A Hungry Octopus
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." -John 8:36
Sin is like a hungry octopus that has very long tentacles. To make matters worse, every sin comes with its own GPS tracking device. You get the picture. We can run, but we can’t hide. The GPS locator tells the octopus where we are. Sooner or later, the octopus will arrive and devour us.
Foolish people think they can avoid the octopus, but this is impossible. No man can fool God. Moses said, ". . . and you may be sure that your sin will find you out." (Numbers 32:23) And Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7)
There is an important difference between the penalty for sin and the consequences of sin. The penalty for sin (big or small) is eternal death. (Romans 6:23) Unless a sinner surrenders to the demands of the Holy Spirit and is born again, he or she will pay the penalty for sin. (Matthew 12:31,32)
On the other hand, the consequences of our sins vary according to the severity of each sin. Some sins have small consequences and some sins have enormous consequences. Given the penalty and consequences of sin, we should not treat the topic of sin lightly.
When we do wrong, God requires that we make restitution. (Exodus 22; Matthew 5:23,24) The concept of restitution is more complex than it sounds because the damage sin causes to a victim cannot always be restored by a sinner’s restitution. (Numbers 35:33; 1 Samuel 3:14)
For example, how can a predator make restitution for rape or sexual abuse? How can a murderer make restitution for two different murders since he only has one life to give? How does a liar make restitution for slander or libel? How does a married person make restitution for adultery?
How can parents restore the lives of children harmed by divorce? In those cases where restitution is not possible, God has provided a wonderful solution for the victim. It’s called forgiveness.
I know that it sounds strange that God requires each victim to forgive, but it is true! God does not want any victim suffering indefinitely. So, God offers each victim a special grace which will set each victim free of all hatred and revenge if he is willing to accept it.
God will remove all negative feelings from a victim if the victim is willing to forfeit his demand for human justice. (Of course, God will see that justice is served, but until that day comes, God’s heart is moved with compassion for the victim’s plight.)
In its simplest form, forgiveness is a simple exchange. God says to the victim, "Give me your anger and desire for justice and I will give you spiritual and emotional freedom from the injury." From a human point of view, forgiveness is not possible in many cases.
What is more disgusting or painful than suffering for no other reason than an evil predator’s passion? God understands because He suffers with us. This is why He offers to every victim a special grace called forgiveness. Jesus exhibited this grace on the cross. He said, ". . . Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) Stephen, the first Christian martyr, exhibited this grace. His final words were these: " . . . Lord, do not hold this sin against them. . . . " (Acts 7:60)
Freedom in Christ
Whenever a person receives a dispensation of God’s amazing grace (as in the previous example on forgiveness), that person experiences freedom in Christ. Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36) Let me be clear, the freedom that Jesus offers is not freedom from obeying God.
Never! The freedom that Jesus offers is freedom from the demands of the carnal nature. When the carnal nature is able to do as it pleases, it thinks it has freedom, but in reality the carnal nature is not free. It is spring loaded in the direction of evil. (Genesis 4:7) The carnal nature is attracted to things that are degenerative, destructive, and offensive.
The carnal nature is insatiable and never satisfied. It resists authorities and boundaries and it asserts itself above the welfare of others. The carnal nature will cause a person to sin and once sin is committed, bondage begins. The octopus will follow sin’s GPS signal, find the sinner, and strangle him.
The Gospel Coin
Like a coin, the gospel of Jesus Christ has two sides. One side is knowledge and the other is discipline, and herein lies a big problem. Many Christians would rather be an authority on Jesus than a mirror of His character. This lopsided phenomenon has led many non-Christians to loathe the gospel and the wonderful name of Jesus.
Many so-called Christians exhibit behavior that embarrasses even the pagans! However, a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus is a wonderful thing to embrace. The Bible tells us wonderful things about God and His love. It is a joy to hear thoughtful sermons that inspire and heart-felt songs that bring tears, but these do not bring freedom in Christ.
Freedom in Christ is only possible through total surrender to the authority of Christ! If you want to be happy and fulfilled, if you want to be free from burdens that are crushing the very life out of you, if you want freedom from addiction, worry, and hatred, you can have it. Jesus grants freedom to His disciples! Sometimes Jesus gives this freedom a minute at a time, sometimes it lasts an hour, or it can even last a whole day!
A disciple is a person who voluntarily submits to the demands of a mentor. A disciple of Christ is not a free man or woman as the world defines freedom, yet disciples of Jesus are truly free! They volunteer to be Christ’s slaves, surrendering their carnal natures every time sin raises its ugly head (each minute, hour or day).
Disciples of Christ are also servants of God, and pagans are very puzzled that anyone would want to be a disciple of Jesus. They ask, "Why should we give up the freedom to do as we want?"
Unfortunately, many Christians are not disciples. Wearing a label that says "Disciple of Jesus" is like wearing "The Medal of Honor" without having earned the medal. Leading people to become a disciple of Jesus is time consuming and difficult because a person has to be a disciple before he can help someone else become a disciple!
It takes a great deal of patience to teach another person the ways of Christ and to help him understand the benefits of giving up his personal freedom. Jesus understands the struggle and this is why He said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19,20, italics mine)
Holy Spirit Guilt
Here is an irony. To be free and truly happy, one has to become a disciple of Jesus. To become strong in the Lord, one has to see and admit his weakness. To overcome this world (the cares of this life and the lust of the eyes), one has to receive special grace from God because it is otherwise impossible. I know this sounds confusing, so here is a short illustration.
Suppose a man has come to a place in his life where he really wants to be set free from pornography. He realizes one day that porn has taken him further into depravity than he ever wanted to go. Yet, the man remains overpowered by porn.
He cannot escape the fantasies and pictures that constantly pass through his mind, and this monster is ruining his personal relationships. His wife and children notice that he is emotionally far away and detached. Inwardly, the man wants freedom from porn.
He might gather up whatever resolve he can muster and do something helpful, such as removing all porn from his possession. He might avoid TV shows, movies or even the internet so that he will not see porn. While these actions are steps in the right direction, they are not liberating because his brain is damaged. His passion for porn might be reduced by remedial action, but remember, "even though we manage to pull the nail out of the wall, the hole remains."
The gospel of Jesus offers a different route to freedom from porn. Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36) Suppose, the Holy Spirit comes to the man one day and heavily impresses two things upon the man’s heart. First, the Holy Spirit causes the man to see that porn is a sin against God in general and against women in particular.
It is a disgusting and debasing sin. Porn is a perversion of the intimate and meaningful experience which God created for a husband and a wife. The Holy Spirit also tells the man, "Porn is devouring your soul. You value women according to the sexual response they produce within you. Porn is destroying your marriage and your relationship with your children.
It will lead to inappropriate relationships, even predatory violence." But, the Holy Spirit does not end there. He tells the man that Jesus will heal him of this illness and put him on the road to freedom from porn if he will confess his sin to the Lord and acknowledge that further participation will ruin this life and disqualify him for eternal life.
Did you notice the last five words? When the Holy Spirit pounces on us with conviction, when the Holy Spirit brings us to the moment of truth, the road leads to freedom or death. "If we confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9, insertion mine)
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Hebrews 10:26,27)
The type of guilt the Holy Spirit produces always comes with a promise of freedom. God sends the Holy Spirit when we sin so that we will choose freedom and avoid death. If we feed the carnal nature, sin will take us into bondage (addiction). So, the Holy Spirit puts discipleship on the line every time He visits.
In other words, if the man battling porn is willing to confess his sin and believe God’s promise, he will receive special grace from God. The man will be purified according to God’s wisdom. I say "purified according to God’s wisdom" because Jesus may set us free from sin for a few minutes, an hour, or a day.
Often, the Lord will test our willingness to be disciplined many times before granting conditional freedom. (Freedom in Christ is always conditional. We have to remain a disciple of Jesus to remain free. This is why Twelve Step support programs are so helpful.)
So, which is better? The man who cleans his house, shuts off the TV and internet, and then struggles within himself to overcome porn or the man who voluntarily submits to the Holy Spirit, confesses his sin, and receives God’s grace which causes his interest in porn to die for a span of time. Of course, the second answer is the right one.
The carnal nature cannot overcome itself. We can only overcome the demands of the carnal nature through surrender, confession, and faith. Jesus will impart the grace that we need and conditional freedom is the result. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)
Jesus said, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man [and the man is conditionally set free], it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it [demons are not happy unless they are tormenting someone]. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied [no demons within], swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes [for help] and takes with it seven other spirits [demons] more wicked than itself, and they go in [and break down the door] and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. . . ." (Matthew 12:43-45, insertions mine)
This means that freedom comes through discipleship and it will be lost if discipline is refused. If the Holy Spirit confronts us on any matter and we refuse, eight demons will break down the door and take up lodging. So, be on guard. That temptation knocking at the door may have eight demons behind it.