Enjoying God is only possible with a clear conscience. People who are riddled with guilt from the past will not enjoy God. At times we can confess our sins to God and be done with it. Other times, we need to make it right with those we have wronged. If we want to know if this is a matter we can leave with God or a matter we need to confess to others, follow this simple rule: when in doubt, confess to people as well. The circle of confession should be as wide as the circle of offence.
Paul said it this way, (Acts 24:16 ) “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Bill Gothard offers a good definition of a clear conscience, “The confidence that there is no one that can point their finger at me and say, ‘You wronged me and never tried to make it right.’”13
Ronnie Bronsky found himself in need of a clear conscience. He could not enjoy God until he got this matter straight. It was not enough for him to confess to God. He needed to stand before people and make some things right.14
Enjoying God is only possible with a clear conscience.
He was a hard hearted person, a tough kid. A kid constantly in trouble with the law from the time he was a child. When he was eight years old he threw a hammer at someone’s head. As a teenager he dropped out of High School and joined the Bell Air street gang in Chicago, terrorizing parts of the city. He was in and out of jails and juvenile homes. He spent his time hustling for drugs. He battled the other street gangs when they would dare venture into the Bell Air territory. A Chicago police officer said of him, “Ronnie Bronsky is a dangerous kid. He liked to fight. His gang was into burglary, street robbery and dope. He lived in the streets. Ronnie is worthless.”
When Ronnie was 21 years old he got into big time trouble. He met a man named Bob, who was the leader the of the Palmer Street Gaylords, a rival street gang to the Bell Aires. Bob and his gang jumped one of Ronnie’s friends, leaving him near death. Ronnie was mad. He decided to avenge this act by killing Bob. Ronnie borrowed a gun. He went to the Gaylord area, around Sacramento and Palmer St. and began to stalk his prey. He found a handful of Gaylords, but no Bob. But Bob’s brother, Gary, was in this group. So Ronnie figured he would kill Gary. Then, he could go to the funeral and take Bob as well.
Ronnie approached the group, shouted his cheer, “Bell Airs!” and shoved the gun in Gary’s chest.
The gun misfired. Six Gaylords glared at him, wondering what to do. Ronnie wondered too. He took a step back, pointed the gun in the air and fired, hoping to scare them off. The gun fired this time and the Gaylords scattered like quail. Ronnie fixed his sights on Gary, shooting all around him. Finally, a bullet in the back, next to his liver, brings him down.
Ronnie is only a couple of steps behind him. When he gets to Gary’s fallen body, he turns him over and places the gun in his face. Gary pleads for his life. “Don’t shoot me, man, don’t shoot me again! Don’t kill me!” Without a twinge of conscience, Ronnie Bronsky pulled the trigger in the face of this person who had done him no wrong.
In the chase, he had fired all the bullets. Ronnie heard a siren and knew the cops were coming, so he fled. He hid the gun in an oven at a friend’s house, went home and waited. It didn’t take the police long to find Ronnie. They arrested him on charge of attempted murder. Ronnie figured with his record he would get the maximum sentence—20 years. He didn’t think he could take that, so he jumped bond, got as far away from Chicago as possible and prepared to live as a fugitive the rest of his life.
With $200 in this pocket, and his girlfriend at his side, he got in a bus and headed west. He made his way to Portland, Oregon.
He started the first job he had ever had, working as a dye cutter in a metal shop. God was beginning to close in on Ronnie. Several of the people who worked in this shop were Christians, and they began to share the happy news of a God who loves us more than we love ourselves. Slowly, Ronnie began learning and believing. He learned that no one is beyond the love of God. After a while, he accepted Christ’s love. Ronnie Bronsky is one of the most beautiful, loving people I know. He goes out of his way to help people. He is very enthusiastic about spreading the love of God.
This dead-end street gang member whose life had been consumed by violence, robberies, drugs became a person who gave himself in service to other people. He used to go to the hospital and pray for the sick and go back to the streets, where he had credibility, and share the love of Christ. He married his girl friend, Debbie, who had also become a Christian. They had a daughter named Elizabeth. Ronnie was enjoying the new life that God had given him.
Then, he began to sense that something was not right. Something was hindering his progress in the faith, his joy in God. Although he had made things right with God, there were a whole lot of people back in Chicago that he had not made things right with. God’s spirit began to prompt Ronnie to clear this up.
This was no small thing. It involved going back to Chicago and facing criminal charges and risking a 20 year jail sentence. Yet, God continued to convict. Two years after he had committed the crime, Ronnie Bronsky came to Chicago to turn himself in. His lawyer told him he was crazy. He told him he could get him off, if he would just plead “not guilty.” “It has been too long; the witnesses have scattered; I can get you off; just plead, “not guilty.”
“I didn’t come to Chicago to lie.” Ronnie replied.
The people in the court room didn’t know what to think about this. They knew that there was no ulterior motive. Ronnie Bronsky was safe in Portland. No one was out looking for him. Violence was a way of life in the city. It was all forgotten. Why spend your own money to come to Chicago and risk a 20 year sentence? “What has gotten into you?” they asked. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) was his only explanation.
In this case, God provided for Ronnie so that he did not have to serve the sentence. We will get to part of the story shortly.
Ronnie walked out of the courtroom and tracked down Gary, the man he had shot and tried to kill. He apologized to him, again, at great risk. Ronnie paid a price to hang on to his joy in God. But as he left Chicago, he had never known such joy.
There is nothing like the joy of a clear conscience. People who enjoy God know the truth of Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
There is no joy in God as long as our relationships are not right. If there are people whom we have offended and never tried to make it right, there will be a blockage with our joy in God, like the cholesterol in a heart.
There is another chapter to the story. Doing what is right always has a ripple effect. When Ronnie Bronsky walked out of jail, a reporter caught him and asked, “What is your story.” Ronnie started in, “robbery, drugs, murder, violence.” The reporter had heard it all before. In fact, by now, his heart was completely hard from hearing it so many times. But this story took a difference twist. Ronnie began talking about how Jesus Christ had changed his life and how he had come back here from Portland, at his own expense, to make things right.
The reporter started taking notes. The reporter then looked up some gang-crime cops and asked them what they knew about Ronnie Bronsky. They told of how his old life and how he was nothing but trouble but they had heard that his life was changed and he was back in town to make things right with society. They said, “He came by and talked to us, and he is a new man. We believe he is sincere.”
So the reporter wrote a story that appeared on page three of the Chicago Tribune. The next day, Ronnie Bronsky appeared in court to be sentenced. Ronnie’s lawyer asked if the judge could read this article into the record before sentencing. Since it was just a sentencing, he agreed. The judge read the article. He looked at the other evidence. He read the sworn statements of people from Portland stating that Ronnie was now a changed man and a productive member of society.
The judge leaned over the bench and said, “I could send you to the pen. . . I ought to send you to the pen for what you have done. But, I think you are no longer a threat to society.” He put him on probation. He let him go free. Ronnie was stunned.
Outside the court, the reporter asked him how it went. “I can’t believe it,” Ronnie said, “He showed me grace, just like Jesus Christ showed me grace. . . And he can show you grace too. . .”
The reporter scoffed. “He has obviously changed, but it was probably a positive mental attitude or something that made the difference.” But a seed was planted. Four years later, that reporter’s wife came to faith and the reporter began to see the changes in her life. For two years he investigated the claims of Christianity as only a reporter can, and eventually he came to faith. Doing what is right always has a ripple effect.
The rest of the story: Ronnie Bronsky is now a pastor, working with street gangs in Portland, and that reporter, Lee Strobel is one of the preaching pastors at Willowcreek Community Church in Chicago.