“In Him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
(Ephesians1:7-8, NIV)

My childhood, while no utopia, was normal in the sense that wasn’t abused or abandoned. However, I wasn’t raised in a godly home. So, it may not come as a surprise when I tell you that for most of my life I was a slave to Satan.

In fact, I cannot honestly remember a time when I wasn’t in trouble. From the time I was eleven, when I was convicted of my first felony, I was off and running. I spent my childhood (and most of my adulthood) roaming with a pretty nefarious crowd, which got me into a lot of trouble and wanted by just about every law enforcement agency there was.

Upon becoming a “man” at seventeen, and so as to avoid yet another run-in with the law, I joined the Army. While I actually enjoyed the military life, my rebellious attitude toward authority earned me a less than honorable discharge.

It was while I was in the Army that I married my first wife and had two beautiful children. However, it wasn’t long after I was discharged that my wife left me; she claimed I was too “wild.” After she was gone, I once again was living the “glamorous” lifestyle: sex, drugs, Harley’s, and rock and roll.

I didn’t really care whether I lived or died, just as long as it was a good time. I dibbled and dabbled in anything and everything; having another child out of wedlock, more barroom brawls than I care to count, and consuming more drugs than a pharmacy.

In 1993 I married my second wife. We were two drug addicts searching for an escape, and found it in becoming a modern day Bonnie and Clyde; robbing anyone and anything simply for the thrill of it. However, our claim to fame was short lived. We were arrested five months later, which caused me to spend the next twelve years of my life confined to a prison cell.

You would have thought this would have smacked me awake, but for the first five years of my incarceration I continued to be a “tough guy.” Not only did I still believe that God was a myth, but I felt that anyone who needed God was weak and deserving of a beating. Yes, like Paul, I too persecuted Christians. But, by the rich grace of God, all of that changed on September 28, 1998.

When I heard, “Prisoner Hayes, number 233606, report back to your Housing Unit,” I knew I was going to Administrative Segregation. Going to the “hole” wouldn’t have been so bad had it been for something serious like stabbing someone, or even fighting. But I was going to the “box” because, while doing push-ups, my feet went six inches (that’s how close God is!) past the off limits sign. Talk about feeling stupid! But Proverbs 18:12 tells us that

“before honor is humility.”

It was this humiliation that would bring me the honor of being able to hear God’s call.

After getting settled in and adjusting to the isolation, I had an experience much like Paul did on the road to Damascus. While there were no blinding lights, I did hear the audible voice of God. He told me that He was real, that He loved me, and that He had great plans for me (Jer 29:11). But I had to acknowledge Him as Lord and surrender my life to Him.

I must admit, I was a bit freaked out and, to be honest, scared to death! God wasn’t exactly real, let alone speaking to me at that point and time in my life.

But the strangest thing occurred, I found myself needing (not merely wanting, but actually needing) to read the Bible. I begged the officers to bring me one, but my pleas only fell on deaf ears. Then, just as I was about to give up, the prison chaplain walked by my cell door. I asked him for a Bible, and the look in my eyes must have said it all, because he said he’d be right back with one. But it wasn’t God’s will, as he too ignored my cries.

At this point I seriously thought I was losing my mind! I’m thinking this “voice” was me simply having a moment of weakness. But the more I tried to convince myself of this, the hungrier for the Word I became.

As I was about to go to sleep, I looked out my window and prayed. I didn’t pray for forgiveness, or even ask for salvation. What I actually did was challenge God. I told Him that if He was real, to prove Himself to me. The very next morning a Bible, which had been anonymously mailed to me, was delivered to my cell.

Matthew 7:7 says if we ask, it will be given to us. So I knew this was a moment of truth here; I had a choice to make. I could continue to live my life my way, which had ended me in prison, or I could do as the voice had told me: Acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and surrender my life to Him.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I dropped to my knees, asked Jesus for His forgiveness, and told Him though I had nothing and was all screwed up, that my life was now His to do what He wanted to with it.

So, you see, when I tell you that the riches of God’s grace transformed my life forever, I mean He changed everything for me!

2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that if we are in Christ, then we are a completely new person; our old self has died and everything about us is brand new! In other words, through the Redeeming Blood of the Lamb, we are washed clean and stand before God as though we had never done anything wrong!

In talking with people I have noticed that most people are either of the extreme that their sins are too great; they could never be forgiven and deserve to go to hell. Or they are of the extreme that they haven’t done anything really bad; they’re “good” people who have earned their way into heaven.

Let me tell it to you straight, both of those are lies of the devil to keep you from accepting and experiencing God’s grace! Jesus said,

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

(John 8:32)

What is the truth? God’s Word (John 17:17)! And the Word says,

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”

(Romans 5:6, NLT)

Christ died for you long before you did whatever it is you think you cannot be forgiven for!

It also says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter what good deeds you have done, if you have not accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you are going to hell! Jesus made this very plain when He said,

“I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

(John 14:6, NASB)