“Discipleship is a tricky business sometimes,” began the man introduced one Sunday morning as the head of the prison ministry. “You don’t always know how new believers are internalizing Scriptural truths, or some aspect of Christianity that you are explaining. They can parrot the right words back, but they might misunderstand those words – significantly sometimes.”
Such was the case with one prisoner — Jim let’s say. Jim was convicted of bank robbery and sent to the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, WA (USA).
Despite his previous lapses in judgement, Jim did make one excellent decision in prison: He joined the prison ministry and prayed to received Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He began their discipleship program, attended their worship services, and read the Bible. From all outward appearances, Jim was growing spiritually and changing for the better. In this correctional facility, Christ, through His Word and Spirit, was correcting much of Jims life; just as He does for all who believe in Him and dedicate their hearts and lives to Him.
Jim was released after having exchanged a half-dozen years of his life in payment for the crime he had committed. Several months later, Jim was once again wearing Monroe’s familiar jumpsuit.
“I couldn’t believe he was back. We thought for sure he would never reoffend: Not Jim! We were desperate to discover the whys and wherefores of his return. We questioned him calmly and thoroughly to understand his thought processes. We wanted to help prevent others in our ministry from reoffending. What did the ministry miss? Did we not see something, or hear something, that could have helped him?
“When we asked him how his faith in Christ had changed his life outside of prison, Jim answered ‘Well, this time, before I robbed a bank, I prayed for God to help me.’”
That was an astonishing response, but I believe God answered his prayer by sending him back to prison for a second shot at discipleship, and to hopefully get it right this time.
Unfortunately, just like us, Jim didn’t apply all of God’s truth to his heart and mind perfectly. There was a notable gap . . . a blind spot. When Jim read “You shall not steal” in Exodus 20:15, and the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:28, “He who steals must steal no longer” (NAS), part of him wasn’t completely transformed by those truths. He hadn’t completely repented of his past actions.
It is easy for us to see the plank in Jim’s eye, but we are just like him. Do we have things in our possession that we haven’t bought: software, music, games – hey, would ya’ make me a copy? – clothes, hotel towels, movies, jewelry, anything? If we do, then we stole it. No, no . . . we stole it. It doesn’t matter if everyone else does it, nor does it matter if we took it from a big company, a rich person, or a faceless institution – it’s stolen. Period.
Confess, repent, and steal no more.