I was thinking about the condition of jails after watching a movie called “The Birdman from Alcatraz” starring Burt Lancaster, one of my favorite actors. The movie is about Robert Stroud, a convicted felon who becomes an expert on birds while imprisoned for life. From the outside, jail cells all look alike, don’t they? You seen one, you’ve seen them all. But from the inside, some prisons rate better than others. Of course, I am talking about real jails here, not the school library where you may have been cooped up lately working on a big assignment that is due soon.
I did a Google search and found articles that detailed inmates’ lists of America’s best jails. One survey showed people were asked to assess cell capacity, TV service, meal quality, and visitation rights. The results indicated that some jails offer a pretty good life, including a good library, workout facilities, smoke-free atmosphere, and continuing education opportunities. One correctional facility in Alaska even provided dormitory style bunk beds, cable TV, regular visits, and a varied meal plan. None of those amenities were available when Stroud was in Alcatraz, or several other prisons he stayed in.
Prison awareness and assessment go me to thinking about a believer’s relationship with Jesus. To someone on the outside, being a Christian can look like a form of imprisonment. Ten Commandments; obligation to hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on Scripture; fasting and prayer; being a part of a Christian community regularly; denying yourself for Christ and His teaching; walking in purity, soundness in speech, life, and love; living missionally; giving generously; stewarding your time, talent, and treasure; serving the poor; being sober-minded. To someone who lives outside of God’s Kingdom and rule, all that church and morality may seem worse than going to prison.
But from the inside, obedience to God actually opens the door to a whole new world of freedom.
Read Romans 6:15-23. When a person is set free from the penalty of sin and the burden of guilt, they are now open and empowered by the Spirit to make choices that bring fulfillment, maturity of character, blessing, and alignment with God’s original design for them.
The apostle Paul, who wrote Romans, as well as a lot of the New Testament, was familiar with the inside of a prison cell. Paul knew that whether we become a slave to sin or a slave to God is not a matter of doing time. It’s a matter of the heart. He learned that with bondage to sin comes an ever-increasing hunger for the kind of thoughts and actions that demean our identity, damage our character, destroy our soul, and dishonor the Lord who made us for so much more.
But Paul argued that with slavery to God comes an ever-increasing desire to do good, to love, to do justly, and to be grateful for the freedoms that bring no regret. And not only the desire, but followers of Christ can access the power of the Holy Spirit to live the sort of life Jesus modeled and promised His followers would have. Paul contrasted two kinds of servitude in Romans 6:23 – one that brings death as its wages; the other results in eternal life…not as wages earned or merited, but as a gift. The contrast between sin and obedience suggests that sin is by nature disobedience to God – which is a way of saying “jail from the inside out.”
Think theologically. Paul states that a Christian has changed masters. Once he or she was a slave to sin, but now they have become a freed slave (willingly) to righteousness. Christian obedience is not forced or legalistic, but a willing decision. Slavery to God produces holiness and the end result is a life well-lived and eternal life. Obeying God is the key to true freedom.
Love is a verb,