I, along with many others around the world, was saddened at the loss of Chuck Colson last month. Colson was of course, one of the most sinister characters in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. A former marine, his aggressiveness and callous disregard for those who stood in his way was shocking even to Nixon, who readily made use of his evil services. Sadly, there will be those who will only remember him for his service in behalf of a disgraced and fallen president.
Yet we all know that Colson had a life-changing encounter with Christ. His book, Loving God, represented a radical departure from the man who had formerly claimed he would step over his grandmother if she got in his way. That book provided a powerful introduction to genuine Christianity and helped bring thousands of people into a relationship with the same God that transformed Colson’s life.
Colson went on to found a major ministry to people in prison. He regularly visited inmates and shared Christ’s love with them. He also wrote many significant books on the Christian life, including: The Body, How Now Shall We Live? and The Good Life. He became an articulate apologist for the faith and lent his considerable intelligence to the cause of Christ.
Critics of Colson quite naturally abounded. Some sneeringly accused him of a jailhouse confession in order to avoid spending time in prison. But that clearly was not true. The fact is that he became a Christian before he ever went to jail. In fact, after he was converted, he offered evidence to the prosecution so they could convict him and he could pay the penalty for his sins. And, of course, for more than three decades, long after he could have dispensed with any pretense of being born again, he continued to faithfully serve his Lord.
I remember being at a conference for seminary presidents ten years ago. Colson was the after dinner speaker. I always enjoyed listening to him speak because he was so articulate and insightful. While we presidents were finishing our dessert, Colson, the featured guest, rose from his place of honor and went from table to table, personally greeting every attendee. He mentioned to me how much he appreciated my father and his writings. He truly was a humble man.
I am reminded of another aggressive, win-at-all-costs mover and shaker: the apostle Paul. He wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Whatever condemnation Paul or Colson might have engendered from their early lives, one thing was clear: they became new people! And that, of course, is the glorious hope of the Gospel. Wicked people can truly be changed. Those who seem most unlikely to be reformed can become new, saintly people, and remain changed for the rest of their lives.
We all know people who claimed to become Christians but whose faith did not endure. They were involved in church for a time. Their behavior improved temporarily. They said the right things and attended the correct meetings. But, eventually, they slid back into their former, sinful behavior. Such people can cause us to grow discouraged and even cynical about people ever changing their ways. We all can name those who sought to overcome their dysfunctional upbringing or to learn from their failures, or to change their sinful ways, only to eventually slide right back into them.
That is why people like Chuck Colson are so encouraging. They represent the depths of sin and hard heartedness into which people can descend. But they also demonstrate how radically the Gospel can transform people. And, when the Gospel does its work, people stay changed!
If you have grown discouraged after seeing people you worked with, revert back to their sinful ways; take heart! The Gospel is not discouraged by “tough” cases! It is not disheartened when people break their promises or they revert to their base tendencies. Throughout the generations Christ has thoroughly transformed some of the most unlikely of sinners and made them trophies of His grace. He is still doing that today. Don’t give up on the people around you! It may well be that someone you are presently working with will one day become a shining example of what a divinely transformed life looks like.