“…because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Romans 8:21
My grandfather was a bondservant. At the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandparents and their children were bound by indentured servitude…pretty much the last form of legalized slavery in the United States.
In exchange for passage to America from Italy (on the lice-infested cattle deck of a ship), my greats were obligated to work on an Arkansas Delta plantation for a period of time. After they “paid off” their work debt, they bought their freedom and moved to Memphis. Even so, my grandfather and his sisters worked in a bag-making factory until child labor laws were changed. (See https://lightbournecreative.com/2019/09/02/the-privileged-life-work/.) By 1917, indentured service was outlawed, too.
So, you’d think that slavery ended more than a hundred years ago. Not so. It continues to be a huge problem—potentially affecting nearly 25 million people.1 Immigrant girls are forced into prostitution in the United States, children are kidnapped in Africa, prisoners are compelled to work at factories, and women are trapped into sexual bondage in Asia. Slavery’s brutal, heartless perpetrators need to be brought to justice or repentance so that their captives may be freed.
And, positive steps are being taken. This summer, one of several good results to emerge from the demonstrations against racial crimes has been a renewed focus on contemporary human trafficking. Just this past week, as part of its ongoing emphasis on this aspect of human rights, the Trump administration awarded the Justice Department $35 million to share among organizations that provide safe housing, job training, and counseling to help victims escape trafficking.1 In other countries, Christian ministries like Mission to the World support local churches to help women escape sexual captors.2 Please pray for an end to modern-day enslavement, and support those who work tirelessly to abolish it.
But what about slavery of the heart? That exists, too, at all levels of society.
In biblical days and in the 19th century, there was a difference between being a slave and being a bondservant; the former suffered in involuntary confinement while the second willingly or unwillingly entered into service for a length of time or lifetime. The first type of slavery was intended to be permanent, while the second was temporary, lasting for only a short period of time.
Today, we are all bondservants to something. Sometimes it’s involuntary, brought on by generational poverty, COVID, abusive partners, disabilities, predatory lenders, etc. But many times, it’s self-inflicted—to a career, to striving for the Olympics, to responsibilities of homeownership, to finding a cure for cancer, or (like my great-grandparents) to finding a better life. We sell ourselves into captivity to serve our “master”—whatever it is that we worship as our primary mission.
What captivates you? To what are you enchained?
Maybe you’re caged by something that is positive in a worldly sense, like wealth, power, or fame. But your relentless pursuit of these things has shackled you into a life empty of all richness and depth.
Maybe you’re bound by something negative like fear. Peer pressure. Perfectionism. Control. Addiction. Your pet sins. You might find comfort in serving these temporarily, but in the long run, they rob you of all joy. Right now, coronavirus has us enchained in fear of infection and loss of our usual self-indulgences.
If you find yourself on a dead-end road, it’s because you’ve sold your soul to a cruel master—yourself. You feel as if you’re no longer at liberty to choose your path or break out of your self-imposed prison. You can’t see the sunlight anymore.
Oh, friend, there is still hope for you. You’ll find sweet release in the pursuit of truth—God’s salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. One of the greatest promises Jesus gave us in the Bible is about real freedom:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)
Liberty is the first blessing Jesus bestows on us as His children, accompanied by joy and celebration, when we trust Him to emancipate us from slavery to sin and guilt. We can’t do this ourselves, by our own efforts…it’s His incredible gift. In John Bunyan’s famous allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian struggles to reach the salvation of the cross, but as he gains sight of it, the weighty burden of sin on his back falls off and tumbles into a sepulcher where it is seen no more. With a merry heart, Christian leaps for joy with singing at the lightness of his freedom. He is given new clothing and a new mission.
Jesus said you can’t serve two masters…so it’s either yourself or Him. And when you see the reward for serving Christ, the stunning truth is irresistible.
In the Heidelberg Catechism, we are asked, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The beginning of the answer is, indeed, comforting: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.”3
What if you’re a Christian, though, and still suffer under some sort of enslavement? My hope is that God will begin peeling away the layers of your chains by renewing your mind in Scripture reading. Start your mornings with the promises God has given you in His word. Over and over, He reminds His people that He is the One who brought them out of slavery in Egypt under Pharoah (Psalm 81:10)…Christ has made you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)…He has come that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Let His words dwell in your heart as you meditate on how liberating the Christian life really is.
If you’re confined by outside parties, ask God to help you break out of poverty, co-dependent relationships, and other restrictive forces. Let us all plead with Him for an end to the COVID pandemic. Encourage others who suffer under some sort of unwilling “indentureship” to life situations (Matthew 25:36). Seek Christian counseling if you need extra support.
You can find no greater promise than what Jesus Himself proclaimed as He launched His ministry on earth, quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus came to give you the privilege of His freedom! Take Him at His word, and give Him permission to take a hacksaw to the shackles of your sin nature. He is your kind and loving Friend, and His mercies to you will be new every morning. Make Him your only Master, and like Bunyan’s Christian, you will find yourself leaping for joy at the weightlessness of true freedom!
Jesus Christ, our Master and Friend, deliver us from the bondage of the world and set our eyes squarely on You. You are our only hope for freedom from captivity. Emancipate us from our self-driven pursuits, and fix our mission to serving You alone. Please put an end to human trafficking, liberate its victims, and bless those who help them. Thank You for your unspeakable gift of liberty! In Your beautiful name we pray, Amen.
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© Copyright 2020 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative
© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography). Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.