Reflecting on the law, Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The principle is clear: Don’t stick your head through the yoke and carry that burden that Jesus already carried. You don’t need to go back. You are free.
Christians have been set free; yet many choose not to live free. They know the truth, but they either are unwilling or believe they are unable to leave the yoke of slavery. Below are five explanations from people whom I know and love about why they think they are still stuck in slavery.
- “I can’t change.”
This perspective: I believe the lie that I cannot change over the truth that I am already changed.
For example, a woman came to me and said, “Pastor Mark, I can’t change.” I said, “That’s a lie. Do you know Jesus?” She said, “I know Jesus.” I said, “Then you’re already changed. You need to know that Jesus changes you, and then you and Jesus can change your life. You don’t need to change yourself; Jesus changes you.”
- “I fear change more than slavery.”
This perspective: I know what slavery is; I don’t know what freedom is. I know what it’s like in my past; I don’t know what it’s like in my future. I would rather go with what I know than trust the Lord who knows the future.
- “I am shackled by loyalty to my personal and family history.”
This perspective: I have an identity. My friends see me this way. My family sees me this way. My coworkers see me this way. If I start worshiping God and I change, I’m going to get criticized and they’re going to belittle me. Maybe they’ll even disown me. I need to be true to my family. I need to be true to my history. I need to be true to my race. I need to be true to my culture. I need to be true to my cause. I need to be true to my tribe.
- “I return to enslaving habits.”
This perspective: I get stressed out, and I download something naughty. Or, I achieve something, and I allow myself a little sin as a reward. Or, something bad happens, and I pour a stiff drink. Or, something good happens, and I have a date with Ben & Jerry’s. I can’t kick the bad habits.”
- I practice self-deception about my past slavery.
This perspective: I miss the old days.
If we continue reading the story of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, we’ll find that self-deception about their past was their attitude after they had left Egypt. In Egypt, they were in slavery, and they cried out to God to get them out. He sent Moses to them. He parted the Red Sea. They were free. But as soon as their circumstances became difficult in the wilderness, they began deceiving themselves by missing the “old days” in Egypt. They complained to Moses, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt” (Numbers 11:18). They looked back on their slavery as if it were freedom.
Many of us have found ourselves with a similar deceptive attitude. After God gets us out of a situation, we look back and say, “Oh, those were good times.” No, they weren’t. They were not good times, and they won’t be good times if we revisit them. Someone who escapes a bad relationship might look back and think, “Well, he hit me, but he was a nice guy.” Nice guys don’t hit. Those were bad, bad days. When we finally get the knots out of our lives, we need to run away and not look back.
Have you ever met someone who had recently become a Christian but soon looked back on their former life and wished they could go back? “Those were good old days. I miss those days. Boy, I wish nothing changed. It was all great until Jesus showed up.” That sounds ridiculous, but sometimes we do just that. We exchange reality for fantasy. Some of our friends might get together and only want to romanticize and fantasize about the “old days,” which may have been filled with drunkenness, foolishness, and suffering. Some of us were victims of abuse. For many, it’s best to leave the past in the past.
The Bible tells us that having this kind of nostalgia for the past is unwise. “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). It’s foolish to ask such questions. That’s a slave mentality. “Before I had God, I had good.” That’s a slave mentality.