He was a tough one. We met dozens of times and he was always willing to have the conversation. Many times, I left hoping he finally accepted what would save him. But something kept setting him back. What was the obstacle to Salvation that kept him from accepting God’s Love? What could he not get past?
“God won’t forgive me.”
He was, of course, wrong. That is why I visited prisons whenever I could. I wanted to share the Good News for prisoners: All sins can be forgiven!
“Every time you leave, I go back to my cell and realize I am in Hell. Bars and concrete. Outside, more bars and concrete. I close my eyes and think about our conversations. I think about Jesus on Earth. I cry for God to hear me and I think He does. Sometimes, I imagine He is there talking with me. The air gets fresher and I find it easier to breathe. I feel better for a while and fall asleep with the feeling of hope.
“Then I wake up, and even before I open my eyes, I can smell that I am still in Hell. He won’t forgive me. Maybe there are some things that can’t be forgiven.”
For sure, this particular brother had a long history of dubious and horrific offenses against man and God. Alcohol, drugs, parental abuse, foster care, poverty… you could say he was dealt a bad hand, but he made some bad and fearful decisions along the way. But God put the two of us together at this moment and gave me the opportunity to help him accept God once and for all. In retrospect, I could have handled it more professionally.
“That’s it?” I exclaimed as a big smile crossed my face. It was a combination of happiness, surprise, and hope, possibly mixed with a bit too much irreverence. But I recovered nicely. “You don’t think God forgives you? My friend, I believe you are mistaken.”
You see, there are very few requirements for God to forgive everything and anything we have done, are doing, or will do. The Bible tells us what they are. Only one requires a great sacrifice. In the Old Testament, there had to be a sacrifice of blood, usually in the form of a lamb on an altar, to ask for God’s forgiveness.
But the Good News is that the Ultimate Lamb has already been sacrificed for you. Jesus Christ, God’s only son, became man and allowed Himself to be crucified as the blood sacrifice for all of us… and each of us. He knew even then that you and I would be on Earth today and needed to be saved. His blood was sacrificed so you and I can be forgiven.
If you believe that, you are well on the way to forgiveness. The rest is easy! Say you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and believe that His sacrifice paved the way to our redemption and forgiveness.
Then think of all the people in your life. Those who treated you unfairly or badly need to be forgiven by you. The Bible says God will forgive those who forgive others. (Mat 6:14-15) Show them the same forgiveness you seek from God.
Next, think of what you need to be forgiven for. The ancient word for confession literally means “same words”. In other words, If God says it’s a sin, you confess by agreeing you failed to live up to God’s standard in some way.
Finally, comes repentance, or saying you’re sorry. Guess what happens after that? God takes your sins and throws them as far away from you as the East is from the West. (Ps. 103:12) It is no longer part of you. Jesus’ sacrifice took it on and cast it away.
That’s all it takes. Accept Christ as your Savior. Forgive others. Admit your mistakes and seek forgiveness. What you did doesn’t matter. Sins that caused your incarceration are no more an obstacle to being saved as eating someone else’s lunch. Nothing is too big, too bad, or too offensive for God to forgive.
Where you are, what you wear, how you speak, the way you pray… none of it matters at that point. You have a clean slate. A forgiven and wondrous brother of Jesus and son of God. The chains are off, even if you must live out a worldly sentence. But make no mistake, whatever any man says or does to you matters little to our Lord and Savior. God will forgive you, even when it seems no one around you will be so merciful. That is the Good News for prisoners. All sins can be forgiven.