Select Page

Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 15: What Indicates True Turn Around?

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Luke 19:8 (NIV)

We all want second chances and 

  • to know that we are forgiven.
  • to shed the cloud of despair and addictive sin.
  • to find that our spiritual family does not harbor a judgmental heart towards us.

What we are truly looking for is to be taken back in and loved, with the confidence that our broken life decisions have been erased and replaced by renewed hope and love.

Second chances do not come from fellow believers, however. We do not get them by appealing to some authority within the church hierarchy. They are given freely by God through Jesus.

I know this can sound like an old Chuck Swindoll illustration, the one he told about hitting your car in the parking lot, then driving off after assuring you that God has already forgiven him for the accident. The kind of second chance people sometimes want is more akin to a get-out-of-jail-free card than restoration to a righteous life.

So let the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus teach us something important about second chances. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross took him through Jericho, where a tax collector named Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a glimpse of him. To the shock of the onlookers, Jesus went to his house for a meal. The crowd, who possibly were ready to offer Jesus their own feast, could not hold back their judgment—what kind of idiot was Jesus? Zacchaeus was a sinner. And not just a sinner, he was a collaborator with the Roman enemy, lining his pockets with their money while helping the oppressors stay in business over them. People like Zacchaeus were part of the Roman culture wherever it flourished— native businessmen who handled the local tax revenue for the Romans so they did not have to hassle with the people directly. How could Jesus betray local sensibilities so casually?

But by the time the meal was over, Zacchaeus was transformed. His change was so deep that he publicly announced his plan to give to the poor and return any ill-gotten gains he had made with interest.

There it is. Zacchaeus’ plan to give restitution for all stolen goods was a sign of a true turn-around. To make it right with the people he had injured…to do the will of God, even though it cut deep into his bank account. Restitution is the most recognizable feature in the lives of people who are being changed by the Spirit.

When someone blows it, it is not enough for them to say, “God has forgiven me.” This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call ‘cheap grace.’ Cheap grace avoids the hard thing, unwilling to surrender to humility and to do the will of God because it will cost too much. Real grace is about trusting the empowering work of the Spirit within to do through you the right thing, though it costs you all that you think you have.

In the restoration process I use, the broken person will ask God, “Who do I owe and what do I owe them?” Cheap grace says, “I should apologize—as long as I can do this without confessing something that can be used against me in a court of law!” Real grace leads you to do what God wants, surrendering your rights and the outcome to Him.

This lack of restitution was the missing feature in the story of Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, was exposed for sexually assaulting a teenage girl some 20 years ago when he was her youth pastor. Although he had been held accountable by the church at the time, he never thought of restitution to the girl he had so wickedly abused. For him, it was all about his failure, about hoping he did not have to go jail, about saving his marriage and hoping to someday be restored to ministry. God had forgiven him, but he stopped short of grasping the true implications of God’s forgiveness. Making restitution is a testimony of letting go of pride and giving back to the person hurt by your sin what you took from them, whether it is dignity, wealth, time or peace of mind. It is a testimony of what the Spirit has done in us instead of our own effort to fix the situation.

One Christian leader I know was a toxic mess when we met. He had liberally insulted every other leader in the congregation, including the pastor. He even was fired as an usher because he was so messed up. But God turned him around 180o as we guided him to discover and surrender to God is unfinished business. Then, without any prompting from us, he went to every person he had hurt and made peace with them. We even fed him a few names of people he had overlooked! He gave honor where honor was due and publicly wanted people to know how wrong he had been. That restitution effort told us all that he was living out a true second chance.

As far as you can, undo the damage you have done in order to finish well. Some people will never accept the change in you, but God sees and approves.


-Steve Smith