By Mike Genung
December 18, 1865: The thirteenth amendment, which outlaws slavery, is officially integrated into the U.S. Constitution and becomes law. Slaves in the U.S. are now legally free to walk away from bondage and into the freedom they’ve wanted all of their life. You would have thought that slaves everywhere would have rejoiced as they reveled in their new-found freedom and walked off the plantations, yet this often wasn’t the case. Most black persons stayed where they were and acted as if nothing had changed. What was going on? They were free yet kept living as slaves. The civil war had been fought in their behalf and they now could stand tall as free men and women, yet they continued living in fear and poor living conditions, not to mention their unjust masters.
Today, many Christians are mirroring those freed slaves of the 1800s.
Their experience of the Christian life is one of defeat and compromise, instead of victory and freedom; slavery to sin is all they know. This is in spite of the fact that they’ve spent years in church hearing the good news that Christ fought the battle for them and won, and they need no longer live bound to the old master. The sins they serve include sexual lust, bitterness, greed, gluttony, and pride, among others. They’ve lost the battle so many times they have little hope that living in victory is possible, in spite of all the Bible says. This isn’t to say they should live perfect lives, but that they’re living as though they’re defeated.
I’ve talked with some of these men. One man told me he’d given up all hope that he could ever break free from porn addiction; it had fastened its grip on him for so long and he’d failed so often that defeat was all he knew. His sin had become bigger than God’s ability to free him.
I’ve been there. Six months before God set me free from bondage to lust in 1999, I gave up hope that anything other than God could set me free; I didn’t know what the outcome would be or if victory was possible.
According to God’s word we’re spiritual billionaires. We’re given every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly places, all of our sins are forgiven, and we’re given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1). In Romans 5 we’re told “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.” In 1 Corinthians 10 we’re promised that God will provide a way out of every temptation. We have eternal life, are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5), can approach the living God boldly for mercy and help anytime, (Hebrews 4:16) have a new family (the body of Christ). He gives us armor to fight with (Ephesians 5) and we’re promised that God will never leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6). These are just some of the treasure trove of blessings and promises that are ours.
What’s going on here? Why is living in freedom so difficult, even seemingly impossible at times?
Here are seven possible explanations:
1. We know the truth, but we don’t believe it. Back in 1999, what I knew and what I believed were two different things. I knew plenty of Scripture, but my heart was walled off with lies, such as:
God can’t/won’t love me as I am.
I’ve failed too many times.
I can never measure up.
My sin is more powerful that God’s ability to free me.
I don’t know if God can or wants to fill the emptiness in my heart. (If lust is gone, what will I be left with? It’s the only way I know to plug the hole in my heart.)
All of those lies and more kept me from receiving all the blessings that God already had given me and wanted me to walk in.
2. Slavery to sin was all I knew. Freedom was foreign to me. I didn’t know what walking in freedom meant, looked like, or felt like. (Crazy, considering I’d spent years in church). It seemed far away and was only for the “super spiritual.”
3. I didn’t know how to step into freedom, and if I tried, the enemy would do all he could to keep me from it. Every time I fell to sin, I would rehearse my lies of shame (can’t get it right, failed too much, I’m worthless); if I didn’t the enemy would do his part by playing those tapes for me. His lies stuck but the truth did not. It’s what I thought I deserved. I was a miserable, shamed, rotten sinner, and the enemy wanted me stuck in that identity. It is true that I have the same despicable, evil flesh that everyone else does that is prone to lust, pride, greed, and a host of other sins, but that’s only part of the truth. It’s not the end of the story.
4. I lived in groveling, scum of the earth mode. I was always begging God to forgive me for my every sin, hoping that He would cleanse me. I didn’t believe God forgave me because I was too focused on my feelings, and because I didn’t feel forgiven I had a hard time believing it was true.
5. My pride and self-absorption. You’d think someone who thought he was scum would have a hard time feeling proud, but the opposite was true. I was always focused on myself, my problems, and my failures. Me, me, me. It’s hard to hear God when you’re wrapped up in yourself and your sin.
6. I thought self-condemnation would please God. This is a sick, twisted way of thinking. “Maybe if I beat myself up and tell God what a loser I am, He’ll forgive me.” If that isn’t slave mentality I don’t know what is.
7. I listened to the enemy more than I listened to God. It was easy to agree with the enemy because he knew exactly how to pinpoint my weaknesses and exploit them with his lies. He’s had thousands of years of experience of playing people. All it took was just the idea that I might sin; the condemnation would start rolling in, I’d fall prey to discouragement and the idea that defeat was inevitable, and I’d give in. Another battle lost, proving I’m a loser hypocrite Christian, incapable of getting it right.
So for those of you who might be feeling like this, let me hit you with some emancipation proclamation.
1. All of God’s word is true, and all the blessings and gifts promised to those who love Him are for you. You have all you need to overcome every temptation, and you never have to fall prey to sexual sin again. This doesn’t mean the journey will be easy or there won’t be hard battles to fight, but that if you fight with the weapons and methods God has given you, you can win.
2. Your feelings do not nullify God’s love, gifts, or promises. Neither do your failures. Just because you feel low doesn’t mean you’re not His child. Get your focus off your feelings and onto the truth of who you are and what you’ve been given.
3. Start examining your thoughts, and don’t allow them to pass without filtering them through God’s word. Self-condemnation, shame, guilt, and questioning God’s forgiveness are not allowed. You’re not a slave to sin, you’re Christ’s friend (John 15:15). You’re forgiven for every sin. You can stand on who you are as Christ’s son or daughter. There is no more need for fear, condemnation, or shame.
4. If you sin, simply confess it, and move on. Don’t grovel. Thank God for forgiving you and accept that He’s done as He’s promised. No matter how shamed or condemned you may feel, refuse to accept it any longer. There’s no more condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8). Throw your stake in the ground and refuse to budge.
5. The two keys to living in freedom are humility and obedience. Do what God’s word says to do. Don’t be a hearer who deludes themselves (James 1), which, there are many in the church today. Stay in humility by living in the truth that you are broken and in need of grace, God’s power, and the help of others. Choose to serve, even if you don’t feel like it. Accept God’s plan for your life; grow where He’s planted you. Stop resisting what you know He wants to do in your life and work with Him. Above all, keep pride as far away as possible. As soon as you start thinking you’ve got the Christian life wired and you’ve overcome temptation for all time, you’re moments away from hitting the pavement, face first.
6. Dwell on grace. God has lavished His grace on you (Ephesians 1). He wants you to grow in grace, and the knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). Soak in chapters about who God is and His attitude towards you, like Psalms 103. In your every failure, God meets you with grace; His undeserved favor. The thing that always blows me away about God is how gentle He is after I’ve blown it. Read the story of the prodigal son and how his father reacted when he came home after blowing it badly. That’s God’s heart for those who come to Him with the desire to restore their relationship.
7. Be aware that the enemy doesn’t want to you know who you are in Christ because you will become a threat to the gates of hell. He will use every dirty trick to try to get you to fall, and then pound you with shame, guilt, and condemnation. If he can, he’ll use others, including other Christians, to mess you up even more. Your God given weapons are salvation (standing firm in who you are in Christ), faith (in God and His word), truth (as revealed in His word), peace (no more condemnation), the word of God aka the sword of the Spirit, God’s righteousness which was given to you when Christ died, and prayer (Ephesians 5). Note that none of these weapons involve trying harder, being “a good Christian,” doing good works for God, or other people. The weapons involve you, your relationship with the Lord, your belief system, knowledge of God’s word, and prayer. There will be many times when you must stand firm on your own and you won’t have the help of others. You can go to church and study the Bible all you want, but if you don’t stand on who you are, all that knowledge won’t do you any good.
The battle looks like this:
Enemy: “You’ve failed too many times. You’ll never recover from sexual sin.”
You: “That’s a lie! Jesus came to set captives free, and with God, nothing is impossible.”
Enemy: “You’ve always been a loser, and you always will be. You’re a failure.”
You: “It is true that I’ve sinned in the past, and will probably fail again. But God says that I belong to Him and I’m His property. I’m given the Holy Spirit as a deposit. I’m seated with Christ in the Heavenly places. All my sins are forgiven. I’m given every spiritual blessing. There’s no more condemnation for me. God will never leave me nor forsake me. He has compassion on me like a father does his children. I’m not an outcast, I’m not alone, I’m not a loser, and I refuse to give in to discouragement!”
Enemy: “How do you know this is true for you? Are you really saved?”
You: “God’s word says “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for my sins. I’m saved by His grace alone. He’s given me His Holy Spirit, and the Lord has spoken to, led, and ministered to me many times in my life. He’s given me these verses to put my stake in the ground with in the past (recite one or two that God has given you before). I am God’s son!”
Enemy: “Wouldn’t a little porn be good right now?”
You: “I don’t need it. It will make me miserable, and I’m sick of giving in and feeling ashamed. I never have to give in to that again. I’m God’s son.” Then, looking to Heaven, you pray: “Lord, please fight against those who fight against me (Psalms 35). Please silence the enemy and let my flesh die. You know there’s a part of me that would love to binge on porn, and I ask for your strength to continue to stand firm.”
8. Remember that prayer is an effective weapon. What often happens in temptation is that we get attacked, offer up one half-hearted, weak prayer, then give in. Prayer is a powerful weapon; the enemy doesn’t want you to know how effective it is. Some battles will last longer than others. Resolve ahead of time to go the distance in prayer with each battle that comes. Right before Jesus was arrested, the only counsel He gave the disciples was to “pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Prayer is a powerful weapon in your arsenal.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Stand firm in all that God’s done for you!
Chuck Swindoll’s book The Grace Awakening provided information on the thirteenth amendment and how the slaves responded.