EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) – If you were a high-powered Washington attorney, the right-hand man to the President of the United States, sentenced to prison for committing a felony crime – and then had a genuine salvation experience in the midst of the chaos surrounding your personal life – what would you do after the dust had settled?
That was the question Charles Colson faced after spending seven months in prison in the wake of the Watergate incident. Released in January 1975, Colson was at a crossroads. Though he had lost his license to practice law in Washington, there would have no doubt been many opportunities for someone with his training and background in government. He had experienced God’s forgiveness for his sins and paid his debt to society. It would have been understandable if he had lived a quiet life from that point forward, except for one thing.
During his seven months of incarceration, Colson became burdened about the condition of prisoners in the penal system in America. He saw injustices and saw few efforts at rehabilitation and little exposure to the Christian Gospel that had changed his own life. In going through some of his late father’s papers, he discovered that his father had an interest in prison reform. Colson knew that God was calling him to make a difference. The “lock ‘em and leave ‘em” mentality so prevalent in the prison system was not something he could ignore.
Most Christians know the rest of Charles Colson’s story. He founded Prison Fellowship, an organization that reaches into prisons to provide teaching, encouragement and rehabilitation to prisoners in the name of Jesus Christ. Thousands of churches like mine participate in the ministry’s Angel Tree program each year, through which Christmas gifts are provided for prisoners’ families. Colson went on to change the landscape of evangelical Christianity through his two dozen books, as well as his speaking, and he made the Christian worldview a topic to be reckoned with in America’s civic, academic and political venues through the Wilberforce Forum. Recognized with 15 honorary doctorate degrees, Colson was awarded the $1 million Templeton Prize in 1993 for his contribution to the advancement of religion in the world, the proceeds of which went to further the work of Prison Fellowship.
Did Charles Colson have to begin a “second career” in ministry for Christ once he was saved and forgiven? No – none of us does. On the other hand, I wonder if Charles Colson (and many others like him) was not unlike a modern-day equivalent of the apostle Paul. Do you remember what Paul said about his own life after coming to know Christ? He never boasted about all he accomplished for the Lord for this reason: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16, italics added)
What did Paul mean by “necessity”? I think he meant what every serious Christian I have ever met feels about their relationship with Christ: Salvation is just the beginning! Salvation is a door we walk through by faith to enter the Kingdom of God – a whole new world. We are citizens of a new domain with new values, new priorities, new activities, new purposes, new convictions – and new responsibilities. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, it was never intended that we should go back to “life as usual.”
Your mission may not include the call to evangelize the entire Mediterranean region like Paul, or start organizations and write books like Charles Colson did. But every Christian ought to feel the same “necessity” that those men felt. When we come to realize what Jesus Christ has done for us and grasp the true condition of our fallen world, we will say with Paul, “Woe is me if I don’t do that thing for which God has called and equipped me for Christ’s sake!”