I’m not a big fan of the modern “plea bargain” so often used in our court system. A plea bargain is where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge (usually a lesser charge) in return for a more lenient sentence. For example, a murderer may escape the death penalty and get life in prison, if he shows authorities where he buried the dismembered body of his victim.
In speaking of the difference between the modern plea bargain and genuine forgiveness, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, Stephanos Bibas, wrote,
Modern American criminal justice, however, has little room for forgiveness. It has become an assembly line, a plea-bargaining factory that speeds up cases and reduces costs by sacrificing the offender’s and victim’s day in court. 1
The essential difference between the plea bargain and the forgiveness we have in Christ is the presence of contrition in the believer. Contrition is a genuine sorrow for sin, and the Scriptures tell us that it is the catalyst for genuine repentance: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The message we preach should never be, “Plead guilty to sin and God will change your sentence from Hell to Heaven.” That is a bargain indeed, but such a message has the danger of producing a false convert, because it bypasses the essential process of contrition. A guilty criminal may avail himself of the modern plea bargain, and yet have no sorrow for his heinous crime. This cannot happen in Christ, and we must never cheapen the gospel, and ultimately cheat our hearers, by offering it.