“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
- Romans 6:16 (ESV)
An intelligent man I greatly admire intently listened to the testimony of my life. After hearing every antic, every failed attempt at success, every mistake, every corruptible action I had ever made; he then looked at me and gave me his assessment. I wanted him to. I needed words, his words to resonate deep and my mind. I wanted my mind to swell up like water-soaked timber; even after the words dried up, the marks from the swelling would always remain evident. I waited. After a few minutes, he finally said to me, “It sounds like to me; you’ve given ‘Satan’ some serious hard time.”
It never really struck me that I had been a prisoner my entire life. As a Christian, I have always been familiar with Romans and its recurring theme of being “slaves to sin.” Maybe the whole idea of imprisonment or slavery never really sunk in as deep as it should have. After hearing the phrase, “hard time”, I then realized what being a “slave to sin” truly meant. If one were to pick apart the definition Paul gives in Rom. 6:16, it would seem simple enough to grasp. This is not true at all. It took just two words to be said to me before my life started to make a little sense. I found myself meditating on what was said. Hard time. I felt like a ‘bad-ass.’ All prisoners are ‘bad-asses’ right? Hard time. I was caged because I wanted to be caged. I was sentenced to death by humanity.
People are generally told by the Christian church about how getting “saved” will change their lives. Yes, this is true. But what the Christian church fails to tell its newfound converts is the part where their conscience is made new by the Holy Spirit. Yes. A truly, radically saved Christian will go from no conscience to having one. The things they enjoyed in their sin, they now hate. This truth is discovered in the most excruciating ways. New convert’s lives are destroyed by the lies told to them from the people who, in good mind and heart, meant to save them!
When someone goes to prison, their lives change. The way prisoners live on the inside is different from the way they live on the outside. Everything is different for a prisoner: the food, the beds, the habitat, the environment and the people surrounding them, when they arise and when they sleep, the human pecking order. Everything changes. With this philosophy in mind, what happens when prisoners are taken from this sort of environment for a long period of time and put in one where they get their freedom back? The answer: nothing makes sense. The way the person thought, ate, slept, spoke, etc.; it just cannot go away over night. As a prisoner, what challenge would there be to prove to the world you have been reformed from the mess you once were? It takes time, hard lessons, people who love you. It takes patience. After all, hard time can do a number on us.
Today, and every day, my prison philosophies still linger. I find myself caged and not wanting to leave the cage. Only after a short time do I want out. But the cage constantly attracts me. Like any prisoner, doing hard time did a number on me. I am fully aware my freedom lies in Jesus. I am fully aware that I am free! But it is hard to reform. Like a prisoner, I feel like I have something to prove to the outside world: I’m not who I was. After all is said and done, I am still doing hard time.