How can God forgive murder?

Some of the major rock stars in the Bible did some very bad things. Moses murdered a man (Exodus 2:12). David raped, murdered, and committed adultery (2 Samuel 11). Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) threw people in jail for believing in Jesus (Acts 9:1-2). I don’t think there’s any doubt that Moses, David, and Paul are in heaven. Jesus said that nearly every sin (including murder) can be forgiven (Matthew 12:31). And yet we are told that no murderer has eternal life (1 John 3:15). On top of that, Jesus tells us that if we call someone an idiot, we’re in danger of eternal fire (Matthew 5:22).

What gives?

How is God able to give these leaders a pass, and then hold us to such a high standard?

I think the key is found in the last half of 2 Peter 3:9: “[God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV)


That’s the key word, and its a much misunderstood concept.

So let me try to break it down.

1. Repentance is a gift we get from God if we want it (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

2. Repentance is a changed mindset. The changed behavior that most people point to is actually the fruit of repentance or the result of repentance.

For example, a husband could say: “Yesterday, I yelled at my wife. Today I did not. See, I repented.” Not necessarily. The only way he could call that repentance is if he allows God to get at the reason he yelled his wife. If he allows God to change his perspective so that reason no longer makes sense, then, yes, he repented. If he still wants to yell at his wife, but manages to temporarily restrain himself, then, no, he hasn’t repented. You can tell he has repented if yelling at his wife no longer makes any sense to him.

3. When we truly repent, the person who committed the crime (murder or any other sin) no longer exists. Someone who commits murder but does not repent is a murderer. Someone who commits murder but does repent is not a murderer.

The Bible talks about this in several places (Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-14, for example). We die to sin. In other words, God grants us repentance—a changed mindset—so that the sin we once wanted to commit (or did commit) no longer makes any sense to us.

John Doe commits murder. John Doe receives repentance (a changed mindset) from God. John Doe ceases to exist. John Redeemed takes his place. We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

If David, for example, had not repented, he would not be in heaven today. The David who committed adultery and murder no longer exists. That David is dead.

God is offering all of us repentance, and all of us need it. We all need a changed mindset.

Put another way: There’s a big, big difference between what God forgives and what God condones. God is not giving us a pass. He’s not saying, “Oh, you did all those bad things, but it doesn’t really matter.”

It does matter.

A lot.

Yet God forgives. And part of that process is granting us repentance—if we’re willing to receive it.

And, yes, I understand. We’re all a work in progress. Some of us struggle with addictions and stubborn sins. I get that.

That’s why we open the door and invite Jesus in (Revelation 3:20). When Jesus is here with us, He can help us find the way to repentance. We need that, so that by the time we reach heaven’s gates, our desire to sin will be gone forever.


Image: Jr Korpa/Unsplash

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