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Sin, Slavery, and Freedom

People talk about the freedom that is found in Christ, and like many spiritual truths presented in America, this freedom is too often seen as something granted instantaneously. Usually, it isn’t. Jesus said that if we “abide in His Word,” and that’s a process, we will “know the truth and the truth will make us free” (John 8:31-32). Some of this freedom is an objective present fact. In Christ, we are already free from the penalty of sin and have the liberty to know God.

The greater reality of this freedom grows as we know more and more of Him and His ways, but ultimately, this freedom will only be realized fully in the life to come. The freedom addressed in Scripture is freedom from sin, not freedom to do whatever we want, which is really another form of bondage.

For centuries, oppressors have used the Bible to justify human slavery. I’ve looked myself, and I don’t think this is the case. The Bible does not condone any institution of slavery, but rather simply recognizes that people are enslaved at various levels. Some of us are literally slaves owned like property by others, others are slaves to bosses and jobs, and many are slaves to their own self-centeredness. In essence, we are all slaves.

Paul put it in perspective when he stated, “He who was called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freeman; likewise he who was called while free is the Lord’s slave” (I Corinthians 7:22). The spiritual realm is our great equalizer.

As Bob Dylan sang, “It might be the devil or it might be the Lord, but you’re gonna’ have to serve somebody.” We have a choice to make, and unless we are slaves of Christ, we will have a harsh taskmaster, regardless of our station in this earthly life.

Adapted from Keeping It Between the Ditches

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Fighting sin

Those who have been cleansed by the shed blood of Christ and have His Spirit within them still struggle with sin. Some Christians will battle certain sins’ temptations all of their lives, and there may even be a genetic link to such orientations, but we all have inherited an essentially fallen nature, and most of us will feel like we are perhaps fighting against our own selves at least during various seasons of our pilgrimages toward a deeper relationship with God.

Undaunted, we must “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience” (I Timothy 1:18-19). We need to resist sin so that we don’t wreck our faith, at which time our relationship with Christ ceases to be an experiential reality. Sin and faith are at odds with one another; each dilutes and weakens the other. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus knew Peter would deny Him. His behavior was not in question, but the result of it was, so Jesus also prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail him (Luke 22:31-34).

Whatever is sin should be avoided, never embraced. As we do this, our perceptions of sin become keener, and our conscience becomes stronger. When this takes place, we may realize that some of our prohibitions are nothing more than religious hang-ups, and we find ourselves putting aside groundless rules and moving in more freedom (Romans 14). More commonly, that which we were once doing without remorse becomes troubling to us, and if we are wise, we will respond by “putting aside our sin and the weights that so easily entangle us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sin wreaks havoc with our conscience. Once that happens, there are only two ways to go. Repent and turn from that sin–even it it’s the thousandth time, turn to God and be cleansed, and walk like Christ walked, or else we can excuse ourselves and walk on our own.

Everything we do is either drawing us closer to God or taking us farther away. Likewise, our actions are either drawing people to Christ, or the opposite is true.

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Sin and tangled shoe laces

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about sin. One of the big lies passed around the Church is that sin is no fun. On the contrary, sin can be a blast. Unless you’ve committed an act of fornication, gotten really stoned or drunk, or beaten the snot out of someone just for kicks, you just don’t know what I mean. Sin offers a type of transcendence to this life, a rush of exhilaration and pleasure.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d also like to say that sin can kill not only your body but your soul. Once the pleasure wears off, there is the relentless quest for more and more sin to satisfy that urge, but the urge is never satisfied. Sinners are horribly discontent, and that discontentment makes us sin all the more.

By its very nature, discontentment is contrary to real faith, and all sin, at its core, is a violation of love. Murder, theft, and adultery are all born out of a desire for something other than what we have, and the damage from that discontentment often goes beyond the initial person we offend. Sin has a ripple effect, hurting a person’s family, friends, and even the community at large. Even worse, all of it offends God personally. Sin and love do not mix.

As I get older, sin has less and less attraction for me because it destroys my ability to love God, and only this experience of love lets us build a life worth living. While I did spare them the sordid details, I let my children know that my earlier years were steeped in transgression. I tried to impart to them that they could be “better than Daddy” because I spent twenty years messing up my life, and God had to straighten me out before he could do very much with me.

When my daughter Janie was about seven, I asked her if she understood what I meant by all that, and she explained back to me that sin was like putting knots in your shoe laces. You have to work hard just to get them unlaced. Then you have to put them on and lace them up again before you can even go anywhere. I thought that was a pretty profound little spiritual metaphor, and I suspect she possessed more spiritual insight back then than I did when I was three times her age.

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If Jesus forgives, why not sin?

I used to carpool with a good churchgoing man, and he told me his wife asked a question in Sunday school that floored the teacher. She asked if all this was true about Jesus making us righteous, then why bother doing right things at all?

This woman only asked what many think, and what many actually live. A better question might have been, “Why do so many claim to be Christians, but their lives don’t seem much different from anyone else’s?”

Even though our deeds may not give us right standing with God, our justification with Him ought to produce righteous lives. The Apostle James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (2:17).

If we truly have faith in Christ, we should want to do the things that please Him. Real faith must produce a new life. We cannot truly encounter one like Jesus and simply continue on our way unchanged.

The Apostle John wrote that those who are born of God “practice righteousness” and are unable to practice sin (I John 3:9), or that’s how the New American Standard translates the verse. Some English versions simply read that “no one who is born of God sins,” but that doesn’t seem to make as much sense because everyone sins, and we can come to the same conclusion as my carpool buddy’s wife: What’s the difference whether we sin or not?

The difference is that no one who has truly come to know Christ can be a good sinner anymore. We cannot abide in Christ and sin (I John 3:6), and knowing Jesus simply ruins us for wickedness. It gets harder and harder for us to deliberately pursue what we know to be sin.

That’s not to say we don’t lapse and fall short, for even James the hardnosed apostle admitted, “We all stumble in many ways” (3:2). But we Christians are always falling face down, Christ-ward, asking forgiveness, brushing ourselves off, and moving on in God’s will.

Sinners are running their own show, and while sin eventually catches up with them, they are often the last to admit they’ve done anything wrong.

Faith and sin are like the two sides of an American coin. On one side is the motto “In God We Trust.” We’ll call that faith. On the other side is a Latin motto, and, nothing against Latin, but we’ll call that sin. One side or another is going to be up; it’s never both at the same time.

Paul wrote that “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and this is sin’s biggest danger: it replaces faith, and only those who walk in faith can know God and please Him.

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Following Christ in the same way we received Him

The Book of Colossians states, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (2:6). When I first came to Jesus, I realized I was sinner without a way of making myself right. Even now, nothing much has changed. Sure, I have lived a generally good and decent life. I’ve been married over three decades to the same woman and haven’t cheated on her. I’ve raised my kids to love God, and I’ve worked honestly for my pay.

Despite all these good things, I can’t lay claim to any real righteousness before God. When I look just a bit too long at a woman who is not my wife, I have sinned. Jesus calls that committing adultery in my heart. When I am angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic and call him an idiot, I am similarly guilty of murder (Matthew 5:21-28).

I’m not saying that every sin is equal with the flippancy I’ve heard some Christians demonstrate. There are certainly levels of sin with differing results.

Actual acts of adultery and murder certainly bear more serious consequences than my internal sins. I won’t contract any venereal diseases from adultery in my heart, and, at least in the short term, I haven’t torn apart my marriage and family or anyone else’s. (However, Jesus made it clear that adultery does indeed start with this heart sin, so we better not dally with anything like lust. Thoughts usually precede the actions that result in disaster. )

Cursing a fellow commuter from the privacy of my own car won’t land me in jail or leave anyone a widow or orphan, but when it comes to my right standing with God, any act of sin is an affront to His Holiness.

The Bible indicates that even my righteous deeds are like filth before the Lord (Isaiah 64:6), so as far as my acceptance with God goes, I can never look to my own conduct for any sort of merit. I must only trust in the sacrifice Jesus made for me and be assured that His righteousness, and not my own, is more than enough.

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Misery and our choices in the matter

The pat Christian answer as to why we face misery in this life is that sin is to blame. We are all born into it, ever since Adam and Eve. Now, those two had a great life in the Garden of Eden. Naked and unashamed, they had good work to do that was satisfying and not terribly exerting. Naming animals and looking after a garden that pretty much watered itself sounds pretty good to me. God even showed up regularly, putting aside his terrifying awesomeness and taking on human form to walk and talk with them, so the Garden of Eden days were about as good as life could get.

God didn’t make humans because He was bored or lonely. The good qualities we see in people, He possesses in infinite measure. His love and generosity make life with Him a possibility, and God doesn’t need us because He has perfect fellowship with Himself. CS Lewis likened the Holy Trinity to a dance that we are invited to join. Adam and Eve were part of this dance, sharing fellowship with God Himself and enjoying the blessings He had so abundantly chosen to bestow on them.

Without a choice, though, there is no real love. God could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to share Himself with humans. If loving God were the only option available to us, it wouldn’t be love at all, so Adam and Eve were given the ability to choose something other than Him, and they had the audacity to do the one thing God told them not to do.

They could do pretty much what they wanted, except eat fruit from one tree, but that’s just what they did. Afterwards, they covered themselves up with fig leaves, in essence hiding from one another, and then they tried to hide from God Himself, which never works. He knows all our secret places and won’t leave us alone.

I believe in inherited sin, which means we are all born sinners because of what Adam and Eve did in that garden. You can say what you want about the innocence of babies, but I was amazed at how strong-willed and defiant my infant children could be, twitching and fighting against me when all I wanted to do was change their nasty, stinking diapers. (Don’t we act that way with God, too? He’s trying to break in and clean us up, but we would rather sit in the crap of our own misspent lives.)

Even if I didn’t believe in inherited sin, I’d still have to say we’re all guilty because we all have had our little garden of relative innocence way back when we were kids, and at some point—usually at a surprisingly tender age—we do one thing we know is wrong, follow up with other actions we know to be morally incorrect, and then we cover ourselves with our own feeble fig leaves of self-justification, or we blame-shift like Adam, who insinuated that God was responsible for giving him a wife who tempted him, and then his wife blamed the serpent. The serpent offered no defense and slithered off, at least for a while.

Fortunately, God is always seeking us out and exposing our misguided attempts to justify ourselves, so He can generously redeem us. I finally let God clothe me in His righteousness, way back on the day of my conversion, but then I had to stake out a life far from Eden, just like the rest of us.

Adapted from Keeping It Between the Ditches

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