People Can Change

Manasseh_repents_C-1020

Manasseh assumed the throne of Judah at the age of twelve and reigned until his death at seventy-seven (2 Chr. 33:1). Born and raised after his father, Hezekiah, was granted another fifteen years of life, Manasseh led Judah into sin worse than any of those who went before him—not only reversing the reforms of his father but also introducing Judah to the most heinous practices of idolatry (2 Chr. 33:2-9), rejecting the LORD’s calls for repentance (2 Chr. 33:10). However, the LORD humbled him greatly by allowing Assyria to capture him (2 Chr. 33:11). In response to his condition, Manasseh sought the LORD, humbled himself, and prayed that he might return to Jerusalem as king (2 Chr. 33:12-13a). “Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chr. 33:13b). Upon his return, he fortified the cities of Judah and removed the idolatry he had introduced (2 Chr. 33:14-15). Having thrown these idols out of the city, he restored the worship of Yahweh and commanded the people he ruled to serve Him, which they did to some degree (2 Chr. 33:16-17). Manasseh had been a chief of sinners, but he changed (2 Chr. 33:18-20). As the reign of Amon, his son, demonstrates, the effects of Manasseh’s sin lingered as a consequence of his previous transgressions (2 Chr. 33:21-25), but Manasseh himself had repented—a fact sometimes lost on people if they read the Bible too hastily.

Today we often fall into the trap of classifying people’s sins into unofficial categories. We class sins of general disobedience, doctrinal error, sins of the tongue, unlawful divorce, anger, and selfishness as a type of iniquity that we recognize as wrong but do not actually find repugnant (cf. Col. 3:5-11). We then have our other category of sins—murder, homosexuality, molestation. Now these categories can be fluid. But you might notice that the major difference lies in how society sees the sin—not how God sees it. Granted, some sins have greater consequences, naturally and even biblically. A crime may have extended and sometimes capital consequences. A person may have to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom (Mt. 19:1-12). A man may not be able to serve as an elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7). And wisdom may dictate removing any potential temptation to repeat past transgressions, both for the person’s benefit and for the peace of mind of the brethren. This is precisely what we see in the case of the apostle Paul, a former persecutor of the church (Acts 9). But what we sometimes see is that Christians do not simply recognize with wisdom the consequences of a certain sin but they decide to bestow their own consequences upon their brother or sister in Christ. They do not forgive—or at least not entirely—despite repentance (Luke 17:1-4). They hold a grudge. They count up wrongs (1 Cor. 13:4-7). And in so doing, they commit a sin just as wrong and just as damning as the one they find fault with in another (Col. 3:13-15).

Brethren, this is a serious issue, and it will tear the church apart. We must commit ourselves both to God’s holiness and to God’s love. When we fail to develop the character that does so, we fail to imitate Christ and we fail to be transformed (Rom. 12:1-2). It is a sad thing to realize that the LORD could forgive Manasseh, but some Christians are unwilling to forgive those like him. May we never forget: people can change. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20–21).

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