Last week, many in Texas celebrated Juneteenth, which is the oldest known event commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, the message that slaves were free finally made it to Texas, the last state to hear the news. All my life, I’ve thought of slavery as a terrible thing. In the wake of our country’s gross abuse of humans, you can understand why. Slavery, though, is a metaphor used all through the Bible (note: this is not the same kind of slavery that Juneteenth commemorates).
Metaphor is not really the right word there, as I believe it is meant more literally than metaphorically. And in those cases that I’m referring to, slavery is not a bad thing. For example, Jesus Himself says that anyone who wants to be great must first be a “slave of all” (Mark 10:44).
Fifteen years ago, I stumbled into a church hung over, and a story about a horse changed my life. This horse wanted to run free, but he didn’t truly experience freedom until he was fully submissive to his master, who was kind to him and met all his needs. At that point in my life, I wanted freedom. And if freedom came through submission, I was intrigued. As I trusted Christ and believed the gospel, I experienced for myself the unique truth of Christianity – that absolute freedom comes from full submission, and victory comes by way of surrender.
My daughter Presley’s parakeet “Turquoise” serves as a modern reminder to me. We let him out of his cage all the time, but inevitably, at first opportunity, he flies back to it and wants to go back inside. Several months ago, while holding Turquoise, Presley made the mistake of taking him outside. Of course, he flew off, over the houses, until he became a small turquoise speck disappearing into the horizon. She stood there on the sidewalk, devastated. My wife and Presley drove around the city looking for Turquoise. This was more to help Presley cope with losing him than any actual strategy of finding the bird. But as they gave up and returned home, Turquoise was in the front yard waiting on them! He didn’t want to fly free. He wanted to go back in his cage, and he was waiting for someone to let him in. Freedom for Turquoise looks like being safe in our house and in his cage most of the time, letting us take care of him.
But cages aren’t freeing or safe if you are the one in it instead of a bird. Many of us want to be free. However, in our pursuit of freedom, we become slaves, locked in cages we can’t escape. We believe the lie that now is the time to treat ourselves to whatever we want, because we can always grow up and settle down later. We want the freedom to spend money however we want, and we become a slave to stuff, locked in the cage of materialism. We want the freedom to find significance in work, and we become a slave to the office, locked in the cage of chasing success. We want the freedom to look at whatever we want, and then we’re trapped by porn and can’t stop looking. We want the freedom to get drunk, and soon we can’t enjoy life without alcohol.
It might not happen right away. The consequences don’t always show up immediately. But the law of the harvest holds true if you are planting sin into your life with your attitude and actions – you reap what you sow, you reap more than what you sowed, and you reap it later than you sowed it.
Living that way, sooner or later we want freedom from integrity and accountability. Ultimately, we receive freedom from spiritual growth, and our lives are devoid of any intimacy with Jesus. A fish might want to be free from water, but the pursuit of that freedom will not go well for the fish. Likewise, the pursuit of freedom from full submission to Jesus will not go well for anyone. Most often people with lots of freedom become dysfunctional. Think about that person you know who gets to do whatever they please. They often end up in a trap of narcissism, and empty, pointless, living.
Jesus Christ offers us freedom from our sin, but the freedom comes through slavery. We are slaves to Him. He is a good Master. I imagine the reason Turquoise loves his cage, is because he has a master who loves him and provides for his every need there. He is protected and cared for there. Where else would he go? Like the disciples said in the gospels when Jesus asked if they wanted to leave him, “…to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Jesus is calling you to full devotion. If reading the Bible is challenging in this season, or if prayer feels toilsome, or your faith is stagnant, consider this: are you pursuing freedom in anything other than Jesus? Has your sin led you into an invisible cage that is not the cage of a loving Master? Jesus is calling you out of that cage and into another kind of cage. It is one of both slavery and freedom. It is where you are doing everything He says, and it leads you to a full, abundant, life. We’d love to help you find that freedom! It is one of absolute obedience, full surrender, and complete submission to a loving Master. Where in your life are you not fully submitting to God’s will? Get help from God’s people to stop it.