According to an American study, within 3 years almost 7 out of 10 released male prisoners will find themselves back in prison. In the UK it is about 10% fewer. When Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years on Robben Island, the question was would he take up the armed struggle again and take revenge on his white persecutors? In fact he showed remarkable tolerance and forgiveness.
In Galatians 5:13-15 Paul tells us that we have been set free from the prison of the Law. Some criminals turn back to crime because they have become institutionalized in prison; they can't live without someone telling them when to get up and when to go to sleep, when to eat and when to wash. They need the ordered life; the hustle and bustle of life outside is beyond them. Some Christians are like this. They feel comfortable if the Law regulates every moment of their life.
On the other hand some criminals repeat their offences because they are professional criminals; this is the only life they know and they enjoy their lives for the easy money and the kicks. Some Christians are like this. They think that freedom from the Law gives them license to sin. Let sin abound so grace may abound. If our sins are forgiven why restrict ourselves?
But Paul tells us that rather than falling into either extreme we must serve one another in love. The whole of the Law is summed up as 'love your neighbor as yourself', but Paul wants us to go beyond that - not only should we love our neighbor, but we must be a slave to them.
Remember Jesus did not stop at loving our neighbors; he shocked his listeners by suggesting that a Samaritan was his neighbor and then told them to love their enemies. Just like Nelson Mandela.
It’s not easy. If nearly 70% of prisoners are recidivists is it any wonder that we so easily slip back into our old ways? It’s the natural thing to do. That is why we need supernatural help. Modern Christians have two approaches to the supernatural: they see it nowhere or they see it everywhere. Miracles are by their very nature rare. Otherwise they would be predictable happenings and absolutely natural. I have never seen a miraculous healing, for example. People tell me that they have, especially on the mission field, but they always seem to occur where there are no medical scientists to examine them. On the other hand some people explain away every miracle, even the resurrection.
I take the view that if Scripture tells me there was a miracle, then I accept the miracle. But I also believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the world and every day is making the dead live. For no-one who is dead in trespasses and sin cane be born again without the Sprit’s enabling. Nor can anyone released from the prison of the Law fail to return there without the Spirit’s help. But for the Holy Spirit we would all be recidivists.