Pardon over Parole

Hank1 was still incarcerated when I first met him, and now that he was released, I asked him about life on parole. “My parole experience has been a positive one,” he began, speaking from his charitable heart. As we talked, however, it became clear that “positive” didn’t mean “perfect”—that living on parole has its challenges, even for optimists like Hank. “The worst aspect of it is having to notify my parole officer of every movement. And it infringes not just upon me, but now upon my family. My wife comes under parole supervision: there are some Constitutional rights restrictions that she has to abide by, because she is married to me.” Though they live as free people among society—both he who was once incarcerated and she who never has been—they remain under the scrutiny of the penal system. Such is the nature of parole: it places additional duties and restrictions upon some otherwise living in liberty.

But not so, pardon! Freedom for those living under pardon is as complete as if they had never been convicted of their crimes in the first place. Their names are cleared of their wrongdoing (usually by a head-of-state), and all rights are restored. Any further repercussions are eliminated, gone forever. Of the two—pardon or parole—which would you prefer? Yeah, me too.

Sometimes we believers, who in Christ are free from sin, place ourselves and/or others back under the confines of the law, as if to strive for God’s favor by our own good efforts. Legalism can threaten liberty through worship style expectations, “service project” gold stars, or even the way we adorn ourselves. It is like having been pardoned, only to live under the expectations of parole. When this happened in the early Galatian church, Paul exhorted them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”2 We might add: And don’t shackle others under our legalistic expectations, either! On another occasion Paul taught, “Through [Jesus Christ] everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”3 We who are liberated by the gift of pardon must not subject ourselves or anyone else to the demands of parole. Rather, Jesus has set us free, and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”4

Father, thank You for freeing me from sin and the curse of the Law. Grace me to discern deceptions that would lure me away from grace, and fill me with great joy and power as one who has been forever pardoned. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Name has been changed for this post.
2 Galatians 5:1
3 Acts 13:39
4 John 8:36

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