This is a lightly edited version of a letter I recently wrote to an inmate struggling with drug addiction and its consequences. I have removed his name and any details that could identify him—but the story of the gospel that he needs to hear is not one that we can repeat too often.
Your story breaks my heart. Of course I don’t know the details. I don’t know who introduced you to the drugs that have caused such devastation in your life. I don’t know what made them seem attractive. I don’t know who tried to stop you. I don’t know if you still desire to change.
Yet while there is much about you that I don’t know, there are a few things that I do know. I do know that you were created in the image of God, which makes your life of infinite value, no matter where you have been or what you have done. I know that you are a sinner—Scripture teaches that all men are—and that your sin problem runs far deeper than the abuse of the drugs you have become addicted to.
We often think of sin in terms of “doing bad things,” yet doing “bad things” is never our worst problem. What makes us sinners, worthy of the judgment of God, is not that we have broken the laws of our society, but that we have rebelled against our Creator. Perhaps you know the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam decided that he didn’t want to listen to God anymore. He wanted to make his own rules, taking a place that belonged only to God. There was no way that God could let rebellion like that go unpunished. The rule of the universe is that sinners must die. God is so good that the only sufficient punishment for those who rebel against Him is death. A good God cannot let the guilty go free. That is bad news for guilty sinners like us.
The good news, the only truly good news to be found in a world full of false promises, is what God did next. In the person of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, God Himself took on flesh and became a human being. Even though He was exposed to all the temptations that we are exposed to, He never faltered, not even once. After living a perfect life, He willingly took upon Himself, for the sake of all of those who would trust in Him, the sentence of death that was rightly due to us. On the cross, Jesus did far more than bear the cruelty of the Roman guards. He took on Himself God’s condemnation of sin, the judgement of God that you and I deserve. He stood in our place. He paid our debt.
On our behalf, He conquered sin and death and rose victorious from the grave. He now offers that power, the power that defeated death itself, to anyone and everyone who will turn from their sin and trust Him as their Savior. He offers a free and a full pardon; to the nice and to the nasty, to the young and to the old, to the rich and to the poor, to the smug and to the desperate, no exceptions.
God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t do plea bargains. He didn’t come down to earth to give us the power to carry out our own agenda without any more hang ups. He came to give us life—a life more abundant than we could ever imagine. He has promised, not only to save those who call upon Christ, but also to transform their lives from the inside out, till everything about them reflects the glorious beauty of Jesus Himself.
This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if you have ever heard it before. Perhaps you have heard it a hundred times, perhaps never. What I do know is that this gospel is your only hope. Rehab may be able to change your habits. It will never change the heart that formed them. Only Jesus can do that.
It is because of what Jesus has done—and what He is still doing—that Westside Baptist Church exists. Jesus has changed, and is still changing us. He can change you too. Write me back. Tell me your story. I promise to listen—and to keep telling you about Jesus, who is the only One who can change the ending for the better.