FREE BEHIND BARS
By Don Smarto
Are some prisoners authentic Christians? Are some inmates freer
than some church people?
At first glance, these questions seem simplistic. Those in Prison
Ministry know many offenders are authentic Christians. But how
can a man or woman behind walls, razor ribbon, bars, and heavy
metal doors be more free than people in the free world?
answer begins with a key Scripture, John 8:36 If the Son
sets you free, you are free indeed. In a later passage,
Jesus relates the freedom he is talking about to truth. We tend
to think in black and white; either we are captive or have freedom.
But Jesus was not talking about mobility. Paul was free although
in prison. John was free although in exile.
A prisoner who repents, accepts Gods forgiveness, prays,
and accepts the Holy Spirits guidance in reading the Word
daily can be an authentic growing believer and be free
on the inside. I have met many such inmates over my years in ministry.
There are many church people who are captive. We
can play church, yet be a prisoner to lies and deception.
Of course, many good people might be quick to respond:
Im not a heroin addict. I have not committed adultery.
I never robbed a bank. I never murdered anyone. These attitudes
can easily lead to thinking they are better than a convicted criminal.
And here is where many fail to see Gods perspective. This
type of thinking can lead to self-righteousness.
Some church people may not be heroin users but abuse prescription
drugs. Some may not commit adultery but are addicted to pornography.
Some may not rob banks but cheat customers, cheat on their taxes,
and pad expense accounts. Some may not murder but refuse to forgive
brothers and sisters and hate their neighbor. It is too easy to
think we are good if we go to church and have never
been arrested or convicted of a crime.
God has a higher standard. He sees our secrets. He is witness
to our hidden sins. He knows our true character. God is not impressed
with our titles, resume, letters of recommendation, or church
activity. He knows our heart. A condemned criminal hanging on
a cross beside our Lord was promised paradise. He came to
his senses like so many prisoners in juvenile facilities,
jails, and prisons.
The next time you are tempted to think of yourself as a good
person because you compare yourself to a person with a public
record of crime, look at Gods standards in his Word.
Inventory your attitudes; Are you prone to bouts of anger? Do
you speak harshly to your spouse? Are you proud or self-righteous?
Look at your behaviors: Do you abuse alcohol? Do you view pornography?
Do you cheat on your taxes?
Going to church in the free world does not make you
a better person than an inmate who attends prison chapel. There
are church people who are more captive than some prisoners.
All of us can receive Gods grace and mercy. All of us are
sinners in need of redemption. There are no good people,
just people who truly follow the Lord or are faking it. And that
is equally true for prisoners and church people.