There is a prison called sin, and it’s captives are many. It lies to the inmates, whispering that true fulfillment can only be found behind its iron doors. And the only way this prison can contain the lie is to board up all of the windows that would allow the grace of God to shine within its walls. For this grace filled light from the outside would expose the lie.
If you find the Christian life to be a burden, I write this for you. If you view the commands of God as merely a collection of binding, moralistic rules, I write this for you. If you have felt that the joy found in knowing Christ couldn’t possibly compare with the fleeting pleasure found in your pet sins, I write this for you.
If you have these perceptions and fears about submitting your life to Jesus, I will lovingly tell you that you don’t know Christ. You have heard of Jesus, but you’ve never tasted the sweetness of knowing Him personally. You are like a prisoner who has grown so comfortable in his cell that he cannot imagine that true life can be found outside of its walls.
It is my aim to convince you through the word of God that greater joy and freedom can only be found through submitting your life to Christ. It is my prayer that the windows to your cell would be shattered, and the grace of God would become more precious than your sin.
First, we must determine what it means to be a prisoner. One of the definitions of a prisoner is a person who is or feels confined or trapped by a situation or set of circumstances. They cannot escape by their own volition. By our fallen nature, sin is the prison to which we were all born into. It is the addiction of which we cannot break from on our own.
My uncle was addicted to nicotine and as a result, he smoked close to three packs of cigarettes a day. Although our family pleaded with him numerous times to kick the habit, he refused to give it up. He would always say with a smile, “How can something that brings me so much joy be wrong?” My uncle died of lung cancer when I was a freshman in high school. He couldn’t see the prison he was in that was under the guise of a temporary pleasure. And as a result, he forfeited greater joy found in better health as well as longer life.
The apostle Paul exposed sin for what it truly is. The lie that our culture buys into is that our deepest longings can only be satisfied in practices of sin.
“But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:22.
Sin gives the illusion of total satisfaction. It’s a mirage of perpetual pleasures. But the pleasures found in sin do not last forever. The lusts of the flesh are temporary and fleeting. And in order to continually find satisfaction in a life of sin, you must lock yourself in its cage and throw away the key. It is to be like an addict who cannot fathom any joy outside of his harmful addiction. And a life enslaved to sin is one that is ignorant and unaware of the exquisite joys that can only be found outside of its cage.
In the summertime we will occasionally take our boys fishing. In one of our outings, Luke caught a small catfish. Upon taking it off of the hook, it was apparent that this fish had been snagged by a fishing hook before. It amazed me that as many times as this fish had most likely seen a worm with a shiny hook through its center, he had never wised up and learned from his past. He had never realized that what promised the satisfaction of a fully belly would ultimately lead to his demise. He was imprisoned to his own desires.
“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Philippians 3:19.
And then it dawned on me that as we chase after our favorite sins, we are no different from a gullible fish. In Genesis chapter 3, Satan caused Adam and Eve to doubt the promise of God that greater joy would be found in obedience to His word. Satan is the ultimate deceiver. Just as a fisherman seeks to deceive the fish with the false promise of a taste meal, Satan duped man into thinking his life would be more prosperous if he were to be his own God. The devil has no need to change his bait or tactic, because mankind continues to trust in the lie over the truth.
The truth of how we came to become shackled to sin angers those who are self-righteous and repels those who are slaves to their sins. Satan receives way to much credit from our post modern evangelical culture. It is common place to hear Jesus painted as this battle wearied solider who is doing His best to clean up the mess that Satan is causing. But Satan poses no threat to God, and even on His best day has no power to frustrate the plans of the sovereign Lord.
It was God’s providential will to allow humanity to fall into the prison that is sin. Mind you, God did not cause us to sin, but He allowed us to become enslaved to its shackles.
“For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” Romans 11:32.
This flies against how mainstream evangelicals tend to think about God today. It is easier to see God as a victim who was simply unable to stop Satan from leading into sin. It’s so much more palatable for us to see God as one who is begging us to find a way out. And if we can only muster up enough discipline, we can set ourselves free with the key of our self-imposed will.
But it’s quite another thing for man to come to grips with the truth of scripture that God willingly subjected his creation over to futility. A futility that in our flesh we have absolutely no power to escape from, so that he would be seen as the merciful rescuer and therefore receive all glory and praise.
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that at first glance, a God who’s highest aim was to glorify Himself through His created seemed to make the Lord out to be as “a little old lady begging for compliments.” However, Lewis went on to refute this idea, saying that we were created and wired to find our greatest joy in worshipping Christ!
David writes in Psalm 16:11, “In your [God’s] presence there is fulness of joy, in Your [God’s] right hand are pleasures for evermore.“
As John Piper often says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” The mandate for God to receive glory from His creation for rescuing it from the bondage of sin and man’s quest for tapping into unending joy go hand in hand. They are inseparable.
Saint Augustine was a man imprisoned by the lusts of his flesh. In his written Confessions, he recounts his unquenchable desire for sexual exploits, even at one point had a live in prostitute. He was shackled and unable to abandon His sin, even though he knew it was wrong. Then one afternoon, he heard the voice of a young child saying “Take up and read.” He took this to be a sign from God and he picked up the book of Romans and read this verse;
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:13-14.
After this reading, Augustine wrote, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” Through reading the Word of God, He saw the beauty of obedience to Christ brought more joy to his soul than all of his previous transgressions.
When recounting his life running in sin in comparison to his new life in Christ, Augustine wrote, ““How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose..! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”
The sins that once imprisoned Augustine, those that brought him temporary pleasures he willingly admitted that he was at one time afraid to lose them. But after his eyes were opened through his mind being opened to the word of God, he labeled the sins he once held so dear ‘fruitless joys.’
“Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.
Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin so that those who are in Him are now free to be who they are called to be; spotless, blameless, holy, and perfect in the sight of God. All remnants of their bondage to sin now washed away by the blood of Christ. For a Christian to choose sin over obedience to Christ is to settle for less. It is to choose imprisonment over freedom. It is to cling to that which is temporal rather than eternal. To relinquish all rights to practice sin is not a martyrs duty or a religious burden. If your sin is more precious than Christ, you are still in the prison cell. When we abandon our sins in exchange for a life lived unto the Lord, we walk in liberty. And we gain far more than the prison called sin could ever promise.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -C.S. Lewis