My winning piece in the Nazarene NWI District writing competition!
I have never been to prison, and I never want to go there. I hear it’s a really brutal place. Neither have I ever thought that I might already be there, and now that I have, I have never been so eager to be free. Let me show you what I mean.
Life as Prison
Prisoners have limited freedom. They go where they're told, eat what they're given, and spend most of their time in cold iron cells. They are basically subjects of the system; men and women who've traded their freedom for the slavery that sin reaps. How different are we? As fallen men, we are limited by our own sin--as long as we are held to it, we cannot be free. Sin is not only the crime. Sin is a punishment in and of itself. Take a look at someone who is doing time in his own, self-made prison. Often the captivity leads to depression, guilt, brooding, or rage. What are these emotions if not signs of spiritual imprisonment?
Prisoners are cut off from the outside world. Often, inmates have no way of keeping in touch with loved ones or staying up to date with current news. They can only see through the iron bars of their cell and into...more prison. Lonely, impersonal hallways and more cells are all they can perceive. Sadly, this is what many people witness when they look at life. For its victims, the bondage of sin is like anesthesia. Once it enters the soul, it numbs them until they are incapable of feeling joy or hope. It generates apathy and cynicism about the possibility of anything beyond the present. Prison is terminal. For every prisoner it will end in some way, whether they are serving a life sentence, on death row, or just doing small time. Even the prison is not permanent. It, too, will be destroyed someday. Neither will we be here forever. We have all done time. Many of us are doing time right now, but there is a way to get out. The problem is, too few people know that you don't just have to live out your life sentence in sin's prison waiting to die. There is another way.
In our American system of law and justice, there is something known as a pardon. A pardon is an early release because of good behavior. In our prison of sin, good behavior may garner you respect, friends, and fame; but there is no pardon from death and captivity that you can get, no matter how perfectly you behave. The amount of good you do is not relative to the amount of freedom granted to you. Many prisoners keep spinning their wheels when they have no tires, always trying to get somewhere, but never succeeding in anything grander than destroying themselves. It will never come that way.
One system we do not have in America (though it was a practice long ago) is the act of substitution. It used to be that if a man was charged to die, one who sympathized with him could choose to die in his place. The law only required that someone pay for the crime.
Knowing this, knowing that it was the only way for us to truly live, God sent his only Son into our prison in order to bring us out with him. That is why He had to die, and we should be thankful to let Him die in our place; its what He came to do, since He alone has power over death. Once you accept His offer of life, you are released from the prison of sin and can truly live. Though we are still tied to this Earth, it is like living with one foot in freedom, waiting for the day that we will be renewed completely. Someone must die for your sin. Will it be you or Him?
One Foot in Freedom
My prison is self-made. It is something I created in a vain effort to gain peace. You see, people try to use sin to gain comfort and fulfillment. They invest their time and energy into building castles, only to find that they cannot escape from the high-wrought walls they've constructed. People build differently--they use different materials. Some people build their walls with lies, or hate, or lust, or greed. It doesn't matter how you build your prison, you will occupy it.
My prison still stands, dark and foreboding, but gloriously empty. I no longer occupy it. I was offered life for my life sentence, and gladly accepted it. Now I am living life freely, with one foot out the door. And the weather on the outside is beautiful.