When he first said it, it was not what I expected. After all, he had been behind bars for the last six years and he was now a free man on the outside with so many choices and options. As many of you at Village know, I have been visiting with “Kevin” [name has been changed] since 2009 when his sister and brother-in-law called me one afternoon in the early spring of that year. Through three trials and many visits, we spoke of what it means to be a Christian on the inside of prison and what it means to be one on the outside—no difference at all, really, except for location.
But now he was out and what he was saying didn’t make sense to me:
Every day I feel like I am still in prison, waiting for some guard to tell me what to do. And I feel like doing what I always did in prison, just sleeping and trying to pass each day until the next one comes, when I would do it all over again.
Such is the nature of prisons, it seems. The day to day routine and rut wears a deep trench in the soul and seems to steal life away. Everything becomes routine and men walk about day after day without much thought, following orders from those who rule in prison. There are really no choices to make—you can plan not only what you’ll be doing tomorrow, but also a year from now, down to the exact times you’ll be eating your meals or the many hours you’ll be staring at your very small world from behind the wrong side of locked door. Such routines die hard even if you are suddenly given freedom. That’s what Kevin was saying.
But this is also our story as we consider our being conceived and born in sin, and like our father, Adam (after Genesis 3!), born in a prison. From the beginning we are in bondage and are slaves to sin, locked in a prison and doing day after day the only thing we can do as rebels against God. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, he was careful to give them the full picture—and he didn’t mince words! It seems that some of the believers were struggling with those old patterns, and the ruts that sin makes in our lives. By reminding them of what they used to be (and it’s quite a list, isn’t it!?), he was not only showing them the kinds of people we’ll never find in heaven, but also the kinds of people God redeems and changes in order to bring them to heaven. And that’s the whole point: Jesus is in the business of breaking into prisons from the outside and setting men and women free from the bondage of sin. He is extraordinarily good at such jailbreaks; but, when He delivers, He calls those set free to leave their old patterns and ruts behind, giving them grace to do so, and to walk in newness of life. But that’s not always easy—the temptation is always there for sinners to return to their old haunts, to again walk the halls of that dark prison, to again wait for that cruel taskmaster to tell us what to do (remember Paul’s own expression of this in Romans 7?). But listen to what Paul says: “and such were some of you!” That is what we were, Paul says, but not who we are now! For someone who knows what it’s like to see prison doors burst open and chains loosed by the power of God (read Acts 16:16-ff), Paul was telling these believers that when Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed! But being free does not mean that we will no longer struggle against those old ways.
The difference, Paul says, begins by knowing the truth. Paul knew personally what Jesus said in John 8: “the truth shall set you free!” He once thought he was free and he used that freedom to persecute the followers of Christ. But he was really in bondage and Christ set him free. Consider the irony: a man in bondage seeking to kill those who had already been set free; Jesus arrests him on the road to Damascus and adds him to the number of those He alone can set free and then tells him his life will be nothing but persecution for Christ’s sake. And the truth that sets free is this: “you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
The Lord’s Table, around which we will gather this week, is the great emblem of our freedom in Christ. It is the place where we remember this truth and receive grace from our King Who now rules over us for good and has delivered us from bondage and from living in the ruts of former sins. And we surely need that grace! Consider these words that the Apostle Paul wrote just a few verses later in 1 Cor. 6: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Meditate upon these things as you prepare to come to this means of grace. The ruts and trenches of your former life of bondage are slowly but surely being filled in by the graces of our God in Christ so that we may walk the road that leads to heaven. The One Who has set you free is the One Who now leads you along that road and promises that one day He will bring you home. Until then, there’s no time to sleep the days away—press on, by His grace and live in the glorious freedom which is already yours in Christ, your new Master and Lord, Who is always and ever gracious!
Rejoicing in Christ, through Whom we have been made free,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar