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Articles

What the Bible says about second chances

Caring for those who have served prison time

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April 15, 2020

It was eight years before Chicago gym owner Luis Centeno told his clients and workers he had served time. Why? “Because of the constant rejection,” he says. 

Luis knew firsthand what it’s like to live in the shadow of a criminal history. Americans with a criminal record face 44,000 documented legal restrictions on things like where they can live and work. Luis tried getting a place to live, but he couldn’t get a loan or sign a lease because of his criminal conviction. He tried securing a job in construction, but learned he wasn’t allowed to work on most job sites. He was ready to start over, but seemingly no one was willing to let him.

This is why, every April, Prison Fellowship® celebrates Second Chance® Month—a nationwide movement to unlock brighter futures for approximately 70 million American adults with a criminal record. 

We believe in second chances because the Bible reveals a God of second chances.

Second chances in the Bible

God is patient in giving us second chances—and not just once, but continually. Micah 7:18 says, "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." God is eager to show us mercy when we truly seek forgiveness for our sin (Joel 2:13).

We see this most vividly in God's offering up his only Son—Jesus Christ—for the forgiveness of our sins. As the Apostle Peter explained, "[Christ] Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by His wounds you have been healed'" (1 Pet. 2:24). Jesus’ sacrificial death gives us a second chance at life with God.

Jesus’ ministry was marked by fresh starts and second chances for those whom many viewed as outcasts (Luke 4:18–19). He redeemed and elevated people others convicted and condemned, and he professed the unfaltering power of redemption in their lives.

A matter of justice

Just as God is in the business of giving second chances, he wants his people to do the same. God's people are to offer second-chance opportunities because they have each been given the ultimate second chance in Christ. Proverbs also speaks of the virtue of unlocking second chances, saying, "It is to one's glory to overlook an offense" (Prov. 19:11b).

While Christians are called to forgive those who commit wrongs against them, giving a second chance to those who have paid their debts is a matter of justice. Think of it like this: It would be unjust for a mortgage provider to require payments after a house has been paid for in full. In the same way, it is unjust for us—as individuals, businesses, and governments—to require returning citizens to continue paying a debt that has already been satisfied. 

Wisely extending second chances

Extending a formerly incarcerated person a second chance does not erase their crime or invalidate the pain of their victims. A genuine second chance is a declaration that you are not holding someone's past against them but still expect to see positive changes in their lives. The Apostle Paul exemplifies this approach in his instruction for former thieves: "Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need" (Eph. 4:28). 

There are situations where legal barriers are necessary. For example, it’s appropriate not to allow someone convicted of child abuse to work in a nursery. Even in such cases where there is a substantial link to protecting public safety, Prison Fellowship advocates that these restrictions should be anticipated at the time of sentencing, considered part of the defendant's proportional punishment, and the defendant should be given notice during the trial process. In reality, many of the 44,000 restrictions placed on people with a criminal record are unrelated to any previous crime, such as preventing someone convicted of drug possession from being a licensed barber.

By wisely and compassionately extending second chances, we can help bring God's healing into our communities.

What do you say about second chances?

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we raise awareness about the challenges men and women face upon reentry as they seek healthcare, housing, and employment amid our ongoing public health crisis.

If you're ready to join us in breaking barriers and unlocking brighter futures for the 1 in 3 Americans with a criminal record, here are two ways you can get involved in Second Chance Month:

  1. Host a Second Chance Sunday: Our toolkit can be used by pastors and churches who want to share a message or host a virtual service about justice and redemption and offer prayer for individuals, families, and communities impacted by crime and incarceration. 
  2. Join our Road to Second Chances Virtual Prayer Meeting: This live prayer meeting is an opportunity to pray together and hear real-life stories of people searching living out their second chance.

Heather Rice-Minus

Heather Rice-Minus is the vice president of government affairs and church mobilization for Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. Read More by this Author