How many times will God forgive me and take me back again? I'm a Christian, but my walk with the Lord has been an on-and-off thing for a number of years. There have been many occasions when I've walked away from the Lord only to return to Him again after falling on my face and realizing the error of my ways. This is a recurring pattern in my life. At first I didn't think much about it, but lately I've been wondering: is it possible that I've used up my allotted "quota" of forgiveness? Have I worn out God's patience? Is this something I need to be worried about?
From our perspective, there's a sense in which the answer is both yes and no. Let's take a closer look and see if we can't sort out the two sides of the issue for you.
We'll start with no. Technically speaking, you can't "use up your allotted quota." There is no limit to God's grace and forgiveness. That's the concept behind Jesus' response to Peter's famous question: "Then Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'" (Matthew 18:21, 22).
God's forgiveness is like that. It's a bottomless well. It's a fountain perpetually springing up to eternal life. Like the compassionate father in Jesus' parable, the Lord is always watching anxiously for the prodigal son to return (Luke 15:20). The Bible describes His character as "merciful, gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth" (Exodus 34:7).
That's not to mention that we all wrestle with habitual sins and recurring rebellion every single day of our lives. We are all constantly dealing with this up-and-down, back-and-forth, yes-and-no, push-and-pull syndrome in our relationship with the Lord. That's why we have to cling to the promise of I John 1:8 and 9: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:7-9). This is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment process.
There's another side to this story, of course. That's why we said that the answer to your question is both yes and no. Hebrews 10:26-31 seems to suggest that if a person insists on living an unchristian life even after "receiving the knowledge of the truth," there's good reason to suppose that he never really knew Christ in the first place. We're talking here about someone who willfully persists in committing the same sin over and over again. Most importantly, we're thinking of a person who does this without remorse and without showing any evidence of a genuine desire to change. In the case of such an individual, the writer says, it's reasonable to suppose that "there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins." This may be what Scripture means when it warns us against "tempting God" and "grieving the Holy Spirit."
What's the upshot? In practical terms, it's quite simple. If you really love God, maybe it's time to grow up. Maybe it's time to realize that true love never takes advantage of the other person's patience and longsuffering. Love doesn't ask questions like, "How much is too much?" or "How far is too far?" It doesn't say, "Hey, if I walk away and do my own thing for a while, I can always come back." Instead, it grieves over the thought of breaking that precious fellowship even for a moment. It sticks close to home and tries to stay clean. Its desire is always to please and honor the beloved.
If this is an ongoing struggle for you, we'd strongly recommend that you get some help from a real, flesh-and-blood human being. Seek out a mature fellow believer, preferably a pastor, church elder, or qualified Christian counselor, who can come alongside you. You need to find someone who you can talk to openly and honestly about your recurring temptations. With this in mind, we invite you to take a first step in this direction: Contact our our Counseling department for a free consultation.
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Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds
Christian Research Institute