The Expository Files


 Grace & Prison: A Connection?

Is there a connection? There certainly is, at least in America’s prisons anyway. We have a rule of law within America and certain laws, when broken, carry with them a designated amount of prison time. The prison time is set by a judge who sometimes has leeway. For example, a maximum sentence might be 20 years, but the judge only gives 15. Could a lighter than the maximum sentence be considered grace? It could, but really it is the judge’s judgment to determine what time is most appropriate for the crime.

But built within our prison system, is a policy of grace. We as a society have agreed, that if someone proves they have rehabilitated (repented) and demonstrated good behavior (deeds of repentance), then they have the possibility of parole (a degree of pardon/mercy). This policy is EVEN applied to murderers in some instances! Now think about parole for a minute. Is parole something that a felon “earns”? In other words, if the parole board grants a felon parole, did it do so because it was obligated to do so; did it do so because it was owed to the felon for behaving properly? Absolutely NOT! The felon should be good whether he gets parole or not, he was merely fulfilling the actions of being a good citizen. IF he gets parole, in light of his good behavior, he has still received his parole by grace of the parole board.

Now, this is simply an illustration. I know there are innocent people in jail, I know parole boards are made up of humans that make human errors and that they are capable of making incorrect judgments. But the point is not the intricacies of the parole board, but rather the fact, that as a society we can easily see that grace is attained by unmerited favor EVEN when one does good works. There is no felon who leaves prison early because our society owes it to them because of their good and proper behavior while they were in prison. I don’t care if the inmate knitted free sweaters for premature babies that were born into poverty, the sentence that they received was just by the nature of the law, and if they get out of prison early, they do so by the grace built into the system.

Likewise, a felon having received the grace, can easily fall from that grace. Grace may be unmerited, but it is not unconditional. When a parole board gives grace to a felon there are strict requirements they must adhere to in order to remain free. If they fail to uphold those requirements, then they will be sent back to jail. If they do not uphold those requirements, they will fall from the grace we as a society granted them. That does not lessen our grace as a society in any way; but rather, it demonstrates that our grace is pure and just. If we let felons who received parole go on to commit crimes without any penalty; what would that say about us as a society? Would we be admired for our love, our tolerance, our high-minded thinking; or would we be seen as fools, unjust, and backwards?

The parallels of course should be easily seen in the grace we receive in Christ Jesus. Though I may be obedient in accord with the plan of salvation God has granted me, I still receive that grace through Christ and nothing else. Nothing I do, in the absence of what Christ has done, can save my soul. (Acts 4:12).  Likewise, having been saved in Christ Jesus, it is not a permit to go out and sin. (Romans 6:1; I Peter 2:16) God’s grace is not a license to engage in sin. If I continue in sin, after having received the grace of God, then I actually dishonor and reject the grace of God .(Hebrews 10:26-27; II Peter 2:20) Grace is not hard to understand. It is just difficult to apply because Satan has hardened hearts and blinded eyes. Through the eyes of a felon (sinner) may we better understand and appreciate this precious gift God has given us called grace, and may we share the message of salvation in obedience.

By David Osteen 
From Expository Files 18.6; May 2011