From time to time, when I’m talking with someone about my ministry in Wisconsin’s prisons, they say something like, “It must be difficult to share Jesus with people in prison.” Perhaps they say that because they think that most people in prison are not even slightly interested in reading God’s Word, coming to a Bible study, meeting with a pastor, or changing their sinful lifestyle.
And if that were true, then it would be very difficult to share Jesus with anyone in prison (or anywhere else for that matter!).
But that’s not what I think about when someone says to me, “It must be difficult….” Instead, I think about how difficult it is for me to admit that I’m just as sinful as anyone in prison. Because of Satan, the sinful world around me and the “Old Adam” inside of me, it’s very difficult to admit that I am just as guilty and just as deserving of God’s punishment in hell as anyone I visit in prison. No more. No less. It’s difficult for me not to look at their sins and think that my sins are not as bad. There’s a Pharisee inside of me who says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers…” (Luke 18:11 – EHV).
But it’s not true! God’s Word tells me that I am just as lost in sin as anyone else. God’s Word teaches me that I need to repent of my sins every day, just like everyone else. And God’s Word tells me the good news that a holy God in heaven has forgiven all my sins for Jesus’ sake, because he forgave all sinners! And through the Holy Spirit’s working in me, that’s what I believe.
And that’s why I ask for my Father’s forgiveness whenever I go to one of Wisconsin’s prisons to lead a Bible study, meet with an individual, lead a worship service, or commune one of our fellow WELS members. In fact, without the Holy Spirit’s help, it wouldn’t just be difficult — to admit that I’m just as sinful, just as guilty, and just as deserving of God’s punishment in hell as anyone I visit — it would be impossible. So, I thank God, the Holy Spirit, that he both leads me to repentance, and then pours out upon my heart the comfort of sins forgiven, thereby equipping me to share this same comfort with the people I serve.