A judge once told me that everyone wants him to throw the book at the criminal before him, until the person before him is a member of their family.

In a few decades of covering criminal cases, I have often thought about what the judge said. In one of the most serious criminal cases I’ve covered, I reached out to the father of a murder defendant who brought his son in to law enforcement officers after the son shot a police officer on a traffic stop in February, 2000.

Had he not brought him in, the defendant would have been a fugitive. The father wouldn’t give me an interview, but he did remark that he felt he was losing him for good when he brought his son to law enforcement.

The son took a plea deal that took the death penalty off the table and was sentenced to life in prison. He gave me a jail interview shortly after he was sentenced eight months after the murder. He couldn’t say why he shot the officer, other than a mind messed up on drugs.

He was drug-free when I talked to him, and leading a Bible study group in the county jail in 2000. He’s been in state prison for about 21 years now, and has asked for clemency, but was denied.

A lot of people can’t forget the pain he caused, and in the eyes of the law, he’s where he ought to be. His body is not free, and it shouldn’t be. But if he’s still following Jesus, he is as free in spirit as me.

I think about that, a lot. God is merciful and values every person’s salvation — even convicted murderers. I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ living in jail cells that I haven’t met yet.

Salvation is not a prize for good people to achieve. We can’t be good enough to earn it or good enough to keep it. God’s mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes it free for the believing, repenting and accepting.

Before Jesus radically changed his life, Saul was a well-educated person of traditional faith who didn’t believe in Jesus — he even drug people off to prison and approved of stoning Christian martyrs. He was responsible for harassing and killing innocent people.

He thought he was right, that he was better — until Jesus intervened on the road to Damascus. (Acts Chapter 9) Saul became Paul the Apostle and spent the rest of his life (including jail time and an eventual martyr’s death) spreading the news of salvation.

I think about how many people who were in shackles were truly freed by his ministry, even today.

When we talk about our freedom, we place too much emphasis on the physical comforts, don’t we?

That’s not freedom at all.