Twice recently I’ve heard radio commentators talk about the initial effects of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, to abolish slavery and set free more than three million men, women and children. Both speakers observed that ironically, even though the executive order legally emancipated those enslaved, many didn’t take immediate advantage of their freedom.
Two primary reasons for the delay were 1) news of the proclamation traveled slowly in those days, and 2) some slaves either could not believe their good fortune or were so accustomed to living in enslavement, they at first opted to remain as they had been for many years.
The latter circumstance – failure to act on their new freedom – reminded me of a dilemma many of us confront as followers of Jesus Christ. We receive Jesus as Savior, understanding our sins past, present and future are forgiven, yet seem unable to rid ourselves of the bondage of sinful behavior we’ve practiced for so long.
If you question the comparison of human servitude to being controlled by sin, consider Galatians 5:1, which asserts, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Some of us remember the humorous excuse Flip Wilson’s character, “Geraldine,” often offered: “The devil made me do it!” We find ourselves making the same justification, without attempting to be funny. If we believe the Scriptures, however, we find the devil might suggest – but can’t make us do anything. Nearly the entire sixth chapter of Romans addresses this spiritual reality:
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6).
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:11-12).
“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
This wonderful chapter goes on to make an even more explicit correlation:
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (Romans 6:16-18).
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness…. But now that you have been set free from sin and have becomes slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23).
I’ve wrestled with anger and anxiety for much of my life. I didn’t always understand that in Christ I’m free from those and other sins. We all have our “besetting sins” – mine might not be yours, and yours might not be mine – but the promise of the Scriptures is that through the life of Jesus Christ in us, we no longer need to be dominated or controlled by them, no matter what they are.
Like the slaves unaware they had been freed, or those for whom slavery had become so familiar they couldn’t comprehend a life of freedom, we too can continue yielding to the ever-present influence of sin. But we don’t have to; one of the wonders of being reconciled to God through Christ is a new freedom –being made free to become all God intends for us to be.
We’re familiar with the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech, “I Have a Dream”: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!” What a wonderful goal for all people.
Through Jesus, when confronted with temptation and enduring sinful habits, we no longer must submit to them. Regardless of the color of our skin, gender, age or social standing, we too can truly and wholeheartedly declare that – from sin – we are, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.