Recidivism is a problem in the American justice system. Recidivism refers to the likelihood of an individual who has been released committing a crime and being sent back to jail. According to the National Institute of Justice, “An estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years” (“Recidivism,” National Institute of Justice, updated May 21, 2019, https://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/recidivism/pages/welcome.aspx). The problem with this statistic is the underlying assumption that imprisoning a criminal fixes the problem. Statistically, once a person has been to prison, they are very likely to continue to commit crimes. The flip side of this is the idea of no prison time for a crime, which doesn’t work either. A balanced approach to criminal justice is needed to fix the recidivism problem in America.
In the church, we have a grace/sin problem. There is an underlying fear that if free grace is preached, then people will feel they can just sin all they want. This concern goes all the way back to the first church, with Paul addressing it in Romans 6:1–14. Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to the problem of “cheap grace” in his book The Cost of Discipleship: “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship [SCM Press, 1959; repr., New York: Touchstone, 1995], 45). The term can be misleading, however, because if it isn’t free, it isn’t grace. The passage in Philippians 2 is a helpful reminder of two very important facts: it is God who is at work in us, and yet we do have a responsibility to approach our salvation “with fear and trembling.”