids in PE class did when they were first learning the sport. It felt like most of my other friends could take a running start, toss the ball, leap gracefully in the air like a gazelle, and effortlessly whirlwind their arm to nail a perfect fast and low serve. All of my friends, just not me.

What felt like almost every time, I would try to impress my friends (I did mention there were girls watching, right?) and I would take my first attempt at serving by tossing the ball in the air and swatting it overhand style. The ball would soar spectacularly through the air, like an overweight penguin attempting to take flight, directly into or under the net. However, I had a gracious group of friends who always allowed us a do-over without a penalty if the first serve attempt failed. Thus, on the second attempt, I would have to swallow my pride and underhand serve the ball over the net, just like any other self-respecting fourth grader would.

In sports, the do-over gives us a chance to fail at something with no fear of an immediate consequence. In life, God also gives us plenty of undeserved do-overs.

I had the privilege of growing up in a home where Christ was lifted high. I was told of His love and how I should respond to it by living for Him all of my life. Nonetheless, as any experienced Christian will tell you, knowing the right thing to do does not guarantee you will respond that way. We will battle with sin in our lives on this side of Heaven until we go home to be with Christ or He returns. We all need plenty of do-overs from our Maker, and praise be to God, because of what Christ did on the cross for us, there are plenty of do-overs offered.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warned His disciples that He would be killed and all of the disciples would scatter and desert Him. Peter, one of Jesus’ inner-circle disciples, emphatically exclaimed, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you (Mark 14:31).”

Jesus knew otherwise. Exactly as He foretold, after He was arrested, Peter denied he knew Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Peter failed Jesus, and we are told he “wept bitterly” over his sin (Matthew 26:75). However, after Jesus resurrected from the dead, He gave Peter a chance to reaffirm his commitment and fully restored him. Peter was given a do-over.

Now, it can be easy to give Peter a little bit of grace here because this failure happened before he had the privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ. As far as he knew, this Jesus he had followed closely for three years may not have been the true Messiah because His arrest didn’t fit the narrative of what the Jews had been expecting. The Messiah they were waiting for would rescue Israel from the Roman occupation through a great military victory.

In the same way, as Christians, it is easier to give ourselves grace for sins we committed before coming to know Jesus as our true Savior. We easily apply unlimited do-overs to our lives before Christ. On the other hand, “big” sins that we committed after we became a Christian are harder for us to just accept a do-over for. We feel a bigger sense of ownership over our sin now. We should have known better, we should have relied on the Holy Spirit to help us overcome, and we should have turned from that sin…but we didn’t.

If you go back to the New Testament and follow Peter as he led the church in Jerusalem, you will see that even he—after having the Holy Spirit and seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ—still had a major gospel-denying failure.

A little background: one of the greatest aspects about Jesus Christ coming to save us from our sins, is that we Gentiles (those of us who are not Jewish) are now part of God’s people. Jews and Gentiles are now “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Peter understood this truth and would eat meals and associate closely with other Christians who were non-Jewish. Nonetheless, as pressure came about from some Jewish believers, especially those who errantly claimed people still needed to follow aspects of the Old Testament ceremonial Law to truly follow Christ, Peter began to break fellowship with Gentile Christians.

The Apostle Paul wrote about having to oppose Peter to his face over this sin, saying, “they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14).  Peter, after the resurrection, after having the Holy Spirit living within him, still sinned in a major gospel-denying way.

Like Peter, all Christians will continue to struggle with sin as we live in this fallen world. The great news for us is, like Peter, we will get plenty of do-overs from God. As the Apostle John tells us, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). We have Jesus, as our advocate, pleading before the Judge that His sacrifice covers our sins both before and after we trust in Him as our Savior.

Just like my lackluster volleyball serving skills, when we find ourselves in the aftermath of failure, praise be to God, we get to pick up the ball and go again. Thank God for do-overs.