I just heard the best sermon. It was heartbreaking, encouraging, challenging, convicting and loving. It was in a letter from a friend of mine, from jail. Great guy, great heart. But he will be the first to tell you that he had let the vices of the world gain control over him and that poor path choices can take you further out of the way than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay and cost you more than you wanted to pay.
We all struggle with always doing what we know is the “right thing”. We even know that in doing the wrong thing, the prospective consequences can be severe. Yet for some reason, we also have the thought dancing in the back of our head “but what are the chances?” So, while cautious folks only need the threat of a consequence to steer them back into line, the more adventurous/rebellious types may be willing to risk it. Some even laugh in the face of the ramifications of getting caught. Some folks are so controlled by addiction that there is no thought at all of the consequences. They only feel the clinking chain of their bondage leading them, and they have no resistance to follow. They don’t even know where they are going anymore. This is the way satan wants us. Unable to resist the things that “steal, kill and destroy” us. Jesus wants the opposite for us – He wants to give us “life and life in all of its fullness”. (John 10:10)
My friend, who is incarcerated in man’s jail where the food is scant and terrible, loneliness is stifling and cabin fever is a chronic condition, has discovered that the full life that Jesus talks of bringing, can be ours even in the circumstances where you cannot even use the restroom without permission and an audience. He has been set free! He is still behind bars, but the Lord is there with him, lifting his mind and spirit to the heavenly realms. Jesus has redeemed the situation that put him there and used him to minister to others who feel they have done too much “bad” to receive Jesus’s redemption. He says he often doesn’t feel he is making any headway with the other inmates, but he realizes he is called to sow and God will provide the yield.
Have you done anything that you think is “too bad” for Jesus’s atoning sacrifice to cover? Think again. He has redeemed murderers, thieves, adulterers, racists, haters, narcissists, money and power mongrels, those with mental illness, etc. and these are just some of those mentioned in the back half of the Bible. You would not be the first to have the worst kind of sin made new. Paul murdered many Christians, Matthew ripped off poor and vulnerable tribemates, Mary was a demon possessed prostitute, Nicodemus was a legalistic religious leader. All of these were redeemed. Changed. Made new. They recognized their depravity and repented to follow Jesus. They accepted what Jesus’s blood did for them. Often, the biggest sin is thinking “I’m not that bad.” Well, we aren’t perfect, and that is enough “bad” to keep us out of heaven and away from a perfect God. We too must accept Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf to gain forgiveness.
My friend gets this! And so, the Muslim cell mate who is in for murder, and the gang member who says he has done too much bad, are hearing of God’s grace and mercy bringing sanctification (sort of a soul-deep cleansing) to all who ask. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t earn it.
My friend said in his letter, “If anyone needs encouragement who is going through a trial right now, tell them you know a former alcoholic whose life has been changed by the loving correction of God’s grace. Hebrews 12:5-13.”
There are lots of things that my friend is enduring right now that are terrible, including that he doesn’t know when he will be set free in man’s terms. But he already is, for “if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” John 8:36
My friend inspired and challenged me to live more like I am free. To celebrate my freedom and share with others how they can have it, too. Just like the apostle Paul who wrote his Biblical letters to believers while in jail, in my friend’s situation, he has encouraged my faith and my walk with Jesus. I hope he has done the same for you.