Steve's Story: A Law Abiding Citizen in Hell
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell: Reflections
Ironically, even though I saw myself as a horrible sinner rejected by my god and justly punished by being damned to hell forever, I was living a more morally upright life than many born-again Christians I have since met. How could this be?
Consider these contrasts: I was a former drug abuser, a college dropout, a society dropout, a political radical and a rejecter of Christian revelation with nothing to live for. I didn't even have God to fear, since I believed myself to have been utterly abandoned by Him. In addition I was filled with rage, terror, fear, abject despair, utter hopelessness, self-hatred, extreme bitterness, inward cursing, wild and crazy thoughts, a seething cauldron of sexual fantasy and profound impulses to violence - all on a 24/7 basis. I was mentally deranged by the deception, insane by any reasonable standard.
Ironically, I was also a faithful husband, devoted father, honest businessman, fair employer and beginning to be a community leader: in short, a model citizen. I had many friends. As manager of a small factory my bankers said they trusted me more than the man I was working for. Later, our own business also had a very good name in the community. One family member often said that I had been a better Christian before my conversion, than afterwards, when I started preaching to her.
It was hell on the inside; good citizen on the outside! There is no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up in the real hell if Jesus hadn't rescued me, even from my "model" life. Nevertheless, I apparently had something going for me that many normal people fail to connect with, even people who know the true God as their Savior and presumed Lord. What was it? The answers may surprise you. I only saw them when I began writing this book.
Here is what I can see that I had going for me: I thought my life was over so I had completely given up all my selfish and self-centered dreams. All thought of trying to get pleasure, fortune, fame, or power out of life had died with me in hell. None of that would change hell one iota, so I had no interest in those foolish goals. I was purged by hell of a lot of the selfish desires that fuel so much depraved behavior, such as my own earlier misguided pursuits. This was a great advantage!
I was therefore absolutely convinced that I couldn't improve myself or my position. I couldn't change myself into a better version, so I stopped trying altogether; ironically, this too was a blessing. God can work on what we take our hands off of, but He won't pry things out of our fingers. It doesn't seem to matter if we don't specifically give it to Him, just as long as He sees that we have truly let it go. It's called grace and He gives it out impartially to all. God, without my knowing or my conscious cooperation, began working all kinds of good changes into me once I quit working on myself. This was grace working on me.
I couldn't improve myself or my condition (both were hopeless), but I was extremely aware that I could make everything and anything a lot worse. I had been thoroughly schooled by the enemy in the law of sowing and reaping as one aspect of the way hell operated. In actual reality, this is how the universe operates, once you add in the graced-based interventions of God. There really is a law of sowing and reaping - it is the law that governs all laws - and there really is a God who rewards everyone according to their deeds. Without realizing it I had recovered a modicum of respect for the true God by learning to respect this one great law of His.
Being very aware that everything I did had a consequence in hell, I became determined to make sure that I kept the law of retribution from working against me. I had no concept that the law of sowing and reaping could actually work for me. Still, this one understanding was enough to make me diligent to restrain all the evil that was inside of me as much as I possibly could. I didn't want to let any of the interior hell that was in me get out; that would inevitably lead to the breaking of Rule #2: Don't do anything that would land me back in Cherry Hospital or in jail. I couldn't let myself act loony or lawless. Do you know that you have that kind of power over yourself? Everyone does. God has given the power to choose between life and death to each one of us (Deuteronomy 30-19).
This made me a very devoted law keeper. Keeping the law will not save you - you need faith in Jesus for that; it cannot heal you of hell inside you - you need to learn how to trust, to forgive and to release issues to God for that. It cannot help you live with natural grace, childlike and free - you need a life in the Spirit for that. It didn't do any of these things for me. I would have loved if it could have. But I wasn't embracing the law in the form of my Rules 1-4 in the hope that it would accomplish any of those desirable goals, so I never gave up on what the law actually could do for me. In Romans, Paul says that the law was given as a restraint upon sin. You can put a huge period right at the end of that! This is why I loved the law then and still do. My "laws" were there to keep me from disaster. For me there was no God, but there was enlightened self-interest. Being devoted to the law, being an industrious law-keeper, kept me out of a lot of trouble! What I didn't know and couldn't notice was that law-keeping actually allowed the true God to secretly be growing a good life all around me, since He is the Rewarder of those who do good. By keeping my laws I was doing good, not evil.
To sum it up, I had both the Biblical fear of God and a love for the law, although in debased forms. I didn't know or believe in the true God, and I didn't believe the Bible for other laws, but I totally respected the law of sowing and reaping. That was enough to make me a good citizen, keep me out of all kinds of further trouble, and gain some of the blessings that are promised to anyone with enough godly fear to be a law keeper. As a pastor it seems to me that many Christians make the mistake of trying to be law-abiding in order to gain God's approval and then fall into the trap of thinking God can't be very pleased with them because they aren't perfect at keeping the law. Others seem to think that God's grace means that the law no longer matters, and therefore they live with apparent disregard for the law of sowing and reaping. Either way it's a disaster!
For me the ultimate irony is that I was running the race hogtied with hell on the inside of me and hell surrounding me, but as it turns out, I was running in God's direction!