God, the Church, and Formerly Incarcerated Persons by Karen Swanson

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There are many examples in the Bible of when God gave people second chances. If the Bible had a hall of shame, we would find many of the same names that we find in Hebrews 11 (often known the “hall of faith”).

Noah was found drunk by his sons; Abraham trafficked his wife, Sarah; Moses murdered an Egyptian; Rahab committed prostitution; and David hired someone for murder and committed adultery. Then there are those in the New Testament: Zaccheaus, the tax collector, who overtaxed people out of personal greed, yet was accepted by Jesus prior to his conversion; and Peter, who denied Christ three times.

Yet, in spite of their illegal and immoral behavior, God gave them a second chance. They were repentant and went on to be faithful servants of God. But is it really God giving them a second chance to make good choices, and if they mess up again, he is done with them? Or is it God’s grace being poured out in an attempt to restore their relationship with God and others?

Isn’t grace what differentiates the Christian faith from other religions which focus on moral behavior or good works? Tim Keller states,

Christ’s grace is not just a second chance. Christ’s grace is NOT one more chance to redeem yourself. It is not one more chance to be a good moral person. The grace of Jesus Christ is NOT to appear before us and say look at me I’m honest, I’m compassionate, I’m generous, I have a servant heart, live like me and you can redeem yourself. Jesus doesn’t come and say, look at me. Be as generous, caring and compassionate as me. If Jesus Christ came like that, if he came to be a model and example to us so we could redeem ourselves, he is an utter failure. I wish he’d never come. Because nobody can care like Jesus cared. And nobody can love like Jesus loved. And nobody can give like Jesus gave. If he is my model and he gives me one more chance, all he does is show me that I can never redeem myself. As a model he discourages me, he doesn’t encourage me. He devastates me, he demoralizes and demolishes me. And leaves me in the darkness.

It is not one more chance to be good. Jesus Christ came and died to pay the penalty of our failures and if we receive him, his record becomes our record. He doesn’t say one more chance to do good deeds, oh no, instead, he says, don’t you see, your doing will never get you there looking at me – I have done all the good deeds for you. I have lived the perfect life, I have died the perfect death. I put myself in your place, I took your penalty so that if you trust in me, and you lay your doing down, and you trust wholly in me, the Father will welcome you as complete in me. Lay your deadly doing down at his feet, stand in him alone, gloriously complete.[1]

Do we as Christians really understand the grace and mercy given to us? What is the church’s witness to the world on how we treat Christians who have committed immoral or illegal acts? Imagine if your greatest sin was made public and everywhere you went you had to reveal that mistake.

What if you were labeled by your sin—as a liar, adulterer, gossip, addict, failure, criminal, etc.? What if people whisper about you, “He or she is the one who…”? Is this the biblical response toward those who have been caught in sin?

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Source: Christianity Today