Essay / Culture

Hostage Becomes a Beacon of Hope in Atlanta

Greg Leith, 2005.

The story of Atlanta suspected killer, Brian Nichols, age 33, is an interesting commentary on our day. Nichols was a jailed defendant in a rape trial who had overpowered a guard while being escorted to the courtroom. Later he took Ashely Smith, a young woman, hostage for 7 hours. During their sometimes tense time together, Smith told Nichols, “You need hope for (your) life.” And Nichols responded that he was already dead, “Look at me, look at my eyes, I’m already dead.”

Now in an interesting but relevant twist on that concept, God’s word tells us we are already dead too, do you remember? Paul writes to the people who lived in Colossae, and tells them in Colossians chapter three verses 3 to 5 this fascinating thing about their condition. . . and ours. . .Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life–even though invisible to spectators–is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too–the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Brian Nichols, fresh from jail, on a murderous rampage, said he felt dead. What about you? Is the side of you that wants to choose a sinful life, DEAD? God says it is, so why don’t you live like it is. As a mater of fact, Paul also told followers of Christ in Rome a few things on “dying to self”, listen to what he has to say. . .God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them–living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells–even though you still experience all the limitations of sin–you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

Brian Nichols, a hostage taker in Atlanta, needed to be delivered from that “dead life”, he needed the hope of a relationship with Jesus Christ. How about you? Need a “hope infusion”? Brian heard about hope in Jesus Christ in a rather un-conventional way, but you get to hear about it right now on this page at this moment. God ordained that you would hear the news just as much as he ordained that Brian would through his hostage Ashely Smith who moved from being a hostage victim to being a giver of hope. Do you need hope? We all do, it’s a part of the human condition and the only place to find this hope is in Jesus Christ. Why not turn your life over to Jesus Christ right now? He will give you the hope He promises for those who follow Him.

Maybe you are already a follower of Jesus and what you need is to stop trying so hard. In his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran pastor who became a martyr at the young age of 39 while working to defeat Hitler, writes these words,

Fellowship with Jesus and obedience to his commandment come first, and all else follows.

He goes on to give us hope and reminds us that we cannot do this on our own.

. . .we have here either a crushing burden, which holds out no hope. . . or else it is the quintessence of the gospel, which brings the promise of freedom and perfect joy. Jesus does not tell us what we ought to do but cannot; He tells us what God has given us and promises to still give.

Another writer and pastor, Andrew Murray, who lived in South Africa in the 1800’s, wrote this in his work Absolute Surrender.

Can a man fail with his heart full of delight in God’s law and with his will determined to do what is right? Yes! That is what Romans 7 teaches. There is something lacking. Not only must I delight in the law of God, but I need divine omnipotence (power) to work in me. The reason for the weakness of your Christian life is that you try to work it out on your own, only allowing God to help you when you are desperate.

Are you tired of just asking for help from God when you’re desperate? God wants to give you so much more! He is wanting to wait on you and to be in fellowship with you. The table is set, isn’t it time you took Him up on His invitation?

Greg is part of the leadership team at Biola University where he is responsible to work with and minister to marketplace leaders. Prior to joining the team at Biola, Greg was an executive with The ServiceMaster Company in various leadership capacities for 20 years throughout North America. He transitioned to a non-profit role in 198 where he served as the Vice President of Arrow Leadership, and then as the Director of Leadership Development for Christian Management Association. He is the father of five children who keep him aware of what’s really important in life. Greg and his wife Shelley have been married for 25 years. Shelley is a staff member at The Purpose Driven Movement in the publishing arena. Together, they speak to couples on marriage and family issues at the Family Life Marriage conferences , a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. You may contact him at

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