When you are ‘in Christ,’ you stand in a completely new relationship to the power of sin. Sin used to be your master. Sin used to reign over you. But now you have ‘died’ to the reign of sin (Romans 6:2).
Imagine yourself travelling down a long country road. Looking ahead, on one side you see a high chain link fence, and on the other you see an open field. As you drive closer, you can see people behind the fence and people in the field.
You slow down to take a closer look, and you discover that the fence is actually part of a huge cage. The people inside are trapped with no way out. There is a man in the cage who seems to be in charge, and he is angry. He shouts orders at the people telling them what to do. Sometimes the people in the cage seem to protest, but eventually they do what the angry man tells them to do.
The cage is a picture of our situation apart from Jesus Christ. The angry man’s name is ‘Sin,’ and he reigns in the cage. Sin tells the people what to do. “The whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Galatians 3:22).
But those who are in Christ have died to sin (Romans 6:2). Think about that: Death involves a translation from one realm to another. When you die, God will move you out of this old world and into a new world that is eternal. You will be done with this world. You will have nothing more to do with it.
Paul uses this picture to describe what God does for us in Christ. When you came to faith in Jesus, God moved you out of the cage and into the field. God moved you from imprisonment to freedom, from an old life in which sin was your master to a new life in which sin is no longer in a position to control you (Romans 6:14).
Being in Christ puts you in a new position in relation to sin. Sin is still your enemy, but it is no longer your master. The angry man will still shout instructions across the road. And when he does you will immediately feel that you should do what he says. After all, that’s what you always did before. But the fact of the matter is that the angry man is no longer your master. You are under no obligation to do what he says. You are not in the cage. You are in the field. You are free!
Resistance to sin was ultimately futile when you were held hostage in the cage, but out in the field you are in a position to fight, and you can triumph over your enemy.
Every person is either in the cage or in the field. You cannot be in both places at the same time, and knowing where you stand is a crucial part of discovering your new identity in Christ.
Freeing the Hostages
“Christ has become for us… our redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The way to true freedom is not through a technique but through a person. Christ moves you from the cage to the field. He is our redemption.
Paul gives us a marvelous description of a man in the cage, overwhelmed by the compulsive power of sinful habits. He says that he is “a prisoner of the law of sin,” and he describes how he is unable to do the good that he wants to do, repeating the same evil that he intended to avoid (Romans 7:19, 23). Finally he bursts out in exasperation: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Notice the question: He’s not asking, ‘What will rescue me?’ but ‘Who will rescue me?’ If you are struggling with addictions or problems of compulsive behavior, it’s important to ask the right question. If you ask “What will rescue me?” there are all kinds of answers on offer: Self-discipline, accountability, counseling, joining a small group, etcetera. All of these things may be helpful in changing your behavior, but none of them will get you out of the cage.
You can pray in the cage, set up accountability in the cage, or join a small group in the cage, but at the end of the day you are still in the cage.
If you want to get out of the cage, the question you need to ask is not “What will rescue me?” but “Who will rescue me?” That’s the biblical question, and Paul gives the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). Christ sets the prisoners free. He is our redemption.
In a recent interview, an American soldier who had been taken prisoner during the war in Iraq described the moment of his liberation, as his colleagues stormed the building in which he was being held. “They came in just as they had been trained to do,” he said. “It was beautiful. They burst through the door, and in a moment they had me out. I can’t describe it…” He broke down in tears and couldn’t continue.
If you can picture the drama of that great moment, you will be able to understand what happens when Jesus Christ redeems you. He raids the cage and sets you free. He takes you from a position of powerlessness in the hands of the enemy to a position where you can fight with new strength.
Sin shall not be your master! You might find it helpful to name the specific sin that has mastered you in the past so that you can hear and apply the promise of God more clearly in your life. If you are in Christ, drink shall not be your master; money shall not be your master; sex shall not be your master; drugs shall not be your master; pride shall not be your master; rage shall not be your master. The truth of your new identity is that in relation to sin’s guilt you are clean, and in relation to sin’s power you are free. So be who you are!
But That’s Not How I Feel!
Maybe you are thinking, “It’s all very well to tell me that I am free, but that’s not how I feel. In fact, sometimes I feel totally defeated.”
That’s not surprising. When slavery was abolished in America after the civil war, many former slaves found it very difficult to adjust to their new freedom. If you have been in slavery to a particular sin for ten, twenty or thirty years, you may well find that you continue to feel as if you were in the cage even though Christ has redeemed you.
If that’s your struggle, here’s what you need to do: Tell yourself the truth. The biggest cause of defeat in the Christian life is that we go on repeating the lies of the enemy. If you look at a powerful temptation in your life and say, “I can’t overcome this,” you are talking as if you’re still in the cage. Stop talking defeat! Tell yourself the truth.
Sin is not your master, so don’t do what it says. In Christ you are free. Be who you are.
This article is an excerpt of the sermon “You Are Free Even Though You Struggle.”