I like the emotional honesty of Augustine’s Confessions. His mother, Monica, had believed in Jesus Christ and prayed for her son all his life. But Augustine was ambitious and lustful. He had pursued philosophy and rhetoric. He had made money. He had satisfied his bodily appetites even having a mistress and a son out of wedlock. He admitted that he had opposed Christian belief “out of malice.” This became his prayer: “I had prayed to you for chastity and said ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.’”*
The words, “but not yet,” tell a cautionary tale. We have another expression “sow your wild oats.” The problem with sowing wild oats is the law of harvest. “You reap what you sow.” “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” I have known some people who sowed their wild oats and came to their senses. The story of the prodigal son has been repeated by many a son or daughter. But sometimes there are painful consequences even when forgiveness is found. David sowed to the wind with Bathsheba, and he reaped the whirlwind of a rapist Amnon and a treacherous, mutinous Absalom. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). But better is it to learn this lesson sooner than later.
“But not yet” has another danger. There are other prodigals who have simply stayed in the far country. The danger of repentance put off is that sin has way of deceiving and hardening our hearts. “But exhort one another every day … that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV).
“But not yet” also presumes that opportunities for repentance are unlimited. I deliberately left out part of the quote from Hebrews 3:13 in the above paragraph because it is fitting here: “as long as it is called ‘today.’” Hebrews is reminding its readers that not all the wilderness generation made it to the promised land. The quotation from Psalm 95 sums up the issue and is repeated twice in the chapter for emphasis.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Hebrews 3:7-8, 3:15, ESV
Today is the day we have. Maybe we will have tomorrow, and maybe we won’t. As Paul states, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV). “But not yet” is tempting. Yet, repentance and salvation are too important. God will help us say no to our sinful past if we trust him. May all of us seize the opportunity called today!
*Augustine, The Confessions, 8.7