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. (Galatians 5.1)
Captivated by Captivity
Giving due respect to other ministers in my past, present, and future, the one who nurtured my faith for 10 years in L.A. will always be my pastor. Beyond his erudite mastery of the Word, Bishop Charles Blake has a rare genius for distilling Biblical principles into concise phrases that remain with you forever. For example, his sermon on the Annunciation is as fresh and vivid today as when I heard it nearly 30 years ago. His text came after the fact, when Elizabeth hails Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1.45) After leading us through a detailed recap of Mary’s story and drawing parallels to our own lives, he anchored our confidence in God’s faithfulness with one unimpeachable sentence: We serve a God Who performs. I’ve never forgot—or doubted—it since.
A new nugget surfaced during the webcast of last Sunday’s service. Preaching from Psalm 25.15 (“Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”), Bishop Blake noted it’s easy to become captivated by captivity. We allow dilemmas that ensnare us to define us, making them our life’s work. “We fix our eyes on the net, when they should be turned toward God,” he said. When I heard “captivated by captivity,” I knew exactly what it meant. Too frequently I’ve fought with nets I could have escaped much sooner had I stopped looking at everyone and everything else (including me) and set my sights exclusively on God. Then my thoughts turned to countless people I know who are desperate to break free of homophobic and sexist religiosity, childhood trauma, damaged relationships, addictions, and numerous other nets. Bishop Blake’s message reminded me how hard it can be to let go of issues that won’t let go of us. At the same time, though, when we become captivated by captivity, we're voluntary prisoners of our problems.
I'm convinced the severity of our problems is directly linked to our propensity to turn them into unfriendly fascinations. We can’t resist thinking about them, why they were sent our way, and how we could have avoided them. We seek out friends, literature, and groups that might possibly explain our problems. Now we’re caught in a web of opinions and advice that pull our attention further from God’s power to save. While it all makes sense, nothing provides a definitive solution to our dilemma. We become slaves to the questions. They own us and define us, and our reliance on them steadily seduces us into believing there is no real answer. Our lives become endless choruses of “If Only”. I could be at peace if only… I would be healthier if only… I would be a better [fill in the blank] if only… By this point, we’re not merely captives of our woes, we’re captivated by them. We’ve embraced them as our raison d’être. Every thought and action, longing and limitation is colored by the problem that enthralls us. It’s all in the net.
Some of us find net-life pleasing. But it doesn’t please our Maker. Nor does it fulfill Christ’s purpose. In John 10.9-10, He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Come in and go out. Find pasture. Have life to the full. These are not qualities found in net-life. But they’re why Christ came. Our freedom from fear, guilt, doubt, pain, and every other unfriendly fascination is inextricably wound into His life, teaching, sacrifice, and resurrection. In Luke 4.18, Jesus emphatically announces He was sent “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Isn’t it interesting how He wedges “recovery of sight” between “freedom” and “release”? Escaping net-life to enjoy new life occurs when we stop focusing on the net and start looking to God.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” Jesus says in John 8.36. After we fix our eyes on Him and He releases us from our nets, staying free is up to us. That’s what Paul means in Galatians 5.1: “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.” We claim our liberty from net-life by declaring, “Never again!” We need to brace ourselves, however, because our pledge will be constantly tested. Living net-free doesn’t remove the net—it defies our fascination with it. And any time newness of free life presents uncertainties—which are inevitable—we’ll grope for the net. It’s what we know best. We’ve invented all sorts of labels for this weakness: codependency, battered wife syndrome, victim mentality, low self-esteem, etc. (Bishop Blake describes it as "going back to Egypt.") Call it what you will, it’s relapsed captivation with captivity.
Christ gave His life to set us free. We commit ours to staying free. Never again means never again. We may have been tangled in hurts and resentments due to hatred and rejection. Never again. We may have been hopelessly bound by extreme cruelty and abuse. Never again. We may have been trapped by self-doubt and impossible questions. Never again. We stand firm, resisting every urge to relapse. Because Christ set us free, freedom is now our reason to live. There's nothing in the nets we want or need. There’s not one good reason to glance their way. Our eyes are ever toward the Lord.
Unless we stand firm, we'll relapse into fascination with net-life and forget freedom in Christ is why we live.
Postscript: Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone
Turning our eyes to God overwhelms us with grace. Captivity loses all fascination and power to capture our minds. A medley of “Amazing Grace” and “My Chains Are Gone” by Chris Tomlin.