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Friday, July 27, 2018

Learning to Say No

We live during an age when we are bombarded with hundreds of opportunities every day for ways in which we could spend our money, time, and energy. There are numerous advantages to having so many opportunities right in front of us, including the option to, in the case of choosing a restaurant, make a selection based on whatever we feel like eating that day. But there are also numerous disadvantages, especially for people who struggle to say “No.”

We all know we need to say “No” sometimes, but few of us are good at it saying “No” when we really need to say it. In this article, I’ll be sharing why it’s important to say “No,” digging into some of the reasons why we don’t say “No,” and sharing some ideas based on my experiences to help you develop a strategy for saying “Yes” to the right things and “No” to the wrong things.

Why It’s Important to Say No

It goes without saying that resources such as money, time, and energy are scarce. They always have been and always will be. It’s amazing to think about all the things on which we could possibly spend these resources.

What would happen if we never said “No” to anything? How quickly would our finite resources disappear? I’ll use yesterday as an example. If I wouldn’t have said “No” to anything yesterday, I would’ve built an entire ecommerce website instead of only working on it for an hour, talked with a friend for an hour instead of a half hour, made Amy a three-course meal for dinner rather than something simple, bought hundreds of dollars-worth of groceries, completed two loads of laundry, vacuumed the floors in our house, pressure washed the siding, painted our hallway, and written this article. And those are just the big items; there are plenty more smaller things I would’ve done too.

What would’ve happened if I attempted to accomplish all those things yesterday? I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get them all done, and the things I got done wouldn’t have been done well. And that was only for one day. Think about what would happen if I went for days or weeks or years without saying “No.” How hectic would my life be? I’d be so busy and worn out that I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Not to mention that I’d fail to say “Yes” to the things to which I really want to say “Yes.”

This is a place where I’ve found myself and where many of you find yourselves. Some of us have a very hard time saying “No,” especially to good things and/or to people we love. But if we never say “No,” then we’re going to find ourselves completely spent and burnt out to the point where we’ll be unable to function. If we’re going to be able to spend our resources on the great things in life, we’re going to have to learn how to say “No” to everything else.

Why We Struggle to Say No

In order to overcome our struggles to say “No,” we must gain some insight on why it’s so hard for us. So I’m challenging you to do some deep introspection to get to the bottom of why you say “Yes” to some things and “No” to others.

One of the biggest reasons I struggle to say “No” is that there are so many things I want to do. When a friend asks me to go to lunch, I want to do that. When a teammate asks me to play hockey, I want to do that. When Amy asks me to spend some quality time together, I want to do that. When someone asks me to help them solve a problem, I want to do that. All of these things are good things, but I never have the resources available to do everything I want to do. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

Another reason I’ve found myself struggling to say “No” is that I don’t want to disappoint people, especially the ones I’m trying to impress. I’ve often found myself in situations where someone will ask me to do something and I really don’t have the resources to do it, but I’ve done it anyway because I didn’t want to disappoint them. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

In my former life, I struggled to say “No” when I was asked to do something connected with the church or charitable organizations. For some reason, I had it in my head for many years that I was called to take every opportunity to serve God through serving at my church and serve others by volunteering to help them. We can become so invested in serving God and others that we miss out on opportunities to spend quality time with him. If you’d like to read a more detailed explanation of this topic, I’d encourage you to check out my article entitled Can We Be Too Busy Doing Things for God? Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

A reason I’ve seen some of my friends struggle with saying “No” is that they feel like they have to say “Yes” in order to continue getting what they want from another person. For example, someone may want acceptance and finds someone who accepts them. But that acceptance may be conditional meaning that the person has to continue saying “Yes” in order to continue being accepted. The moment the person says “No” will be the moment he or she is no longer accepted. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

These are only a few of the many reasons why we may struggle to say “No.” Before you move on to the next section of this article, I encourage you to spend at least a few minutes thinking about why you struggle saying “No” to some of the people in your life.

How to Say Yes to the Right Things and No to the Wrong Things

As I watch people attempt to navigate their way through life, I’ve discovered that most people really don’t have a vision for where they want to go in their life. We only have one life. It started at some point and it’s going to end at some point. What’s your objective for the time in between? Since “right” and “wrong” in this sense are relative terms, the answer to this question will determine what’s “right” and “wrong” when it comes to saying “Yes” and “No.”

As a disciple of Jesus, my vision for my life is to look more and more like Jesus every single day. I seek to accomplish this objective by worshiping him every minute of every day through things such as spending time with God, being in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his earthly mission. More specifically, I intentionally read my Bible every day, spend time with Amy, spend time with friends, play hockey, build websites, write blog posts, and am on the board at Habitat for Humanity. These activities all provide me with opportunities to worship God through the three things I mentioned above. There are so many other things I could do with my resources, but those are the only ones I’m doing right now because that’s about as much as I can do while maintaining a healthy life.

When I’m asked to do something, this is what I use to determine whether I should say “Yes” or “No.” Currently, my plate is full, so there’s no room to add anything else without removing something. If I decide I want to say “Yes” to something else, then I have to decide what thing I’m currently doing which I will no longer do. It’s very hard to pass up on good things that I’d like to do, but that’s what I need to do in order to continue maintaining a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy lifestyle; I have to say “No” to good things in order to say “Yes” to the best things.

If you struggle to say “No” or don’t know what things to say “No” to, I’d encourage you to start by determining your vision for your life. I hope you’ll spend more than 5 minutes developing this vision. More than likely, it’ll take you a few months or even a few years to come up with it, which is perfectly okay.

Once you have set your vision, think about how, on a higher level, you might be able to accomplish this vision. For example, I determined that accomplishing my vision was going to involve worshiping Jesus every minute of every day by spending time with God, spending time in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his mission. Make sure these items are broad enough to include a wide range of activities so that you don’t limit yourself to only a few activities.

After you determine how you’re going to get there, then weigh every opportunity that comes your way against your objective and sub-objectives. Do you think this new opportunity will lead you closer to your objective? Remember, there are lots of “good” things we can do. But simply doing “good” things isn’t what we’re trying to accomplish. What if you have the opportunity to give up something “good” for something “great?” This is where I’d encourage you to ask whether this new opportunity will accomplish your vision better than something else you’re currently doing. If so, then you’ll probably want to say “Yes” to it and “No” to the other thing.

A Word of Caution

Before I conclude, I want to make a few clarifications on this topic because I could see how this discussion could be misinterpreted. My proposed strategy isn’t intended to be enslaving. If it becomes enslaving, then ditch it. What I’ve presented is intended to set you free; free from the feeling that you have to say “Yes” to things to which you really want to say “No.” By having a vision for where you want to go, you have the freedom to say “No” and have a logical explanation for why you made that decision, recognizing that you’re trading it for something better.

I’m not encouraging you to become inflexible. An inflexible person is someone who doesn’t consider any additional options because his plate is already full. A flexible person is someone whose plate is full, but is willing to consider an option and say “No” to another one when a better one comes along.

Lastly, I’m not encouraging you to ditch your commitments midway through completing them if a better option comes along. There may be times you have to do this, but it probably shouldn’t be the norm. Instead, I’d encourage you to complete your commitment, and then say “No” to similar future commitments. For example, if you’re serving a one year term in a leadership role for a non-profit organization and realize 6 months into it that there’s another opportunity which will help you better accomplish your vision, I’d encourage you to complete your term, and say “No” when asked to serve another term.

What did you learn about yourself from this article? How will you apply the things you’ve learned so that you can be more willing to say “Yes” and “No” when needed?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

There's No Such Thing as Non-Religious

Rachel is an ordinary American woman in her mid-twenties. She grew up in a normal American household with her mom, dad, big brother, and big sister. Her dad is a pretty successful department manager in a large corporation and her mom is the office manager for a local dentist.

Growing up, Rachel dreamed of becoming a world renowned architect. So she applied and was accepted at Cornell University for both her undergrad and graduate program and landed a job with Gensler, one of the top architecture firms in the world, in their San Francisco office.

When she was growing up, her family attended church almost every Sunday. She was an active participant in Sunday school and the youth group. When she moved to Ithaca for college, she thought about trying to find a church there, but after struggling to find one that reminded her of the one she grew up in, she gave up trying thinking that church really didn’t seem to do much for her anyway.

Once she moved to San Francisco, the thought of finding a church home didn’t even cross her mind. After all, she was the one who earned her way into Cornell. She was the one who excelled in her academic studies. She was the one who earned a job at Gensler. What role did God really play in all of those things? He seemed like nothing more than a distraction. If God would be willing to get onboard with helping her accomplish her dreams, then she’d consider going to church. Otherwise, she didn’t see the point. For that matter, she really doesn’t see the point in affiliating herself with any of the traditional religions because they didn’t seem to offer her any help in achieving her dreams. Rachel considers herself to be non-religious.

Although Rachel is a fictitious person, her story is shared by millions of young adults in America. Year after year, the number of people in America who choose not to affiliate with a particular religion continues to grow. But are these people really non-religious? Is there really such a thing as having no religion? I’ve written this article in an attempt to further explore this topic.

How Do We Define Religion?

In order to arrive at an answer to this question, I need to develop a working definition for a religion. We commonly associate religion with one of the traditional religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. What do these religions have in common? All five of them have a set of common beliefs amongst religious adherents. Four of them focus on the worship of deities such as God, Allah, or a variety of gods. The other, Buddhism, does include worship, but the focus of the worship is different than the other four. Nonetheless, worship is still present. Let’s dig deeper into what it means to worship.

Worship is not merely an outward expression. It is an outward expression which results from what’s going on inside of us. Some of the best worship I’ve witnessed takes place with sports teams. Let’s say you’re at a football game and the home team scores. What happens next? The entire stadium erupts in cheering. Why? Are they simply going through the motions? Not at all. There’s something inside of them which experiences satisfaction in an object (the football team), causing them to jump to their feet in praise of their team. This is worship.

Football team worship is not isolated to the weekly games; it also takes place throughout the week. Anything people do which displays the glory and honor of their team throughout the week is also an expression of worship. When someone shares about how great his team is to his coworker, this is just as much an expression of worship as the person who jumps to his feet in praise during the game. It’s an expression of worship when someone proudly wears a shirt with his team’s logo on it. It’s an expression of worship when we dedicate a room in our house to our favorite team. We worship every single day. No matter what we do, we can’t get away from it.

Can you think of a time when someone worshiped nothing? That thought doesn’t even make sense. Our worship is always directed towards an object. The object may be anything including a supernatural deity, an employer, wealth, or a spouse.

Going back to where I started, a commonality with all religions is that their adherents engage in worship of a common object. Christians and Jews worship God, Muslims worship Allah, and Hindus and Buddhists worship a host of gods. In the same way, there is a religion on the market known as Buckeye-Football-ism. People who adhere to this religion worship the Ohio State Buckeye football team. There is a religion on the market known as consumerism. People who adhere to this religion worship the goods and services they consume. There is a religion on the market known as politics-ism. People who adhere to this religion worship politics. And there are many, many more.

Therefore, all religions have the following in common: (1) an object of worship, (2) worship of that object, and (3) a common set of beliefs. I’ve talked about the first two, so I’ll briefly talk about the third.

In a traditional religion such as Christianity, adherents hold to a set of common beliefs such as believing that everyone is a sinner, Jesus died to forgive these sins, and Christians will receive eternal life with Jesus. Most of us have heard that before. But what are the common beliefs held by adherents of Buckeye-Football-ism? One belief is that their team is the best team. That doesn’t mean they’re deluded into thinking their team has the best record in NCAA football, but it does mean that they believe the Buckeyes are more valuable to them than any other team in NCAA football. Another common belief is that they need to show allegiance to their team by wearing team logos, watching team games, and not denying association with their team. Another belief they all share is that they must shun all Michigan Wolverine fans and stay out of Ann Arbor! Yeah, that one’s kind of humorous, but for those of you who know adherents of Buckeye-Football-ism, you know it’s true. Similarly, every religion, including consumerism and politics-ism, has a common set of beliefs.

Applying These Thoughts to Rachel’s Story

Based on this discussion, do you think our fictitious character, Rachel, is truly non-religious or is she still religious? I’d conclude that she’s still religious, but simply changed her affiliation. Instead of worshiping God, she’s now worshiping herself, a religion known as Me-ism, and Gensler, a religion known as Gensler-ism. She is deriving some sense of satisfaction from worshiping those two objects instead of God.

In the same way that Rachel is still religious, I’d conclude that people who claim to be non-religious are still religious; they just happen to not be adherents to traditional religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. They still have an object of worship, they worship that object, and they have a set of beliefs about that object, making it a religion.

We may try to rid ourselves of worship and ultimately religion, but we can’t do it. It’s impossible.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Would it be helpful for me to make any additional clarifications?

Friday, July 13, 2018

How Freedom in Jesus Impacts Our Daily Life

Last week, I published an article titled Celebrating Our Freedom. In this article, I shared the fundamentals of the freedom we can find in Jesus. When we hear the word freedom, most of us probably paint a picture of being set free from a tyrannical government or leader. But this is far from the picture the Bible paints for us about the freedom offered in Jesus.

What does it really look like for Jesus to set us free? And how does it impact our daily lives? These are the questions I seek to answer in this article by providing a few practical examples from my own life which demonstrate the ways in which Jesus has set me free. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since God began setting me free from sin,[1] it’s that this freedom is something which permeates every area of my life. My entire outlook on life, the things I strive after, and the things I think about throughout the day have completely changed.

As I share a few of the ways in which my life has been changed by Jesus, know that these are only a few specific examples which have taken place in my life and that they aren’t the only changes I’ve experienced, nor are they the only changes other people have experienced. The reason I’ve decided to share these specific examples is because I think they will be relatable for many of you reading this article.

Jesus Set Me Free from Shame

Shame is one of the most under-discussed and under-researched topics in the world. It’s an incredibly hard subject to talk about because of the pain it stirs up. Nonetheless, I’m going to spend a little time discussing shame because of the stronghold it once had on me and because of the stronghold it probably has on many of you.

Based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, often recognized as the leading researcher in the area of shame, shame is defined as “The fear of disconnection.” To say it another way, shame is the fear of rejection. All of us have struggled with this fear at some point in our lives and may still be struggling with it today. We so desperately want to be accepted.

As I look back on the few childhood memories stored in the archives of my brain, most of them are somehow connected to the shame I felt in the midst of those experiences. Throughout grade-school, I was often picked on by my classmates which led me to feel rejected by them. For example, I can remember wearing a sleeveless shirt to school one day and one of my classmates made fun of me because my arms were so skinny. I felt that I was being rejected because of my skinny arms which then led me to feel shame.

A few weeks later on the last day of school, we were all ushered into the cafeteria where awards were presented to students who excelled in various areas such as being on the honor roll, getting straight A’s, and having perfect attendance. When the teachers presented the awards to the students, everyone in the room applauded for them. To my young mind, it appeared like these high-performing students received acceptance because of their accomplishments. At that moment, I decided to set out to win every school award imaginable in order to receive the same acceptance. By the time I finished 5th grade, I was earning every single one of those awards every single year. I got to stand up in front of every student in the entire school to accept my award and receive their solidary commendation.

It didn’t take long for this same mentality to carry over into everything I did. I strove to win every award imaginable so that I could experience what I felt was a sign of acceptance. Whatever I did, whether it was school work, sports, choir, or musicals, I quickly climbed to the top of the ladder and won nearly every award. And every time I walked up to the front of the room to receive my award, I soaked up the applause I received from all my classmates.

Unfortunately, awards are only handed out once a year. And although I found myself feeling accepted when I received awards, I still felt rejected and therefore lots of shame throughout the rest of the year. No matter how hard I tried or how many awards I received, I was never able to part with the daily shame I experienced. The constant shame I felt continued until Jesus became the King of my life. When this transition began to take place, everything began to change.

Jesus is God. Why is this important? Because that makes him the most important being in the entire world. God created and continues to sustain the universe. And he created every single person on earth. He’s kind of a big deal.

When I put myself and everyone else on earth up against God, I realize we all pale in comparison to him. In the grand scheme of things, we’re worthless compared to God. We’re just a bunch of messed up peons who are enslaved to sin. God has no reason to give us the time of day. Yet, God loves me so much that he humbled himself to become a human being who lived in this sinful world and died a death he didn’t deserve so that I could be set free from my captivity to sin.[2] This is the greatest act of acceptance anyone could ever demonstrate. The fact that I did absolutely nothing to earn it, yet he gave it to me freely, demonstrates the genuineness of it.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of rejection and the shame that comes with it![3]

Jesus Is Setting Me Free from My Addictions

Another freedom I’ve experienced in Jesus is being set free from addiction. Although I’ve never been addicted to some of the biggest culturally taboo addictions such as drugs, gambling, or pornography, I’ve been addicted to a number of other things including wealth, video games, and perfection.

Although I don’t have a doctorate in psychology, in my experiences dealing with personal addictions and in walking alongside others who have struggled with addictions, I’ve concluded that addictions, regardless pf type, are extremely similar in that every single one of them is completely enslaving. Anything can become an addiction. We can be addicted to work, sports, gossip, politics, sex, eating, cleaning, and even coupon clipping. It doesn’t take a chemical injection in order for something to become addicting.

The way all addictions start is by trying something for the first time. Maybe you got to play a video game at a friend’s house, try a new sport, or take a shot of heroin. As you tried those things for the first time, you realized that they felt pretty good. So you naturally decided to go back to them again and again and again. Before you know it, you find that your mind is constantly consumed with dreaming about the future experiences you’ll have with the object of your addiction. You’ll be counting down the minutes until you’ll be able to have it again. And you get to the place where you feel like you need to have it in order to be happy. This is what I mean by it being enslaving. The addiction ends up controlling you.

One of my addictions for many years was wealth. I’d often find my mind completely consumed with dreaming about becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world. When I had opportunities to earn some money, I’d save nearly every penny of it. By late elementary school, I had saved up enough to open my first Certificate of Deposit. In seventh grade, I saved up another pot of money which I invested in my first mutual fund. A year later, I saved up another pot of money and opened my first Roth IRA. I few years later, I did lots of research on stocks and began buying and selling individual stocks.

Money wasn’t the only part of wealth to which I was addicted. I was also addicted to the stuff I bought with my money. When I spent money on things, which was very rare, I was very selective about how I used it and was very protective of the things I bought. Although I dropped hundreds of dollars on Ty beanie babies, I did it as an investment because I was convinced they were going to increase in value over time. You guessed it: I never cut off their shiny, red, unbent tags because they were sure to decrease in value if I did that. When other people would ask to borrow my stuff, I’d say “No” because my experience had shown that they didn’t take as good of care of it as I did.

When Amy and I got married and were both working full-time jobs, I initially won the battle on how much money we spent. Basically, we only spent money on the necessities and didn’t splurge on anything. We had a tight, rigorous budget which I set for us and forced her to comply. I regularly got upset with her because she’d spend money going out to eat for lunch everyday rather than packing her lunch. During this time period, we filled our coffers with so much money that everyone was in awe of how much money we had.

Due to my love of wealth, I spent my childhood living in constant fear that either someone was going to break into our house and steal all my prized possessions or that our house was going to catch on fire. I regularly had nightmares about one or both of these events occurring. This same fear carried over into my adult life. When Amy and I bought a house, I invested in a top-notch security system to protect all my valuable stuff.

I did all these things because of my addiction to wealth. I was absolutely terrified of losing it because of the dependency I had on it. It was so enslaving that it caused unnecessary friction between Amy and me.

But Jesus decided to set me free from my addiction. He didn’t use a self-induced 12-step program for addiction recovery. He also didn’t teach me how to build up a better resistance to it. Rather, he replaced my desire for it with a desire for something so much more valuable than all the wealth in the entire world put together; he replaced it with a desire for him. He showed me, not just told me, how much more valuable he is than all the wealth in the world. He can satisfy me in a way that all the wealth in the world could never do. As a result, I’m no longer a slave to wealth and I no longer have a fear of losing my wealth. If a fire consumes it all or if a burglar breaks in and steals it all, so what? I trust that God is still going to take care of me.

In a similar way that Jesus broke my addiction to wealth, he has broken some of my other addictions and is in the process of breaking some other extremely stubborn addictions. Jesus is setting me free from my addictions!

Jesus Set Me Free from My Fear of Death

The number one fear I think most humans have is the fear of death. Even though I’ve always been a professing Christian, I still feared death. I feared everything about it from the act of dying to the unknown of what was going to happen after I died. I think every single one of us can relate to this one.

Can you even begin to list out the amount of time you spend planning and implementing preventative measures to ensure that you stay alive? I’m not suggesting that we stop wearing our seatbelts or attempt to walk across four lanes of traffic when the sign says “Don’t Walk,” but I am suggesting that we usually spend way too long and way too much money trying to keep ourselves alive. With all the latest technology in the medical field, we spend thousands of dollars to put loved ones on machines in order to keep them alive for a couple more days. We’ll go to virtually any and all lengths to keep ourselves from dying.

Similar to the other topics I’ve discussed in this article, the fear of dying can be enslaving. It can completely control our lives. Some people install five locks on every door, have an armed gun by them at all times, and almost never leave the house out of this fear. The person who does decide to break into that house isn’t going to fare well.

If you don’t believe in an afterlife or you believe that you won’t receive an afterlife of reward, then you have every reason to fear dying. Things don’t look very good for you. But for those who believe they have received life in Jesus, we have no reason whatsoever to fear dying. Jesus promised that all those who belong to him will inherit eternal life with him. Yet, some of us still struggle with this fear. I believe the reason we struggle with it is because we (1) don’t yet have a kingdom mentality, (2) don’t believe Jesus is really in control of our lives, and (3) don’t actually trust that Jesus has the power to do what’s best for his kingdom. We could try to brainwash ourselves into believing these three things, but it’s not going to change the way we operate unless it becomes a deep conviction that he places on our hearts.

Personally, I’ve experienced this change in my heart. I can remember the fear I experienced a few years ago when the thought crossed my mind that a terrorist could attack any public place at any time. But when that thought crosses my mind now, I no longer experience the fear of dying. When the realization hits me that I could get in a car accident and lose my life, I no longer experience fear. When I get on a roller coaster and feel like going over a hill the wrong way could cause me to fly out of my seat and die, I no longer experience fear. Why? Because he’s set me free from that fear. I can wake up every morning without the fear of dying that day. As long as I am here on earth, I will live for him. And the day he decides it’s time for me to be with him will be the best day of my life; I’ll finally get to see Jesus face to face.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of dying!

Do You Want to Be Set Free?

As can be seen from my life, I can personally attest to the fact that there is freedom found in Jesus. It’s a freedom that can’t be gained anywhere else. Not even the best mind games can get you there. You can try to talk yourself out of your fears, but they don’t magically go away. They may be masked for a while, but will inevitably resurface. I know because I’ve tried these tactics. They don’t work. It’s something which Jesus has to do.

Although you can’t earn this freedom, if you want Jesus to set you free, ask him every single day to do it. And ask him for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the results. Additionally, I’d strongly encourage you to read the Bible because it paints a much more comprehensive picture than I can write in a couple short articles about what this freedom looks like. It shows you the character of God. It shows you how to follow him with everything you are. And it shows you the results you should expect to see as you experience the freeing work he’s doing in your life.

If you’d like to discuss this topic more, feel free to reach out to me via phone, email, social media, etc.

Can you relate with some of the ways in which I’ve been set free by Jesus? From what has he set you free? From what do you want to be set free?

[1] As a clarification, I’m not claiming that I no longer a sinner. I’m a sinner every single day. But sin no longer runs my life. Jesus does!
[2] See John 3:16 and Philippians 2:5-9.
[3] This isn’t to say that I no longer struggle with pleasing other people, but I’m no longer a slave to it like I was previously.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Celebrating Our Freedom

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress stating that the thirteen British colonies in North America declared themselves to be independent of British rule. For the next seven years, these colonies joined together to collectively fight against the British who sought to maintain their control over what became known as the United States of America. Through the valiant efforts of thousands of people, some of whom died in the process, the thirteen colonies won their freedom from British rule.

As great as the freedom is that we have in this country, we can experience an even greater freedom in Jesus. Freedom from what? As Americans, we’re not slaves to anyone, right? According to the Bible, we are all born into slavery.[1] It’s not the type of slavery we typically imagine because it’s not a type of slavery which is visible to the eye. It’s become so familiar to us that we don’t even recognize its existence. This slavery has taken our hearts and minds hostage. We are born as slaves to sin. And there’s nothing we can do to set ourselves free. We need a hero to come set us free.

How Did We Get Here?

According to the Bible, many years ago, God brought the earth and everything in it into existence. He created the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the plants, and the animals. To top it all off he created humans, the only part of creation which is recorded to have been created in his image.[2]

God took the man, Adam, and the woman, Eve, whom he had created and placed them in a luscious garden called Eden. In this garden, they experienced complete freedom in him. They were slaves to no one except him.[3]

But then something happened which changed not only the freedom they experienced, but the freedom which was passed down to all of humanity. Adam and Eve sinned against God. This was a huge deal. Their one act of sin caused them to lose the freedom they found in God and become slaves of sin. As slaves of sin, they became obedient to sin and all its shortcomings, including the addition of a whole new set of fears they’d never experienced before such as shame and death. When they later had children, those children were also born into slavery. And since all of humanity is descended from these two humans, every single person on the earth is born a slave to sin.

How Can We Be Set Free?

If the story ended here, it’d be sort of a doom and gloom story. Not exactly something worth celebrating. But thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned, before they were created, and before the entire universe was created, God had already developed a plan to deal with this problem.

Sin isn’t something which God can magically overlook. He is completely holy. People who aren’t completely holy (sinful) can’t bear to be in his presence because they are unworthy and they fully recognize it. As an example, when one of the prophets of the Old Testament found himself in the presence of God in a vision, his first response was, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”[4] Immediately following this realization, he was cleansed from his sin, making it bearable for him to be in God’s presence. In the same way, in order for us to be in God’s presence, we have to be made holy which means we have to be set free from our slavery to sin. How does God make us holy?

Have you ever experienced financial debt? If you went to college, then you probably had student loans or if you own a house, then you probably have a mortgage. For the purposes of this example, imagine you’re in lots of debt. Imagine you have racked up a debt of $6,000,000,000 (6 billion dollars). Will you ever be able to pay off this debt? Probably not. If you think there’s the potential you could pay off this debt, then imagine you have a debt of $6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion dollars). For the purposes of this illustration, you need to imagine you have a debt you can’t pay off. If your imaginary self feels hopelessly a slave to your creditor, then you’ve got the point.

Will your $6,000,000,000 debt merely disappear? No, it won’t. Someone has to pay for it. Maybe Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos would come along and pay off your debt. Wouldn’t that be nice! Then again, maybe your creditor will decide to forgive the debt. Regardless of who’s paying for it, someone has to pay for it. The debt doesn’t just magically disappear.

In the same way, sin doesn’t just magically disappear. It’s something we can’t repay and something which God doesn’t just wave his hand over and say “hocus pocus” to make it go away. Someone has to pay for it. How is this debt paid? Death.[5] All people die; that is a fact. Even though we have been trying to defeat death for many years, we’ve yet to conquer it because sin is still present. If sin were to vanish, then death would vanish as well.

This death is not only a death in this life, but an eternal death apart from God.[6] The problem we face is that every single human who has ever lived (except Jesus) is sinful, meaning that we’re all in the same boat. We’re not even able to pay off our own debt, let alone pay for the debt of another person. It’d be like every person on the planet owing a debt of 6 trillion dollars. Not even Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest man in the world, could pay off his own 6 trillion dollar debt, let alone pay the 6 trillion dollar debt of every single other person in the world.

But God, out of his love for both himself and humanity, developed a plan to pay for the debt owed by all his people. He chose to personally come to earth as a human being (Jesus), live a sinless life, and die in place of his people. Think of it like him making a trade; he traded his holy life to his people for their unholy lives and as a result, endured the punishment they deserved. It was through this act that he set his people free from their slavery to sin.

Looking Ahead

This may be the first time you’ve heard this story or it may be the thousandth time you’ve heard it. But what I find over and over again is that although many church-going people know this story like the back of our hands, they struggle to see how this story changes our lives. It’s one thing to say we’re free, but it’s another to know how our lives are transformed as a result of this freedom. What does it look like to wake up every morning having been set free from slavery to sin? I’ll be addressing this topic in my next article. Stay tuned…

[1] See John 8:33-47.
[2] See Genesis 1:26-27.
[3] Slavery to God is different than slavery to anyone or anything else. Slavery to God is freeing whereas slavery to anyone or anything else is like the slavery we usually picture.
[4] Isaiah 6:5.
[5] See Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23.
[6] I’m not claiming that peoples’ souls will cease to exist after they die on earth. The Bible speaks over and over again of eternal punishment and torment for those who die apart from God.