Paul Teaches Us That People Can Change

This is my week 2 post for Write31Days. I’ve been thinking and writing everyday about how we can apply the teachings of St. Paul to working in the inner city and with the marginalized. I haven’t posted my weekday writing as I intended to do. I’m not sure why, but I started to find that I was writing at a deeply personal level about some of my internal struggles with grace, forgiveness, and mercy. I decided that it was best to not post those thoughts, but to instead work them out between God and myself. Below is one of my writings that I don’t mind sharing.

Galatians 1: 13-15

You have heard about my past life in the Jewish religion. I persecuted the church of God very much. I tried to destroy his people.  I was becoming a leader in the Jewish religion. I did better than most other Jews my own age. I tried harder than anyone else to follow the traditions we got from our ancestors.

But God had special plans for me even before I was born. So he chose me through his grace. It pleased him to let me see and know his Son so that I could tell the Good News about him to the non-Jewish people.

Paul was a changed man. He went from ordering people to be killed to being someone on a mission to save people with the good news of Christ. Paul’s extreme transformation shows that people can be transformed.

Christians often forget that many of the characters in the bible that we are called to look up to had evil ways, including cold blooded murder. Two of the most well known are King David and Moses. King David was a rapist, murderer, liar, and dishonest man; yet we have labeled him “a man after God’s own heart”. Moses, an ill-tempered man, killed a slave master.

I mention these murders because working in the inner city you meet more convicted and released murderers than you could imagine. There are people who have committed heinous crimes, but you wouldn’t know it. They have changed their ways and as far as anyone knows, they haven’t committed any crimes against others since their release.

I challenge Christians who are uncomfortable with being around people who have committed serious crimes against others. But I challenge them and ask, ‘If you can praise and follow the teachings of people like King David, Moses, and Paul; what makes you so uncomfortable about serving those who have committed the same types of crimes?’. My question often leaves people in an upsetting silence.

I caution people; if you want to help those in the inner city, you must believe that people can change and be transformed. God has used the example of various characters in the bible to show us what can happen if a person genuinely makes the effort to change their emotionally unhealthy and dangerous ways.

This doesn’t mean that you blindly trust people, not at all, discernment is necessary when working with people who have criminal backgrounds; but you must believe that change is possible. If you don’t believe that people can be transformed, you are setting these individuals up for failure. Hope is mandatory in this field.

There are Christians who are adamant that murderers should be given the death penalty; that’s their choice to believe so, but again, if you don’t believe these people should be released, then it is best not to serve in the inner city. I always ask, ‘How can you serve people with love when you believe they should be dead at worst, and incarcerated at best?’

I remind people that you don’t know the circumstances behind people’s crimes. There is never an excuse for assault, murder, torture, or any physical harm, but if our legal system allows these individuals to be free, we have to treat them with humanity. It’s not always easy to do so knowing what they have done in their past, but they deserve to be treated with decency. These individuals have paid the consequences for their crimes and although we may not agree with them being released, we need to remember that as Christians we cannot mistreat them simply because they have mistreated others; this is not how Christ modeled servant hood. In the gospel, no one was transformed by being mistreated, however, people were certainly changed for the better by receiving tangible actions of love from the hands of those who God has called to serve.

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