You never know what you might come across driving down the highway — a funny bumper sticker, an animal crossing . . . a group of convicts.
Recently I drove past the latter — inmates on a work release program, picking up trash on the side of our local highway. I’ve seen groups like this before; I’m sure you have, too. You can’t miss them. They are easily recognizable by their attire.
Required to wear neon orange vests with INMATE plastered across the front and back, these prisoners do their work under a modern-day scarlet letter. They are law-breakers; they’ve been condemned. They have the vests to prove it.
I felt strangely sorry for these men. Their past has come to define them. A mirror is all that it takes to remind them of society’s label. They are inmates. The warden knows they’re inmates, the guards know they’re inmates and now the community knows they’re inmates, too.
If we are honest, we can identify with these men. We may not have served time in prison, but we live in a prison of our own making.
We’ve screwed up, we’ve hurt people, we’ve disappointed ourselves, we’ve broken God’s laws and we know it. We can’t forget it. We live under the weight of our dalliances and indiscretions. We are inmates, too.
But when we come to Jesus, He does something remarkable: He takes off our vests.
His forgiveness doesn’t merely commute our sentence, reduce our crime or put us on probation — His forgiveness erases the crime altogether. To Jesus, it never existed. Hebrews 10:17 says that our sins are remembered no more.
Did you see that? No more. That means no more guilt, no more shame, no more discounting ourselves and no more disqualifying ourselves.
I guess what it really means is no more vests.