Behind Bars...In Chains...and Okay With It. When seeing this statement, one might immediately think of Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16, but this is not the case. Paul and Silas were truly at peace in their prison experience, because they knew the Lord was in control. Paul was familiar with being in bonds or chains…and endured it willingly for the sake of the cause of His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have often wondered what it would have been like to be the guard who was chained to Paul…don’t you think he had a story or two to tell? :-)
Actually, I am writing for another reason. It is no secret...prison inmates have a difficult time staying out of prison after they have been released. Estimates vary...but one, accepted by many, says three out of four commit another crime or break parole and end up behind bars again. This is called “recidivism.” Why do released prisoners do this? Many of these men and women know how to get back into prison…what they don’t know is how to stay out. It is not a mystery as to why they keep going back in — often multiple times. It may to do with drugs, or with the rush of pulling off a robbery...but it truly is complicated by the fact that many have inadequate coping skills when it comes to living life "on the outside." In many cases, this is what these individuals have grown accustomed to…there is a significant comfort associated with it. Prison has become their life and they do not want to know anything different. Such individuals need to understand that they can actually be in a better place once they leave prison behind. Yet, this isn’t going to happen automatically -- there needs to be counseling, training, and conditioning.
The irony is that there are significant spiritual parallels. I was in prison for many years, spiritually. It wasn’t a prison with bars, but it was one that held my heart – it was a bondage to religious forms and traditions. I would try to escape it, only to find myself stuck back in the same situation. The primary motivation was fear – fear of being wrong…fear of offending someone or something…fear of the unknown. I thank the Lord for His grand and genuine deliverance not only from sin, but from this fear. He has replaced the fear with faith, hope and love…and I am ever grateful for this. Such fear leads to legalism, and legalism just perpetuates fear…and much of it is due to poor interpretation and to poor traditions in many places. If there is one thing that my particular fellowship of believers has struggled with, it is being regulated to death. In many places, there are so many rules, that those imposing them have, as Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day, “made void the Word of God” (Matthew 15:6) as far as its effectiveness in the life of a believer.
I wish I was making this up…but, I have known many Christians who have yearned for freedom from such negative attitudes and practices, and some of these individuals have even sniffed the fresh winds of spiritual freedom, only to be intimidated by certain ones...motivated by fear…to come back into the “spiritual prison.” Like those who go back to literal prison, many believers who yearn for freedom to be loose from the chains of whatever is holding them captive, simply cannot get away from what is comfortable…what it is that they know -- it is "spiritual recidivism." It is a hard and challenging matter to truly step out and be challenged by faith’s call to freedom. Satan confuses people's minds and convinces them do everything in their power to stay confined...to remain "in control." Satan does not want spiritually vibrant Christians going about taking the message of Christ to those whom he already has, so he just convinces folks...to sit comfortably in the boat -- don’t rock it…to stay off the mountain – don’t climb it…to be content with the answers – don’t question it. As long as we are complacent in our comfort zone, as it relates to our presuppositions, faulty beliefs, traditions and the like, we are not going to grow, but be held captive…captive in a prison not made with bars, but a spiritual one of our own choosing. I hope and pray that more and more believers will come to understand what it is to be set free in Christ to truly experience freedom to be responsible to hold to God’s principles…not out of sense of duty or ought...but from the love that God grows in each one of us.