Steve ‘the Facebook killer’ Stephens did a horrific thing on April 15th. It was detestable. It was despicable. It was upsetting and unsettling. It was all out wickedness! And it was forgivable.
Yes. FORGIVABLE. (Wait! Hear me out!)
What Steve Stephens did was a grievous sin. He committed murder. He took an innocent life. And, of course, God is not at all pleased and Steve will be held accountable for his actions (Exodus 20:13; Revelation 22:15).
But IF he had lived AND had come to repentance, EVEN HE could have received God’s forgiveness.
This is a hard truth, I know. But it is the truth, nonetheless, so I felt the need to speak on it. Yet, when I took this truth to social media last week, the public was not here for it. In fact, I got lambasted for it. While I can’t say I was totally surprised by the response, I did find the logic many applied to justify their outrage intriguing. The usual “all sin is sin” and “no sin is greater” defenses usually hurled to justify the LGBT community, pro-abortion movement and other matters counter to the will of God, were suspiciously retired for this discussion. Most were all out rejecting the claim that God has the capacity to forgive us of ALL sin. As far as they were concerned, murder is UNFORGIVABLE and those who commit such a heinous act were beyond pardon even after repentance. They implied that repentance and forgiveness just isn’t available for such sin. In fact, they thought a claim to the contrary unfathomable.
But that isn’t what God says.
All manner of sin will be forgiven...IF we repent
“Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:7-9).
“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
"To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43)
These scriptures are just a sampling of God’s capacity for mercy and forgiveness toward the repentant sinner. Of course, I am not in agreement with Steve’s actions nor am I saying Steve did repent. From the looks of this situation, it’s pretty likely he did not. But I am in agreement with God’s word and the depth of His mercy and ability to forgive us for our sins and iniquities IF WE REPENT. I am in agreement with the sufficiency of the atoning death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the WORLD such that WHOSOEVER believes in Him is justified and receives eternal life (John 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18). God's capacity to forgive is MUCH greater and more genuine than our own. His motivations for forgiving us our sins are more pure and just than anything man might ever be able to comprehend in our fallen state. So if God says He will have mercy on the wicked IF he forsakes his way, I believe that, am grateful for it and am humbled when I examine it and apply it to myself and others.
As a matter of fact, as I gave it some thought, I realized God would forgive a serial killer before he would a fornicating, heterosexual couple who goes to church every Sunday IF that serial killer came to repentance but that couple never did. That’s deep! And it only means we should ALL view these situations as opportunities to rightly judge a matter and ourselves. We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss a sinner nor must we be too hasty in justifying them. We should merely call the situation what it is: a sin against God. But we must ALSO offer up the Gospel, which says they can be cleansed by God IF they come to Christ and leave their sin behind. We have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But the key factor that determines whether we receive God’s abundant mercies or wrath is repentance - a heart that is legitimately, sincerely sorry for sinning before the Lord, forsaking the practice of sin and seeking after God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ. God forgave Moses for murder. God forgave King David for having someone murdered...and it was PREMEDITATED (2 Samuel 12:13). God forgave the Apostle Paul for serial murders...of CHRISTIANS, no less (Acts 9:1-9; 1 Timothy 1:15)! But each man forsook his way and sought after God's righteousness through the their faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So how much more could he forgive any of us?
The Wages of Sin is Death...IF we never repent
Not that our sins are more justifiable than murder, of course. After all, the Lord says, “the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). As a matter of fact, more sins are considered “murder” than we know in the eyes of God. Even if we’ve never physically taken someone’s life, before God we engage in sins every day that plant seeds leading to death in the natural and/or in the spirit. For example, God says the man who divorces his wife deals treacherously with her and does violence against the one he should protect (Malachi 2:16). Jesus says the man who hates His brother is a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22;1 John 3:15). Jesus also teaches that those who don’t belong to Him belong to satan and, as such, only desire to do satan’s bidding. And who is satan but he who was a liar and a MURDERER from the beginning (John 8:44)? And what is satan’s bidding but to “steal, KILL and destroy” (John 10:10)? So IF we aren’t repentant of our sins, we are no better than Steve Stephens, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy or the like. If we, somehow, manage to think ourselves more righteous than Steve Stephens, it still doesn't mean he was automatically beyond forgiveness. Jesus said He came to call the sinner, not the righteous, to repentance (Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). But know that our Lord was merely being facetious, because NO ONE is righteous. NO, NOT ONE (Romans 3:10). And “[if] we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Therefore, repentance through Christ is KEY in receiving God's forgiveness. It doesn't mean there are no longer consequences for our sins in this life nor does it mean one sin doesn't have greater natural consequences than another. But it does mean our souls won't perish under the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. Such sin is repentant sin. The brother is not embracing and living in sin but detests it and runs away from it, not toward it. And while we are, indeed, all sinners, a repentant sinner is covered under the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 5:17-18).
I said all of this to say...
I said a lot about this matter. But let's cover what I DID NOT say. I did not say what Steve Stephens did was forgiVEN. (I cannot make that call.) It was also not my intention to suggest that Steve Stephens was saved. I tend to believe he had some deep-rooted demons and it is unfortunate he allowed them to get the best of him. I DID say what he did on April 15th (not his suicide days later) was forgiveABLE, as in being a sin that qualifies for the Lord’s mercy IF there was repentance. Only blaspheming the Holy Spirit will be unforgiven - that is the willful refusal to believe in Christ and repent despite the evidence of Christ and the Holy Spirit's convictions to compel one to do so (Matthew 12:32; John 3:36). I also said that all sin can be forgiven IF one comes to know Jesus Christ. His death was a the only sufficient atonement for our sins. His righteousness is the only righteousness that can justify us before God the Father. Thus, we must be in Him to receive God's abundant pardons.
Let me also say that I wasn't intending to make this post about Steve Stephens, but to use the gravity of this case to demonstrate how God might have treated one in his shoes IF he had a repentant heart. I know Jesus is weeping with the family of Robert Godwin as they grieve. But rejoice that if he was a believer in Christ, he will be raised on the last day. One may say I am insensitive for offering this view in the wake of a man’s brutal murder, but it’s the truth. The day of the Facebook killing happened to also be the same day man set to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ - “Resurrection Sunday” as most American churches call it. On that very day, Americans flooded their social media timelines with “He is risen” and church signs around the nation proclaimed “Death could not hold Him”. But I suspected then, and still currently believe, most haven’t quite grasped what Jesus' resurrection ultimately means! Death could not hold our Lord and we, being His Body, won't be held by it either. He is the firstborn of a NEW creation, and those of us who are born again will share in it (John 11:25-26).
Therefore, this but a natural experience in an ETERNAL existence, so I choose to see all matters, no matter how tragic, from the vantage point of eternity in Christ. I know most will not understand this perspective, but I am sharing it in the hopes more begin to seek God and ALWAYS EXAMINE OURSELVES in the wake of tragedy...even under the lens of someone else’s sin...even when that sin is one we still detest in our culture (because we don't respond to all sin with the same level of outrage). I don't doubt similar acts will occur as things get worse in these last days. But it is NOT my desire that my love grows cold because lawlessness abounds (Matthew 24:12). I choose to use every opportunity available to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ - even with one who might see fit to take even my life. At the end of the day, as one in Christ Jesus, I have victory over death's sting. All believers do - even Mr. Godwin if he was a believer (1 Corinthians 15:55). So what can man do to us (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 22:4; 118:6)?
May the Lord grant His peace to Mr. Godwin's family AS WELL AS the family of the murderer (for they aren't to blame and also suffered a loss). This case is full of sadness all around, and it is a sobering lesson about the reality of living in a fallen, DEPRAVED world! Yet it is also an opportunity to look up from whence our help comes; to share truth about our God, who has the power and authority to forgive sin upon repentance, cleanse us of our iniquity and grant eternal life in Christ; and to serve as a reminder of the importance of always being repentant.
What Steve Stephens did was deplorable. But IF he would have turned from his wicked way and called on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even he could have found forgiveness and life eternal.
Robert Godwin suffered a horrific ending to his natural life, but if he was in Jesus Christ, his sins were forgiven and he will see life eternal.