One of the most dangerous ideas to the soul is that a person can sin now and just repent later to avoid judgment. This thought fortifies many unbelievers in their refusal to submit to the gospel but also trips up genuine believers. We Christians can so easily think, “I know I shouldn’t say these hateful words,” or “I know I shouldn’t go back to immorality again,” or “I know I shouldn’t pursue a divorce,” but then proceed anyways. We tell ourselves, “I just have to do this. I know it’s wrong, but God will forgive me.” In speaking and acting this way, we forget many of the sober warnings of Scripture.
One warning we forget has to do with testing the Lord. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put Yahweh your God to the test.” When we use God’s patience, love, and faithfulness as excuses for sin, we test God and provoke his judgment and chastening. Even for his own children, God is not above correction or severe disciple, as he demonstrated with both Israel (e.g. Num 11:1-3; Num 16:41-50; Num 21:4-9) and the NT church (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:27-32; Rev 2:19-23). Our heavenly father is too good to just let his children continue in sin.
Another warning we forget has to do with the simple principle of sowing and reaping. Satan the liar would have us believe that we can sin without consequence (Gen 3:4), but the God of truth tells us that unwelcome consequences are built into sin itself. Paul says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Even with repentance, sin does lasting damage to one’s relationships, reputation, finances, physical body, and even eternal reward (e.g. Prov 5:7-14; Prov 6:27-28; 1 Cor 3:10-14). Thankfully, with God there is always the hope of healing and restoration (Lk 15:11-32), but some temporal consequences can never be removed (e.g. Num 20:8-13; 2 Sam 12:7-14). Our good God thus kindly exhorts us to flee from the poisonous way of sin and walk in the path of true benefit and blessing (Rom 6:20-23).
A final warning we forget has to do with the most serious potential consequence of sin: a hardened heart, leading to judgment. In telling ourselves that we will repent later, we don’t realize that there might not be a “later” for us, not only because God might end our lives before we repent (Lk 12:19-20), but also because God might give us over to our sinful stubbornness. Part of the sobering appeal of the NT book of Hebrews is that, if believers temporarily deny Christ under persecution, there is no guarantee that these believers will ever come back. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Israel is a prime example of this giving over to hardening and judgment (Ps 95:6-11; Amos 8:11-12) as are the followers of antichrist in the days to come (2 Thess 2:8-12). Now, yes, the Bible indicates that true believers can never lose their salvation and that any truly repentant heart is always welcome to the full banquet of God’s forgiving grace (Jn 10:26-30; Isa 55:6-7). Nevertheless, true Christians are marked by increasing holiness (1 John 1:5-7), meaning that they live soberly, learn from past mistakes, and beware the heart-hardening effects of sin (1 Cor 10:1-22).
In sum, to excuse sin by saying we will just repent later is self-destructive foolishness. The Bible declares plainly that the necessary moment of repentance is not sometime later, but today, even right now:
1 Corinthians 6:2, Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation.”
Questions to Consider:
1. Sometimes we are tempted to tell ourselves, “Just one more time with this sin and then I’ll repent.” Why is this thinking naïve and self-deceiving? Consider 1 Peter 4:1-3 and Eph 4:17-24.
2. Can we ever know for certain whether a person is so hardened by sin as to be beyond the possibility of repentance? Why or why not?
3. Do you use God’s grace as an excuse for sin? How should your thinking change in light of the above truths?