Do too many people rely too much on God’s promise of forgiveness to allow themselves to repeatedly sin? Is there a limit to God’s patience and forgiveness? The answer is both yes and no.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus taught that in order to be forgiven by God, we must first forgive others.
On the scope of forgiveness, Jesus told Peter:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”
– Matthew 18:21-22
However, Bible scholars agree that this number was merely to lead the question away from a specific number. Rather, it is to indicate that there is not a set limit. Jesus’ words are a metaphor stating that God’s forgiveness is practically unlimited.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
–1 John 1:9
There are a few important takeaways from the above verse. First, “confess our sins.” We have to admit the truth of our sin and acknowledge our wrongdoing to God. Let God know we are aware of our problem and letting God know with sincerity of the heart that we desire to change it.
Another important point here is “purify us from all unrighteousness.” This seems to indicate that there is no sin too great that is beyond the cleansing power of God and the holy sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. In other words, there is no limit to what God can forgive, no matter the sin.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
– 2 Peter 3:9
Jesus made the point that God does not want to see a single sinner perish. God wants to save and cleanse every human being from sin and bring them to repentance.
“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The answer appears to be yes. There are passages in the Bible when unrepentant nations have suffered the consequences of turning away from the Lord. God has sometimes removed his protection and allowed peoples to experience the inevitable results of their sinful actions.
We know we live in a universe of cause-and-effect. This goes for sin as well. Every action causes a reaction. Only God has the power to intervene and prevent disaster. The Bible shows many examples of God turning away from Israel and leaving them to their own devices.
The prophet Amos tells us that after God had saved Israel from bondage in Egypt, in time, they turned away from God.
“Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the LORD has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”
– Amos 3:1-2
The lesson here is that God will turn away from nations and individuals who turn away from him. This and many other Bible passages also indicate that God focuses on those who were close to him and turned away first, over those who had never known him at all.
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?”
– 1 Peter 4:17
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
– Jeremiah 29:13
However, God’s lovingkindness is unlimited. He will return his favor for those who love and seek him, who desire to turn away from sin and ask God for his forgiveness.
Jesus said the door to forgiveness and heaven will be opened to those who seek earnestly:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
– Matthew 7:7-8