This is the conclusion of Garth Young’s story. If you missed the beginning, last Sunday, you can find it here. If you would like to contact Garth directly, please email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * * * *
For the past eight years I have been evangelizing at the Clackamas County Jail. All the men at CCJ are criminals; many are hardened men and are hostile toward anything that doesn’t satisfy their own cravings for self-centered hedonism. My purpose in going into the jail is to declare the essential themes of God’s word, to the men – having had so much in common with them, spiritually speaking. The following is what I preach and hold dear.
The bible declares that Jesus is the Son of God, the unblemished sacrificial lamb who gave himself as a ransom for sinners. One of the fascinating things about the bible is that over a span of thousands of years, with many different human writers, disciples everywhere know it has only one Author. All the writings of scripture are inspired by God and without error. God reveals himself to us through his word and has given an undeniable calling to follow Jesus; his sheep will hear his voice and follow him. The message of the bible is often referred to as “the gospel” and means “good news” or “glad tidings”.
The good news is that God the father sent God the son into our broken, fallen world as a servant in order to purchase salvation for all who will believe. Here is the gospel in three points (1) Everyone is guilty of sin (Rom 3:23), (2) The penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23), and (3) Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom 5:8). The entire bible from Genesis to Revelation is pointing to Jesus. His death actually purchased salvation for the people of God. Salvation is a free gift that cannot be earned, and everyone who believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth that God raised Jesus from the dead will be saved (Rom 10:9).
Jesus’ crucifixion seemed like a simple punishment for criminals of the day, but divine meaning of sacrifice can hardly be overstated. The cross is the place where the justice of God and the love of God come together, the very same place where justice was satisfied and love was poured out like a river.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what sets captives free, and we who were imprisoned experience that very freedom as we trust in the great achievement of Christ for ourselves. Jesus led a perfect life without sin; he was God in human form. So, for a sinner like me, here’s where the good news becomes even better: the perfection that was required of me and was impossible for me to accomplish was achieved through Christ’s perfect obedient life. The death that I should have died, Jesus experienced, taking all my sins with him and nailing them to the cross. Because Christ was raised from the dead there is complete assurance that I am not still in my sins and my faith in him is real because He lives forevermore.
One way of explaining this is to say my deepest motivations had changed. When God put faith into my heart I came to know Jesus, who he was, and what he did was for me personally. Along with this miracle came the new desire to follow Jesus – a desire stronger than sin. The flesh is still there with its sinful desires but the new desire is the motivation for following Christ. Now that I have been raised with Christ, I am to set my mind on things above where he is, seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1). The goal of growth, discipleship, and maturity can truly be pursued now since he has covered me with his righteousness and I have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:12-14).
God’s word is much more than instruction. He speaks to me through his word and has communicated to me, that I am his. I also understand through reading the bible that as a follower of Jesus, I must persevere and continue trusting him, knowing he will finish the good work he has started in me. The evidence of faith is works. If someone says they have faith without works then their faith is dead (James 2:26). There must be a good fruit that comes from a heart of faith, because if there is no godly fruit it’s not a real faith that saves. More importantly, what is the basis of your faith? Paul says you are saved by grace through faith and not of works lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9). The basis of real saving faith can only be found when it is resting upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Some may want to say that their faith is based in how hard they worked, how strong they were, how smart they were, what church they attended, how many good things they did, how devoted they were, all in his name, etc. but on that final day Jesus will say I never knew you (Matt 7:23).
January 6, 2002 is the last time we attended a meeting at the Oregon City Followers of Christ. Prior to our departure we heard the gospel - through the hearing and reading of God’s word. The hearing came through our radio. It was at this point that we seriously began to seek something more than the FOC. There were many convictions, but what was most disturbing was the idea that going to that church would in some way make me holy. I didn’t have a lot of understanding, but I did understand the only way I could be justified was through faith in Jesus. I was very immature when we left, but ten years later I can truly say God has been abundantly merciful. We have come so far since the day we first understood the good news, and there is no wondering if we have made the right decision.
We had nowhere to go. We just wanted to find a church where God’s word is taught and believed. Elaine and I were baptized September 8, 2002 in Kooskia, Idaho. We had made some friends in Kooskia because that was the home church of one of the radio speakers we listened to. It wasn’t easy finding a new church as well. Our marriage was struggling but eventually the Lord sent Christian people our way who sat down with us and helped us work out the problems in our marriage. After eighteen months of going from church to church we finally settled down and began regularly attending a church in Gladstone, OR where we have stayed and have matured significantly in the love of Christ.
Now our hearts have come to rest in the comfort of our heavenly father. In view of the supremacy of God nothing else matters, the main purpose for which everyone is created is to bring him glory and enjoy him forever; it is only by his working in people that anyone can will or do anything that pleases him. He is the one that matters and he is the only one worthy of worship.
As I said in the beginning, this is a brief summary. It’s not possible to touch on everything that could or should be said. I have tried to put everything on the table that is crucial to understanding what has happened to Elaine and me, and how the grace of God has changed us from the inside out.
In conclusion, there is an invitation and a warning. I sincerely invite anyone to dialogue with me about any of the questions that may have come up in your mind as you read this. The only reason I have written this is because it seems a fitting platform to reach people I dearly love, the same people that may not otherwise be reached. Secondly, in view of the distorted emphasis that salvation is somehow connected to being part of the OC FOC, and the lack of bible teaching, I do not see how it is possible for the truth to be achieved while remaining at FOC, in its current state. The FOC has insulated itself from the truth, and is leading people in a path away from the righteousness of God. I know that may seem offensive, and many will not want to hear about the responsibility they have. The truth is that God is in control and people are held responsible for their lives. The question you must ask yourself is, am I in Christ because of His mercy and grace? Or am I standing upon the merit of my good works?