Freedom From The Fish Bowl
by Justin Westmoreland
"But I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”
If you asked a shark to describe water, it would likely reply, “What is water?”
It’s not that sharks are unintelligent; it is that water is such an assumed reality of any fish’s existence that it surrounds it and supports its life. Water is a shark’s existence. What is your water? What is so essential to your life that you’d be perplexed if anyone pointed it out or embarrassed that you didn’t see and understand it.
In the world of sin and misery, each of us swims in spiritual slavery, where we live and move and have our being. We don’t even realize that the fish bowl in which we swim as humans in this world is filled with spiritual slavery.
In his first sermon, recorded in Luke 4:16–30, Jesus reads from a scroll and quotes portions of Isaiah 61 and 58 with the central point being that He is the One anointed by God’s Spirit to set at liberty those who are oppressed, poor, and captive. In other words, the central Good News is Jesus will bring freedom to the enslaved.
Do you find yourself constantly frustrated by a lack of interest in Jesus, or have difficulty following and loving Him? I think we all could honestly use some help. This is why God ordained that we spend an entire day devoted to resting and communing with Him. This is why we join small groups. This is why we are presently reading Every Thought Captive. We do all these things because we know we need help, and more freedom. But from what do we need freedom? Many of us have never lived in a context where we are jailed or enslaved by a foreign power like the original hearers of Jesus in Nazareth. We live relatively free lives.
Have you ever seen or heard art that expressed the yearning to feel free? But how do you feel freedom? After all, aren’t we all technically free people? Why do we struggle to feel it? As young children, we dream that when we get a car, or when we go to college, or become adults and start our own careers and families, we will feel free. As adults, we dream that the next trip to the mountains or the beach will help us to feel free. We have to always and forever keep up this quest to feel free. We believe we will feel free when we have the most worldly and family success. Perhaps the way we believe we will feel free is not being bound by morality, tradition, or religion. Though we are all legally free, we simultaneously are desperately chasing this elusive feeling of freedom.
The Bible alone explains why we are obsessed with this roar within us, even when we have little self-awareness that this chase for the feeling is what drives our behavior. Paul wrote in Romans 7:14, “But I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Paul was an apostle, a very spiritual man, and the writer of many books in the New Testament. Did you know that he devoted his life to sailing around the world and starting churches, even when that meant extreme rejection and physical harm? You might say, “There are bad people in Dallas, but they don’t go to church. Those people are enslaved by their addictions.” But the writers of Scripture counted themselves as slaves to sin. Are you a slave?
Hypothetically, what if at the next PCPC world missions conference, the session brought in Jesus to preach? And suppose Jesus, being busy, decides not to write a fresh sermon, but instead recycles His old sermon from Isaiah 58 and 61 that He preached in Nazareth. How would PCPC respond to hearing Jesus preach? I believe we are so enslaved that we might respond the same way that Jesus’ audience responded in Nazareth, with emotions ranging from disappointment all the way to rage. We are so enslaved and unaware that Jesus’ message wouldn’t scratch our itch. We would reject Him. (The people of Nazareth actually sought to throw Him off a 50-foot cliff and drop rocks on His head.) Jesus would promise that He would give us freedom. And we would say, “Okay, but what else?” I need power. I need approval. I need more love, wealth, health, sex, and money. We are enslaved to “Jesus plus.” We look for something added to Jesus to set us free, and it never delivers.
We are enslaved to sin, which means we disbelieve God and redefine what freedom is. We define freedom as getting as far away from God as possible. But here is the Good News: Jesus goes to those who seek to feel freedom by running away from Him, but He runs to us, even though we would reject and murder Him. Jesus escaped the mob in Luke 4, but a day came in which He laid His life down to set us free. Have you really considered today that your slavery is your problem? Have you considered that Jesus is fully aware of that? Have you considered that the Bible shows His willingness to get so close to you and your destructive hatred toward Him that He will be consumed in order to set you free? If you refuse to meditate on these things, the Good News will not be good to you, and you will not find freedom. We live in a need of Good News, a need of freedom, but like a shark in water, we don’t know our water. Consider today where you need Jesus to set you free.