Why I Love Jail Church
Many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:14
Years ago, an older, more mature Christian saw in me the need for guidance and offered to mentor me. I was too arrogant to acknowledge my need, but I agreed to meet. In our first meeting, he insisted that I accept the doctrine of predestination – that God picks who goes to heaven or hell and that we have no free will. There’s nothing we can or cannot do. He picks us or he doesn’t.
To be fair, there are passages (such as today’s) in the Bible that support this doctrine. I’ve always been pretty opinionated though, and I believed there were plenty of passages in the Bible that also said we must make a choice. So, we argued a bit and parted ways, never to meet again. Over the years, I’ve participated in many such arguments in church, which have usually led to division and conflict.
Passages like today’s are difficult. What did Jesus mean? God wants everyone to come to him, but he only chooses a few? Do we have free will if God knows everything ahead of time? Is everything I do predestined? Was I destined to be an addict?
The truth is, the Bible teaches both predestination (God chooses) and free will (that we must make a choice). I don’t understand how they’re both true, and any explanation that I attempt usually means I get it wrong in emphasizing one side over another, leading to conflict with those who disagree.
Here’s what I love about volunteering at Sunday morning jail church. In jail church, we never argue about this kind of thing. In jail, we simply know that we’re a mess without God and we know how badly we need his love, grace, and mercy. In jail, we talk about the mistakes we’ve made, and we talk about how we must abandon ourselves to follow Christ daily.
We know that God must have reached out to us first, but we know that it’s now our responsibility to respond in purposeful obedience. We’re not responsible for understanding the mysteries of predestination and free will. We know that God will always do his part. Now, we must daily abandon our self-destructive ways to follow him. In jail, we don’t argue about mysteries we can’t understand. We’re just trying to follow God out of our mess. That’s why I love jail church.