Thinking Out Loud

April 9, 2015

Spiritual Recidivism: Returning to the Old Haunts, Old Friends, Old Ways

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually ‘learn’ sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them.

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.



  1. Reblogged this on thehopeforlife and commented:
    This is a great post!

    Comment by chaplainmiller — April 9, 2015 @ 7:19 am

  2. Reblogged this on Stumbling into Grace and commented:
    I do what I hate to do

    Comment by Stumbling into GRACE — April 9, 2015 @ 10:05 am

  3. amen – good post – we have God’s grace don’t we? I know I certainly need it and will need it until the day I leave this world!

    Comment by Planting Potatoes — April 9, 2015 @ 10:14 am

  4. I’ve been reading about this same subject. And the fact is, Christians have the tendency to go from Justification: believing Christ died for our sins and we’re forgiven… Sanctification: trying to become more Christ-like. We forget there’s the matter of Identification with Christ’s death on the cross that Paul talks about in Romans 6.

    “knowing this, our old self was crucified with Him that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no long be slaves to sin”Romans 6:6

    “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” vs 11

    Our enthusiasm and love for Christ compels us to live like him and not sin, but we in ourselves are powerless. We often feel defeated like Paul mentioned in Romans 7.

    So Christians must identify with Christ on the cross and consider/reckon/Believe our old man was crucified with Christ.

    It doesn’t stop us from sinning. We’re human. But I think the pattern is to give in during temptation and go back to our old lifestyle and self…INSTEAD of remembering our old self is DEAD.

    “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” Gal 2:20

    Comment by Karen Foster — April 9, 2015 @ 11:20 am

  5. I think one of the reasons we harken back to our old carnal habits is we are familiar with them and the devil we know is sometimes less scary than the righteousness we don’t know.

    Comment by joseph elon lillie — April 9, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

  6. Thanks to those of you who waited all day for comment approval; I ended up offline for about nine hours.

    Joseph’s comment particular gives us much to think about:

    …the devil we know is sometimes less scary than the righteousness we don’t know.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 9, 2015 @ 6:26 pm

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