From: The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, pages 256-259.
Scene #3: CHANGING A LIFE
This third episode occurred after my Atlanta interview with Craig about the issue of miracles. I got into my rental car and took a leisurely drive up Interstate 75 to Rome, Georgia. The next morning was cool but sunny, and I got dressed and headed over to a church for Sunday services.
Outside, politely greeting everyone with a handshake as they arrived, was William Neal Moore, Looking handsome in a tan suit with dark stripes, a crisp white shirt and brown tie. His face was deep mahogany, his black hair was close-cropped, but what I remember most was his smile: it was at once shy and warm, gentle and sincere, winsome and loving. It made me feel welcome.
“Praise the Lord, Brother Moore!” declared an elderly woman as she grasped his hand briefly and then shuffled inside.
Moore is an ordained minister at the church, which is sandwiched between two housing projects in the racially mixed community. He is a doting father, a devoted husband, a faithful provider, a hard-working employee, a man of compassion and prayer who spends his spare time helping hurting people who everyone else seems to have forgotten. In short, a model citizen.
But turn back the calendar to May 1984. At that time, Moore was locked in the death-watch cell at the Georgia State Penitentiary, down the hallway from the electric chair where his life was scheduled to be snuffed out in less than seventy-two hours.
This was not the case of an innocent man being railroaded by the justice system. Unquestionably, Moore was a murderer. He had admitted as much. After a childhood of poverty and occasional petty crimes, he had joined the Army and later became depressed by marital and financial woes. One night he got drunk and broke into the house of seventy-seven-year-old Fredger Stapleton, who was known to keep large amounts of cash in his bedroom.
From behind a door, Stapleton let loose with a shotgun blast, and Moore fired back with pistol. Stapleton was killed instantly, and within minutes Moore was fleeing with $5,600. An informant tipped police and the next morning he was arrested at his trailer outside of town. Caught with the proceeds from the crime, Moore admitted his guilt and was sentenced to death. He had squandered his life and turned to violence, and now he himself would face a violent end.
But the William Neal Moore who was counting down the hours to his scheduled execution was not the same person who had murdered Fredger Stapleton. Shortly after being imprisoned, two church leaders visited Moore at the behest of his mother. They told him about the mercy and hope that was available through Jesus Christ.
“Nobody had ever told me that Jesus loves me and died for me,” Moore explained during my visit to Georgia. “It was a love I could feel. It was a love I wanted. It was a love I needed.”
On that day, Moore said yes to Christ’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life, and he was promptly baptized in a small tub that was used by prison trusties. And he would never be the same.
For sixteen years on Death Row, Moore was like a missionary among other inmates. He led Bible studies and conducted prayer sessions. He counseled prisoners and introduced many of them to faith in Jesus Christ. Some churches actually sent people to Death Row to be counseled by him. He took dozens of Bible courses by correspondence. He won the forgiveness of his victim’s family. He became known as “The Peacemaker,” because his cellblock, largely populated by inmates who had become Christians through his influence, was always the safest, the quietest, the most orderly.
Meanwhile, Moore inched closer and closer to execution. Legally speaking, his case was a hopeless cause. Since he had pleaded guilty, there were virtually no legal issues that might win his release on appeal. Time after time, the courts reaffirmed his death sentence.
“A Saintly Figure”
So profound was the depth of Moore’s transformation, however, that people began to take notice. Mother Teresa and others started campaigning to save his life. “Billy’s not what he was then,” said a former inmate who had met Moore in prison. “If you kill him today, you’re killing a body, but a body with a different mind. It would be like executing the wrong man.”
Praising him for not only being rehabilitated but also being “an agent for the rehabilitation of others,” an editorial in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution declared: “In the eyes of many, he is a saintly figure.”
Just hours prior to Moore’s being strapped into the electric chair, shortly before Moore’s head and right calf would be shaved so that the lethal electrodes could be attached, the courts surprised nearly everyone by issuing a temporary halt to his execution.
Even more amazingly, The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole later voted unanimously to spare his life by commuting his sentence to life in prison. But what was really astounding – in fact, unprecedented in modern Georgia history – was when the Parole and Pardon Board decided that Moore, an admitted and once-condemned armed robber and murderer, should go free. On November 8, 1991, he was released.
As I sat with Moored in his home overlooking a landscape of lush pine trees, I asked him about the source of his amazing metamorphosis.
“It was the prison rehabilitation system that did it, right?” I asked.
Moore laughed. “No, it wasn’t that,” he replied.
“Then it was a self-help program or having a positive mental attitude,” I suggested.
He shook his head emphatically. “No, not that, either.”
“Prozac? Transcendental Meditation? Psychological counseling?”
“Come on, Lee,” he said. “You know it wasn’t any of those.”
He was right. I knew the real reason. I just wanted to hear him say it. “Then what was responsible for the transformation of Billy Moore?” I asked.
“Plain and simple, it was Jesus Christ,” he declared adamantly. “He changed me in ways I could never have changed on my own. He gave me a reason to live. He helped me do the right thing. He gave me a heart for others. He saved my soul.”
That’s the power of faith to change a human life. “Therefore,” wrote the apostle Paul, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Billy Moored the Christian is not the same as Billy Moore the killer. God had intervened with his forgiveness, with his mercy, with his power, with the abiding presence of his Spirit. That same kind of transforming grace is available to everyone who acts on the ample evidence for Jesus Christ by making the decision to turn away from their sin and embrace him as their forgiver and leader.
It’s awaiting all those who say yes to God and his ways.
Today, I wish to talk about how Jesus changes us.
I want to talk about “justification.”
Everyone say, “Justification.”
Abraham was justified by faith and we also may be.
Read with me Romans 4:1-3:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh,discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
- First, let’s talk about justification.
- In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- Then Romans 3:24 says that we are justified freely.
- Romans 6:23 says the same thing.
- Romans could be complete but Paul is now illustrating that we are justified by faith alone and Jews and Gentiles need Jesus.
- So, what is justification? Is it “just-as-if-I-never-sinned”?
- Not really. Unfortunately, I have used that but there is so much more to justification then that.
- Justification is a legal term.
- Justification has two parts:
- Forgiveness of sins
- Imputed Christ’s righteousness
- Without forgiveness of sins we are guilty so this removes the guilt.
- Imputing Christ’s righteousness takes the wrath of God away from us and makes it so that we can stand before God. Imputing Christ’s righteousness restores our relationship with God.
- Stand before the JUDGE— He examines the defendant against the evidence (using omniscience). The judge is God and He is examining us.
- He pronounces judgment. Later will follow the pronouncing of sentence.
- HIS JUDGMENT = NOT GUILTY by reason of the Atonement of Christ.
- Rom 4.5 “Justifies the ungodly”
- The definition of justification is To Declare Righteous
- NOT, To Make Righteous (Sanctification, and finally glorification)
- Therefore, your right standing is a declaration of the judge, not the result of your actually being good.
- Forgiveness of sins:
- Forgiveness of Sins
“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
- Negative Side – clearing away
- Imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
Rom 3.21-22: But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile…
Positive Side – the merit of God’s son.
- Justification implies a freedom from guilt.
- Not that we are not guilty, but that we have been freed from its condemnation. Rom 8:1
- The forgiveness of sins by confession (1 Jn 1.9) should be fully accepted. To do less implies an ineffective atonement.
- “Go and sin no more.” (John 8)
- Not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Phil 3.9
- Implication: God receives me as he would his own son. Heb 4.16
- So, that is justification
- Isn’t that awesome! We are not just forgiven!
- Example Abraham and his faith
- In verse 3 we have the quote from Gen. 15:6: Abraham believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness. Abraham was justified by his faith.
- This was a big deal because the Jews would have thought Abraham was right with God because of circumcision, but as verses 9-12 say the justification happened prior to the seal of circumcision.
- Abraham was justified some 14 years prior to circumcision.
- The chronology of Genesis proves Paul’s case. Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born (Gen. 16:16), and Abraham was 99 when he was circumcised. But God declared him righteous before Ishmael had even been conceived (Gen. 15:6; 16:2–4)—at least 14 years before Abraham’s circumcision.”
- We are grafted in:
- Look at verses 23-25: The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone,24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
So, how does a death row inmate become a pastor? It has nothing to do with him but everything to do with God.
This passage is not about Abraham but about God. God transforms people!
Have you been transformed? Is that worth sharing?
Go and share it!
Go and worship that you are not just forgiven but you are righteous.
Let’s review the Romans road to Salvation:
Walking Down the “Romans Road” to Salvation . . . .
- Because of our sin, we are separated from God.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
- The Penalty for our sin is death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
- The penalty for our sin was paid by Jesus Christ!
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
- If we repent of our sin, then confess and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved from our sins!
For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)
…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9,10)
Go and share the Gospel:
God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)
I enjoy reading your sermons/blogs, but still think they are more like a history/ bible study which is interesting. Still not what I need in a sermon at church, maybe Because at church my mind would drift off from time to time and I would miss parts or my concentration was lacking. At least by reading them in a quite place and praying, I can get more out of them.
Thanks I am glad they are still ministering to you. If you ever want the recording let me know. The sermon does come out different than the prepared manuscript. Yesterday was a lot different. Our recording is not on the internet as we are working that out with a new website. Blessings, Steve