Handcuffed man behind prison bars
Personal Stories

Incarcerated

Will a door be opened?

 

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 

I know someone who has been incarcerated for a number of years. Apparently, he let a family squabble with his wife get out of hand and it escalated into a SWAT matter to which he endangered the lives of a number of the officers. In any event, the District Attorney was none too pleased and a young 30 something ended up in the penitentiary system.

Recently, because he knew that I had some knowledge of religion, he reached out to me for insight.

Here is a portion of my response to him:

 


 

With respect to your question about spirituality. I’ll give you my take.

I’m sure your time of incarceration has given you a lot of time to think about your life, justice, choices and all the conflicts and controversies you deal with.

I can only relate my story.

When we moved to California in 1980, both Sharon and I were questioning all the things that were going on in our lives. We were raised Catholic but that was really unfulfilling and we were both just searching. There didn’t seem to be any answers but at least we, and I see you, are questioning and some of the answers so far, just don’t help.

So here’s the thing. We’re all sinners. We all fall short. I’m not sure who started the theory that man is basically good. I know that sounds really nice. But the fact is, man is not naturally good, they’re naturally bad. Even little babies are more concerned about me and mine than sharing. It takes an effort to be good. We all lie, steal, cheat, and hate. You see bad all around you in prison. Some get caught and fall under the justice system – like you. Other’s either don’t go as far or just don’t get caught. But we all sin, we all do bad and it’s hard to be nice and do good.

The bible says that “all have sinned and fall short”. It also says that “the wages of sin is death”. So not only do we die physically, we die spiritually.

Now, you might ask. So what’s the deal with religion? And someone can say, well, religion is to help us do good. And that’s fine. Religion does try to help people do good. But so does the Boy Scouts. So there has to be something more.

What is it about religion that is so pervasive. I mean, even remote tribes have religion and back to antiquity. So, it’s not an American phenomenon or a recent discovery. There has to be something there. There has to be something innate in mankind. In the wee hours of the night, I did, and I bet you think, “if there’s a God, a heaven, and a hell, what happens when I die?”

Certainly, we don’t even know what happens tomorrow. Are we going to get sick, hurt, killed, or will life just go on? We just don’t know.

Equally, some don’t know what happens when they die. Do we just go out of existence? Or maybe we’re reincarnated into a new life form, like an ant or maybe we move up to a higher status. Maybe we just go to sleep – until what, I don’t know, but some believe that’s a possibility.

Somehow, we feel that there’s got to be something more, something beyond our existence here on earth.

But the Bible says, although you don’t know what may happen to you tomorrow, you can know what happens to you when you die. We do have an eternal existence and when we die, we either go to heaven or hell and forever. The bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” So, how are we judged and what do we have to do or not do to go to heaven or hell.

Now, theoretically, there seem to be tons of religions in the world, Judaism, Atheism, Mormonism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, and on and on and on.

But, in reality, there’s only two religions – faith and works.

Now, what do I mean?

I mean, we have religions that say you need to do certain good works or not do certain bad works or both, in order to get to heaven or conversely, to go to hell.

But, there’s one religion that says salvation is by grace through faith which furthermore are free gifts and doesn’t require any good works, in fact, it produces good works.

So, for example, Catholicism states that you need to be baptized, you need to go to confession, and you need to avoid sin in order to go to heaven. When you die, if you have mortal or serious sins that are unforgiven, you will go to hell, if you have venial or more minor sins you will go to purgatory to continue to work off your sins before you get to go to heaven.  If you die without mortal or venial sins, you get to go to heaven. How many do that?

Other religions, basically weigh your good works and avoidance of bad works, on one hand, against your bad works, on the other hand, and if you do more good than bad you go to heaven. If not, you go to hell.

Only one religion, the religion of true biblical Christianity is different. Christianity states that if you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and believe that He died for your sins, was buried and rose again, and accept that as a free gift, you are saved and will go to heaven. In fact, you can never lose your salvation. The Bible states that “for by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”

So, instead of doing good works to obtain salvation, Christianity and the Bible teaches that we are saved through grace and faith, both a free gift and once saved we do good works as a result of our salvation. Exactly the opposite of what all other religions teach.

Again, all other religions require good works and/or the absence of bad works as a means to salvation. Christianity states that the free gifts of faith and grace give us salvation and that once saved, we respond with good works as a result of salvation. Now, Christians are not perfect, but true Christians produce good works, and the bible says you will “know them by their works”.

Read and think about what I’ve said. This is not a minor issue. True believers don’t lose their faith or religion. Sharon and I have believed the same things since 1980. It is part of our lives. It’s also not easy. There is more bias against Christians than against any other group except Jews, so it’s easier to continue to deny and be bad.

You should have some prison ministry. Most prisons have a ministry. Seek their insight. If you have access to a smartphone, listen to John MacArthur – gty.org. Get a bible and start by going through John and 1John in the new testament.

Do you want to change your life? Do you want a bigger purpose?

There’s no big religious ceremony. There’s no need for an intermediary. You don’t need a priest or minister.

Just pray directly to God,

“Lord, I believe Jesus died for my sins and I accept his free gift and know that as a result I am saved. I’m sorry for all my sins and I want to turn my life around and serve you. I want to know more about you and I want you to be my father. Help me Lord to know you and love you.”

That’s it. It’s as easy as that. Think about it and pray.

You can get to know the true God who really loves you even unconditionally.

You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Let me know how you’re doing. We’ll continue to pray for you.

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