After entering the death row ward of the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas, the deafening sound of barred doorways closing behind me sent an alarming chill running down my spine. Memories of the unnervingly loud metal-to-metal clanking still ring in my mind. As the eerie doors closed behind me, I whispered a prayer of gratitude, thankful I was only visiting this dungeon-like place. The ten 12-foot-high concrete walls, reinforced with heavy-gauge rebar, were painted a gloomy gray — a prison’s preferred color, I suppose. Even the chaplain’s office donned the same grim wall covering. It was more like a musty tomb where you would find Indiana Jones searching for hidden treasures than a prison filled with convicts.
I was led down the naked corridors to the visiting area, where I would sit, separated by a glass partition, across from a condemned man. The worst of the worst. After taking the life of a convenience store clerk while in the act of committing robbery, he was sentenced to die. When asked to make this visit, I was hesitant at first. How could I show compassion and talk about love and mercy to a man who had committed such a heinous act and would soon receive his due compensation? But then, how could I say no to a mother whose soul was in anguish?
Walking through the concrete corridors of that god-awful place, the words of some wise person surfaced to remind my self-righteous self: “Sometimes all you have to do is forget what you feel and remember what you deserve.”
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
— Romans 3:10–12, 23
Just like the inmate I had come to see, I, too, stood a condemned man. Before God, I am found as guilty as he and in equal measure. The same is true for you. “For all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death” (see Romans 3:23, 6:23). Whatever you may think or feel about one sin being of greater import than another, without having Jesus as your savior, it only takes one misstep, regardless of its severity, to miss heaven. Just one. However, by faith, you can place your life in Jesus’ hands today, for the good news is this:
God shows his love for us in that while we were [are] still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8