This April, Prison Fellowship is celebrating Second Chance™ Month—a nationwide movement to unlock brighter futures for the 1 in 3 American adults with a criminal record.
Through storytelling, awareness-building events, a nationwide media campaign, and government resolutions and proclamations, Second Chance Month affirms that people with a criminal record have the dignity and capacity to make important contributions to society. We provide opportunities for people with a criminal record to speak about their experiences, challenging negative stereotypes with narratives of hope and transformation.
Why do we do all of this? Because the Bible reveals a God of second chances.
GOD DELIGHTS IN GIVING SECOND CHANCES
When Moses wanted to understand more about God so that he could speak with authority to the people of Israel, God passed by him and proclaimed He is, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).
God is patient in giving us second chances—and not just one, but continual second chances. 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 savors opportunities to offer second chances and is eager not to punish us 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 Peter 2:24). Jesus lived the sinless life we couldn't live and died the gruesome death we should have received, to offer us a second chance at life with God.
SECOND CHANCES IN THE BIBLE
Both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to a forgiving God. Think of Moses, who murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15); Jonah, who fled from God's command (Jonah 1); David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:14-17); Rahab, who was a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2); and Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus after spending three years with Him (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-17 and 25-27). Each of these—and dozens of other men and women like them in Scripture—stand as monuments of God's grace (Hebrews 11).
None stands taller than Jesus, of course, who said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18–19). His ministry, he said, would be marked by fresh starts and second chances for those whom many view as outcasts.
And that's exactly what we see when we examine Jesus' life. We see how He redeemed and elevated people others convicted and condemned. We see that He professed the unfaltering power of redemption in their lives.
Zacchaeus the tax collector, for example, was considered a sinner by his neighbors (Luke 19:1–10). When Zacchaeus shows he has changed and is making amends by giving possessions to the poor, Christ responds by saying, "Today salvation has come to this house." When the criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus asks for Him to remember him, Christ responds by saying He will see him in paradise (Luke 23:32–43).
But Jesus doesn't envision His forgiveness stopping with Him.
PEOPLE OF SECOND CHANCES
Just as God is in the business of giving second chances, He wants His people to do the same. In fact, Jesus explains that forgiving others is tied to our own forgiveness: "But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). Ephesians 4:32, likewise, exhorts: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
God's people are to offer second chance opportunities because they have each been given the ultimate second chance in Christ. Proverbs even speaks of the virtue of unlocking second chances, saying, "It is to one's glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11b).
The Apostle Peter once came to Jesus and asked how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Surely seven times would be enough, Peter reasoned. But Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Jesus is not saying that holding someone accountable is wrong. Rather, he is employing figurative language to convey the idea of continual forgiveness. God's people are to a give second chance as often as someone truly seeks it.
This raises a very real concern, however. It can be confusing to discern the difference between offering continual second chances to a person and reconciling with them.
WISELY EXTENDING SECOND CHANCES
Extending a formerly incarcerated person a second chance is not the same thing as reconciliation. Giving someone 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" (Ephesians 4:28).
By walking alongside those who need a second chance, we can help bring God's healing into their lives and our communities.
WHAT DO YOU SAY ABOUT SECOND CHANCES?
As Christians, we know the Gospel changes people, but do we believe changed people can, in turn, change other people, communities, or even nations? We love the redemption stories of Moses and Paul—both of whom had blood on their hands—but are we willing to challenge the cultural barriers that would make us think twice before welcoming either of those men into our lives today?
What do you say about second chances?
If you're ready to join us in breaking barriers and unlocking brighter futures for the approximately 70 million Americans with a criminal record, click here to learn how you can get involved in Second Chance Month.
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