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The young people who attended the 2010 young people’s convention may recognize the content of this article, because it is based on the speech I gave there. After receiving some encouragement to put the speech into writing, I decided I would write on the subject of sin’s bondage. The difficult part of writing this article is that I cannot use the visual aid that I used at the convention. So please picture in your minds as you read the article a little goldfish, named Sidney, swimming around in a bowl of water.

Christians are captives set free from sin. This is our spiritual identity according to Jesus’ words inJohn 8:32: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Being set free implies bondage. To understand what Jesus is teaching in these words, we must understand the difference between bondage and freedom. Sidney, the goldfish, helps us to distinguish. Freedom for Sidney is in the fishbowl because in the fishbowl he swims and lives. Bondage is outside of the fishbowl because he cannot swim or live there. Outside the fishbowl, Sidney dies.

But what does this mean spiritually? Bondage is doing whatever you want—living outside the fishbowl of God’s Word. Freedom is found in the fishbowl of obeying God’s Word. The One who gives us this freedom is Jesus, who is the truth. Jesus instructs us in John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” True spiritual freedom is found alone in Christ. He puts us into the fishbowl of obedience by His sovereign grace. Living in freedom is obeying His word. The sinful, deceitful world turns this upside down, “No, no, no. You have it all wrong. Freedom is doing whatever you want. Keeping laws is bondage.”

What they are saying in terms of Sidney and the fishbowl is that freedom is found outside the bowl, and bondage is found inside the bowl. Clearly this is a lie.

Because this spiritual bondage is so appealing to your flesh, I want you to have a better understanding of the enslaving power of sin. Sin is not a toy to be played with. Although it is true that Jesus has freed us from sin’s bondage by His death and resurrection, we can become enslaved to sin in our lives. Satan pours blood, sweat, and tears into tempting you to live outside the fishbowl of God’s Word in your youth, so that a particular sin dominates your entire life. The choices you make now will impact you for the rest of your lives.

Sin is a ruthless enemy that imprisons. Sin enslaves. Sin takes captives. This is the implication of Jesus’ words in John 8:32: “and the truth shall make you free.” The Pharisees understood that Jesus implied bondage, which is evident from their words in the next verse, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” The Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ words was clearly false because, historically, the Jews were often in bondage. But Jesus’ point is not this kind of physical captivity. Jesus’ point is that they and all men are in bondage to sin. In John 8:34Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”

There are two aspects to the spiritual bondage of sin. First, there is the bondage of sin’s punishment. For our sin we deserve God’s wrath, and there is no way for us personally to escape this punishment. We are delivered from this only by Christ’s cross, because He bore the wrath we deserve on the cross. Second, there is the bondage of sin’s power. This bondage is total depravity. Man in sin, without grace, can do no good. He is under the strong delusion that sin is good for him. I want to focus on this power of sin because we can be trapped by the bondage of sin.

What is sin? Sin is disobeying God’s law. Sin is rebellion against God. When we sin, we put our selfish desires above what God demands. Really, sin is idolatry, because we place our selfish desires above God. In sin, I want life to revolve around me. This is true of any sin.

It can happen in our lives that we come under the power of sin, so that we repeat a sin or activity again and again. Putting it in terms of Sidney and his bowl, in a certain sphere of our lives we continue to live outside the fishbowl. Another word for this is addiction. Maybe you do not want to use this word to characterize your sin. But it can. I define addiction as habitual sin. An addiction is being under the rule of something other than God, so that this thing or this activity becomes the center of life. It is a sin that becomes a cruel taskmaster that victimizes and controls.

What are addictions? Any sin or activity has the possibility of becoming an addiction (habitual sin). Here are some examples: alcohol, smoking, drugs, porn, anger, sleep, lying, weight lifting, TV, work, gambling, sports, sugar, sex, lust, caffeine, shopping, chocolate, disobedience to your parents. I could go on, but you get the point. Some of these activities are clearly sins (porn, drunkenness, lying, etc.). Repetitive sinful behavior is an addiction. But other activities are not sinful in themselves (eating, sleeping, working, etc.). These activities become sinful addictions if we depend on them or seek them for the wrong reasons—to find comfort, an escape, or satisfaction. For example, eating is not wrong, but if I eat to deal with stress, eating can become a sinful addiction.

Maybe you are thinking, “This could never happen to me. These addictions are found in the unsaved and not in the church.” It can happen to you. Maybe it already has. We all battle with habitual sins. Not only is this our experience, but the Scriptures also warn us in I Corinthians 10:12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” There are examples in the Scriptures of God’s people who fell into habitual sin in their lives. Jonah continued for some time refusing to obey God’s call to preach against Ninevah. For some time, David held on to his sin of adultery and murder. Peter denied Jesus, not one time, but three times. Can you think of more examples? This is a real danger because of total depravity and the sinful natures we still have. Do you believe in total depravity? Total depravity means it is possible for us to become enslaved to sin.

What drives addiction? Why do we have such a hard time saying no to certain sins? Why do we crave things that are so bad for us? It is because we want to be like God in the sense that we want control of our lives. Sin promises control—do what you want. Sin promises that it will satisfy—this will feel good. When you have a difficult time, this (alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc.) will help. This is all the deception of sin. Do not believe the lie.

How do I go from inside the fishbowl to outside the fishbowl in habitual sin? It is usually a slow, gradual process. It is a slow process from experimentation to addiction. The first steps begin without a lot of fanfare, like the first steps into the Grand Canyon. The first steps of spiritual indifference and apathy do not attract a lot of attention, until one day we find ourselves struggling to say no to a particular sin because the ruts of this sin are so deeply imbedded in our hearts and lives. We are out of the fishbowl.

This happens with sexual sins. It begins by watching the beer commercials that sell sex, or watching TV programs like “The Bachelor” with sexual innuendo and immodest dress. Maybe you find some pictures on the Internet of women in their bikinis, and you reason that at least they are not naked. Maybe a friend has a magazine or a video he shows you. Then during an innocent search on Google the porn site pops up and you click and there you are. After a quick look, you are disgusted and close the window. But then over time you follow your curiosity and find that webpage again. You pray for forgiveness and vow not to do this again, but you are surfing the web again and you return to it. Soon you return without giving much thought to it. Afterward you feel awful, but still you return like a dog to its vomit. The sin has a hold on you. You are captive.

This happens with drinking and partying. You find yourself at a party not knowing ahead of time there would be alcohol. Someone offers a drink, but you decline. Then there is another party, and you convince yourself you will not drink. But others pressure you, and it looks like they are having a good time. Just one won’t be so bad. Over time, one drink leads to another. You feel guilty, but you convince yourself that it is not so bad because at least you do not drink every weekend. Then you start drinking every weekend, but you convince yourself that this is okay because you are not doing drugs. Now you live for the next opportunity to drink. When there is reason to celebrate, you want a drink. When you are upset and hurting, you want a drink to dull the pain. You are outside the fishbowl.

This happens with lying and disobedience to parents and so many other sins.

These are just a few examples. I hope none of you responds by saying, “Oh, that is not me. This could not happen to me.” Be suspicious of your own hearts and desires because of sin. The reality is that when we begin in the direction of sin, sin never stays the same—sin always wants more. The temporary gratification satisfies the desire of the heart. It gives power, pleasure, and popularity, which we may crave. We think we can stop if we want to. I can control this. But the reality is that sin dominates.

Beware of the power of sin! Sin is powerful! Sin is not content to take a backseat in your life. Sin wants the driver’s seat. Sin wants to control and dominate your life. Not only is sin powerful, but you have a sinful nature that desires to be outside the fishbowl. This is why the spiritual choices you make now will impact the rest of your life. If you set your heart upon sin and choose this way, there is the strong possibility of its continuing into adulthood.

The effects of habitual sin are awful. What happens to the fish outside of the fishbowl? It cannot breathe! Soon it dies! There is great danger outside the fishbowl. We saw this at the convention. I dropped poor Sidney and by the end of the speech he was floating sideways in the bowl. I did not plan that, but it powerfully illustrated the point. What does this illustrate in our lives? First, habitual sin affects all your relationships with the people who truly care for your souls. It affects your relationship with your parents and with your good friends. Your sin is a barrier to having good, healthy relationships because you are trying to live a dual life. Sin leads to fighting and tension in these relationships.

More importantly, habitual sin affects your relationship with God. Such habitual sin brings shame and guilt. You commit the sin and feel bad about it afterward. Maybe you confess the sin to God and vow not to do it again. But then it happens again. You know that a child of God should not live like this. Satan uses this to attack the assurance of your salvation. You will begin to doubt your salvation. You will think you might as well continue in the sin because you have done this before. This is right where Satan wants you.

Habitual sin affects our relationship with God because such sin is incompatible with spiritual growth. You will not grow spiritually while holding on to sin. It affects how you hear the preaching of the gospel. Such a life results in spiritual weakening and not spiritual growth.

The calling of God’s Word is to repent! Where you are walking in habitual sin, repent of that sin. Confess your sin to God and cry out for forgiveness in Christ’s blood. By the grace of God walk and live in the fishbowl of the truth. The answer of Jesus to being outside the fishbowl in the bondage of sin is, “The truth shall make you free.” Time cannot set you free. Your will power cannot set you free. Only Jesus Christ sets you free!