Forgiveness 2.0: what John 21 teaches us about giving and receiving second chances


Second chances can feel like forgiveness 2.0. Not only do we have to put aside feelings of resentment, judgement and retribution, we also have to welcome the person who hurt us in the past back into our lives and give them the opportunity to do right, knowing they could hurt us again.

And it's not just the person giving the second chance who can struggle, the person accepting it can have reservations too. There can be an added wariness that every decision and action is being stealthily analysed, despite genuine proclamations to the effect that "it's fine".

If you're struggling with second chances - whether as the giver or the receiver- then John 21 is a great resource for guidance. Here are four things that we can take from the chapter.

If you are the one giving someone second chance:

Be welcoming
"Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast,'" (John 21:12). Jesus welcomes his disciples ashore with food and warmth. When you give someone a second chance you need to accept that with an open heart. You have to go beyond just voicing your forgiveness but demonstrate it by extending kindness to them as you would have done before they acted in a way that required forgiveness. Jesus' calls to the disciples echo their first meeting, giving the impression that nothing has changed. We should endeavour to emulate Jesus' example when we're giving someone a second chance.

Don't punish
"Jesus said, Feed my lambs,'" (John 21:15). Jesus doesn't abandon or punish Peter as a result of his denial, instead he voices a series of commands (John 21:15-17) which show an imparting trust. Jesus doesn't assign Peter an unimportant duty as a result of his denial but he invites him to take on a significant task. It's common to have reservations about entrusting someone who's let you down with the same sort of responsibilities that they were tasked with originally. But you'll need to fight the urge to downgrade them if you are sincere about giving them a second chance.

If you are being given the second chance:

Be prepared to prove yourself
"The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'" (John 21:17). Peter's hurt by the third time that Jesus asks him if he loves him but in doing so his relationship with Jesus is restored. You shouldn't allow yourself to be ridden with guilt after someone's forgiven you and you've acknowledged your sin but it's important to understand that you'll have to do more than just say you're sorry to contribute to repairing the relationship. At first, you might have to do things which weren't expected of you before to reassure those that you've hurt that you committed to making amends.

Be eager
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!' As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ' It is the Lord,' he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water," (John 21:7). Peter rushed to reach the Lord immediately after it was announced that he was waiting on the shore. He didn't let anything stand in his way when he wanted to show his love for Jesus and that includes his past failures. You do yourself and your loved ones a disservice when you take on the role of wallflower because you're yet to put your sin behind you. You need to embrace the opportunities that you have to re-establish the relationship and demonstrate your love for them.