For the most part, the men we teach in cell block 1-A have reached rock bottom. Just the day before our last study, one of the men was sentenced to a minimum of 51 years. These men are in desperate need of hope, which of course, is what the gospel provides.
However, one of the problems teaching these men is that their thinking has been cluttered with unbliblical teaching that gives them false hope. Nearly all of these men consider themselves to be Christians, though they haven’t obeyed the gospel.
So here was our approach the other evening. At the beginning of the class, I asked these believers in Jesus if they had ever been baptized. All of them had been. I then asked them if they were saved before or after their baptism. Most, if not all, said, “before.” Now that I had them on record, we proceeded with the study.
I remember an illustration that Guy N. Woods used years ago when teaching about obedience. This may not be exactly what he said, but it is close. I asked them, “If God said go South in a car in order to get a job in a factory, what would you have to do to be obedient?” “Could I go North?” I asked. “No,” they said. “That would be disobedience.” “Could I go South in a bus?” I asked. “No,” they all replied. They all agreed that going on a bus would be disobedient because God said to go in a car.” Then I said, “What if I went South, in a car, and took a job as a lawyer?” Again, they all replied, “That would also be disobedience since I took a job as a lawyer when God said to take a job in a factory.” We discussed and explored these questions for a little while then I summarized by saying, “So, what we’re saying is that in order to obey God, not only must we obey the “WHAT,” (going South), but we must also obey the “HOW” (in a car), and the “WHY” (to get a job in a factory). Again they agreed.
At this point, the principle had been established and the inmates wholeheartedly consented to it. Now it would be a matter of their hearts. We moved from talking about “going South” to “being baptized.” We examined the “WHAT” passages that commanded baptism. Then we examined the “HOW” passages concerning baptism (i.e. baptism is a burial Romans 6:3-4). Finally, we examined the “WHY” passages concerning baptism (i.e. in order to receive remission of sins Acts 2:38). I asked them if they still believed that the “WHAT,” “HOW,” and “WHY” need to be observed in order to be obedient to God. Suddenly, one man jumped up from his chair and said, “I need to be scripturally baptized. I didn’t do it for the right reason!” Then another man in the back of the class said, “I was sprinkled with water, do I need to be baptized?” I simply said, “If you went South on a bus, would that be obedience?” He then said, “I have to be ‘re-baptized!'” Another man in the class said, “We’ve been deceived into thinking we had obeyed God when we haven’t.” In fact, he said, “My young son was just ‘saved’ two weeks ago and is going to be baptized.” I am so thankful that I can now talk to him and teach him the truth about salvation and obedience.”
In all, 6 of the 20 men that night have put in a request to the jail to allow them to be baptized into Christ! This incident is just another demonstration of the power of truth, planted in the soil of honest hearts. Remember this: The people with whom we often feel most comfortable reaching out to with the gospel have their buckets so full that they have no room or little use for it. It’s people whose lives are empty and broken who are often the most willing to embrace the hope offered by the gospel.
P.S. — A couple days after our class, one of the inmates was in a holding cell with other men who were appearing in court that day. While awaiting his trial, he was teaching his fellow inmates in that holding cell the very lesson he had learned a few days earlier.