Slaves of Sin

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (November 2011)

Physical slavery is as real today as in the past, and according to Wikipedia an estimated 25 million people worldwide are involved with this practice. Most of them are poor people in Asia who render slave labour to rich people because of not being able to settle their family debt. Members of such families are forced to work a few days per week as slaves for money-lenders – often in the fields of land owners. Furthermore, forced child labour is also encountered in certain poor countries, while an increasing number of children and women are abducted by crime syndicates and used as slaves in the sex trade.

But there is another, more abstract form of slavery by an invisible enemy, to which most people are subjected for their entire life, and that is spiritual and moral slavery. This is a problem which faces all people as all of us are slaves of sin because of the fallen nature which we have inherited from Adam. Sin is the consequence of alienation from God, and that accounts for the spiritual and moral depravity of mankind. The Fall has rendered humanity despicable in the eyes of God (Gen. 6:5-6). Paul says: “... through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Among the natural, unsaved people there is no one on earth who is righteous: “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3; Rom. 3:10).

Slavery can take on many different forms. It refers to a condition which is the result of a large measure of control which a person or habit has gained over one’s life. Slavery determines your character, personality and behaviour, and in many respects accounts for who you are. In short, it deprives you of your freedom to be a different person from the one you are forced to be because of your enslavement, and often causes you to sink away into a quagmire of sin and unrighteousness.

All lost people are subject to different forms of slavery to sin, and that also includes unsaved pastors. Peter refers to false prophets who promise liberty to people while they, themselves, have not yet been delivered from their sins: “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19; NIV).

The Lord made man as an independent being who is spiritually and morally accountable only to His Maker. Within this relationship he should use his free will to pursue high objectives of holiness and creativity. Any other form of control which a person allows over his life, which is at variance with God’s commands for his life, have detrimental consequences and gives rise to slavery of one or other sort. In this way people become religious and moral slaves of Satan, who is the big enemy and deceiver of humanity. He wants as many slaves as possible to serve him.

Religious slavery

Millions of people become the slaves of false religions, which are all the products of Satan’s deception. They do not realise that they are actually slaves of the devil when they bring sacrifices to idols, but that is exactly what they do: “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons” (1 Cor. 10:19-20). Such people are given over to the control of Satan.

This form of spiritual slavery can push people to great extremes, e.g. the killing of opponents during which self-imposed martyrs willingly sacrifice their own lives in the interest of their idol. After the devil has enslaved people he drives them to the point of self-destruction. Even if he does not turn them into extremists, his basic purpose with false religions is the spiritual blinding of his victims in order to prevent them from accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ when they come into contact with it: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age [Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

The minds of religious slaves are blinded by Satan, and they are completely dominated by the idols which they worship. In Africa, the belief in ancestral spirits and witchcraft has such a strong grip on people that they will do anything that the demons, in the guise of the ancestors, would require them to do. The Lord Jesus has come to deliver people from this intimidating form of slavery.

Unfortunately, spiritual slavery is not always discontinued when people repent from pagan religions to Christianity, since many of them subsequently become the slaves of false forms of the Christian religion. They become adherents of a large number of sects and then set out, by all means at their disposal, to defend their distorted doctrines against the truth of the Word. Many of them, e.g. the Jehovah’s Witnesses, make big sacrifices (financially, and also by tolerating scorn and rejection) while proclaiming their false teachings.

There are also deceived Christians who do not live under the grace and liberty of Christ, but under the law. They try to observe Old Testament laws, particularly also laws pertaining to the Sabbath, but render themselves slaves of a system which has no value for salvation. They enjoy no spiritual liberty because they are slaves of the law. Paul says:

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. ... For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for the just shall live by faith. ... Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal. 2:21; 3:10-13).

Are you the slave of a legalistic religion which cannot bring you one step closer to the kingdom of heaven? If so, then come to the cross for deliverance and stand fast in the liberty by which Christ Jesus has made us free. Within the framework of God’s love we have the freedom to fully express ourselves without behaving dishonourably to the Lord or acting to the detriment of other people. To be able to live in this way our hearts should be cleansed and filled with the love of Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

Moral slavery

The spiritual slavery of fallen humanity is also coupled with moral slavery. Human beings have five senses which expose them to influences from the depraved world, and this is a big problem as they have a sinful nature which is inclined to evil: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Human beings are depraved by nature, and from the core of their innermost being they will contemplate evil thoughts which have the potential to contaminate and destroy their entire life.

The Lord Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). It is part of his fallen nature to consider and do such things. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15).

The devil encourages the process of decadence and decline towards self-destruction, and to this end he sends temptations, thereby offering people opportunities to give expression to their sinful and covetous lusts. If you do not reject these sinful thoughts and ask the Lord to give you a pure heart, they will become established in your spirit and mind. You will continuously reflect on them and they will make their presence felt by influencing your personality, values and behaviour. Sins soon become strongholds for evil in your life, reducing you to a powerless slave of sin. Your dependence gradually increases until you will be conscious of the call of sin almost every moment of the day, and will have no power to resist its enticement – at least not by your own strength.

Idolatry: When a particular sin has gained extensive control over a person, it becomes a form of idolatry to him. He bows down to that idol and serves it almost day and night. Paul says: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them” (Col. 3:5-7). In a true Christian’s life sins like these belong to the past.

Evil dispositions and immoral acts are the characteristics of the false god of this world, Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), and that is the reason why we become involved with idolatry when we allow sin to become established in our hearts and determine the direction of our lives: “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (Jas. 3:14-16). When we are saved we are delivered from slavery to sin, and therefore also from spiritual and moral idolatry.

Sexual sins: The first three sins which the Lord Jesus mentions in Mark 7:21-23 are evil thoughts, adulteries, and fornications. The hearts of many people are completely filled with unclean thoughts, which are often stimulated by exposure to pornography as well as the conducting of vile conversations. Internet pornography plays an increasing role, as well as pornographic photos transmitted by cell phones. These things give rise to improper sexual relations which very soon become a way of life, and thus a form of moral slavery to sin.

Economic sins: One of the moral sins which may lead to slavery and idolatry in the lives of many people is the love of money. The name of this idol is mammon: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). The frantic pursuit of money has destructive consequences in a person’s life: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).

Gambling is one of mammon’s activities by which he ensnares many people, dominates their thoughts, and eventually destroys their lives and financial assets. Many people are strongly enslaved by this practice and risk everything for the possibility of gaining instant wealth. Other sins which are also related to money are corruption, theft and bribery. To many of the thieves it becomes such an obsession to steal and keep on stealing that they eventually become kleptomaniacs. There is an increasing number of governments worldwide that are described as “kleptocracies” because of the large-scale embezzling of state funds by politicians and officials. Sin becomes habit-forming and soon completely controls its victims.

Addiction to liquor and other drugs: A very common form of addiction to sin is the use of different forms of drugs which, once started, leads to the repetitive and continuous use of tobacco, liquor, marijuana, and a large variety of other drugs. Such people are rightly described as drug addicts. During the course of time the addiction becomes worse, resulting in increased drinking and smoking, and the taking of more and stronger drugs. A person is a slave to whatever has mastered him (2 Pet. 2:19). The wrong things which seek to control a person are called the “works of darkness” and should be resisted by Christians: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

Blasphemy, swearing and fits of anger: To many people it has become second nature to swear and blaspheme God’s name. People who swear and blaspheme reveal the spirit of the Antichrist: “Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Rev. 13:6). This is an addictive habit which should be confessed and forsaken together with other sins: “But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Col. 3:8). Swearing often coincides with an unbridled temper, fits of anger, and vindictiveness. We should, therefore, also be delivered from the dispositions which give rise to blasphemy and cursing: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).

Violence: Because the devil is an oppressor and murderer he also induces his followers to be equally violent. The Lord asks: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:1-2). Warfare is here referred to in an offensive sense, which is aimed at conquering other people and their land, and laying claim to resources and possessions which do not belong to the invader. The history of the unsaved nations is pervaded by conflicts and wars in which innumerable people died unnecessarily. Christians should have no part in warfare, apart from defending and protecting their own interests, possessions and human lives (defensive warfare), as “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

Lying: All habitual sinners are also habitual liars since they are followers of Satan who is the father of lies (John 8:44). All the false religions on earth are based upon lies and aimed at seducing people to worship idols. While Satan is the source of all lies, God is the source of all truth, His Word is the truth, and His Spirit wishes to guide us into all truth (John 14:6; 16:13; 17:17). Lies form part of the old, depraved life, and if we revert to lies we give place to the devil: “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man” (Col. 3:9-10).

The binding power of negative emotions: Through the dark thoughts of negative emotions the devil can also gain control over a person, drive him to despair and finally destroy his faith. One of these emotions is fear – fear of death, for difficult circumstances, for the unknown future, for people, for evil powers, and also fear of the coming judgements of God. Doubt and fear are the opposite of faith, which means that a person who fears does not have faith. Are you a slave of fear? Through His death the Lord Jesus has conquered the devil who has power over death, to “release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). He has also broken this form of slavery, and for that reason Paul could say: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again of fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship” (Rom. 8:15; NIV).

There are various secondary effects of fear, such as worrying, anxiety and depression. The Lord Jesus says, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day [the day of the rapture] come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34). The cares of life, together with other sins such as drunkenness, put a spiritual burden on you that will pull you down into a pit of despair if you do not overcome it. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Deliverance from slavery

Jesus Christ is our Liberator, and He delivers us from all forms of sinful dependence to which we were subjected: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). He came to the world as Saviour to break our bonds of slavery. After being set free, we should ensure that we do not again accept a yoke of slavery, because there are indeed Christians who later again relinquish their freedom. Paul says to such people: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).

The liberty of the Galatians was threatened, and Paul warned them against it. They were liberated from a pagan religion by accepting Christ as Saviour, but were subsequently in danger of becoming entangled in slavery to the Mosaic Law. The Law with its commands of circumcision and the observing of certain holy days was so important to them that they considered subjecting themselves to it (cf. Gal. 4:9-11; 5:3). But that would utterly have destroyed their Christian faith, as well as the liberty associated with it: “Indeed, I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. ... You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:2, 4).

The Lord Jesus has come to set us completely free from the bonds of sin. If we are still the slaves of addictive habits, then the fault is definitely not with the blood of Christ that cannot cleanse us (1 John 1:7), but with our unwillingness to take a decision to confess and forsake our sins (Prov. 28:13). We must wholeheartedly accept the salvation which is promised to us, even though it will mean facing a difficult time of breaking a particular habit. Millions of people have received this salvation, and we should not try to live without it.

When we follow and serve the Lord Jesus we have the obligation to ensure that He is the first and greatest love in our lives, as that would preclude all forms of slavery. He said: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). The person whom you love the most, also influences your values and disposition in life, and for that reason you willingly follow that person’s example. If that person is not Jesus Christ, then you have problems as only He sets a perfect example, and can also forgive your sins and change your character to become conformable to His holy nature. If you still do not know Him in this way, then you do not know Him very well and will easily become a follower, and even a slave, of people. But we have been warned against this tendency: “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). Our only example is Jesus Christ, and He is the One who should be formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

In biblical times there were people who did not become followers of Jesus because some of their family members had rejected the idea. Parents were mostly opposed to any decision by their children to leave the synagogue and turn their backs upon the traditions of their forefathers. Those who succumbed to this parental pressure and refrained from converting, grievously harmed themselves. Because of their wrong decisions they proceeded to be the slaves of a false religion, and therefore also of the devil who is the father of deception. The Lord Jesus said to unrepentant orthodox leaders who also rejected Him: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).

The good news is that the Lord Jesus came to break the bonds of all forms of moral and religious slavery, and to make us free in Him. He came to the world “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1).

Sinners should realise that they are captives of Satan as long as they still practise addictive habits which are labelled as sin in the Bible. Search yourself to determine whether you are truly in the faith – that is, a person who has a testimony of deliverance from sin. Sinners do not go to heaven. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Members of the congregation were slaves of some of these sins before their conversion, but they were completely delivered from the bondage of sin and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. People who persist with their sin will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, even though they may be members of churches: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:5-6).

If there is still a stronghold of sin in your life, take up the weapons of the Spirit and declare war against evil: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). All sins start with an evil thought, but it ends with the establishment of a stronghold which gains control over your life. At first you only consider the possibility of sin; after that you justify the intended act; then you make plans to do it; and eventually you become a slave of it.

First, identify the strongholds of sin in your life. Are you a slave of liquor, drugs, a bad temper, a violent nature, money, gambling, dirty language, sexual atrocities, or perhaps dark emotions such as unbelief, doubt, despair, or the victim of a false religion? Then take up the weapons of light and give yourself no rest until you have achieved the victory over these sins. The spiritual weapons which we should use include the weapons of faith, the blood of the Lamb, the sword of the Spirit (the promises in the Lord’s Word), prayer, and also our Christian testimony.

When you have accepted full deliverance in faith, then immediately start witnessing about it, and give the Lord all the glory for His work of grace in your life. It will daily strengthen your faith and motivate you to stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has set you free. Other people should be able to see in your life that you have completely changed – that old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Immediately start reaching out to unbelievers who are still slaves of sin and are consequently heading for the eternal judgements of God. John says, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). Through our testimony, many of them can be delivered from the bondage of sin, thereby coming over from the kingdom of darkness to the marvellous light of Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9).