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John 8:31-36  31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”  34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said the truth would set them free.  Can you believe Jesus?  Can you believe you can be set free from anything that binds you?  This text tells us that we can be set free from sin and consequently, we can be set free from the shame that accompanies it.

Freedom from Sin and Shame 

Let’s talk about it.  When we violate God’s laws, when we sin, we give Satan control over our lives.  Satan wants you to live ashamed.  That’s what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  They entertained the notions Satan was putting into their heads about how the consequences wouldn’t really be what God had said they would be if they sinned. They fell for it and ate from the one tree God had forbidden.

The result was disaster.  Shame was immediate.  It came over them.  It cloaked them and choked out their spiritual life.  Their relationship with God and each other was broken, and they went into hiding.  Adam and Eve started fighting and blaming each other for what had happened.  Their hearts were burdened by what they had done.

Shame sends us into hiding.  Shame changes who we are, leaving us broken, and in turn, it damages our relationships.

Jesus has come to call us out of hiding, into relationship with Himself and others, and into a life of wholeness.  My question for you today is, “Do you believe it?”  To the Jews who believed Jesus, He said they could be free.  Do you believe you can live free from the power and pull and drag of sin in your life?  Listen, you were made to know and love God.  You were made to soar. You were made weren’t made to walk around while dragging the chains of sin.  Sin is a burden.  Sin is extra.  So many people think the pleasures of sin give them life when the opposite is what is true.  Sin robs us of life.

Think of sin this way:  Sin is Satan’s opportunity to slap a handcuff on you.  Sin is Satan’s opportunity to chain you up, to keep you from your God-given purpose and destiny and to keep you from enjoying life.  People who are doing whatever, just because they can, because they are their own masters, because they are free to do as they please, they have been duped because at the point you adopt the mindset that you are free to sin you have just set yourself up to become a slave to it.  You get in so deep that you just have to keep doing what you are doing because that is who you have become.  You get to a place where you don’t recognize yourself, where you begin to hate yourself, where you try to keep yourself isolated and limit contact with others or at least with certain people because you are filled with guilt and shame and walk around condemned. 

Romans 8:1 and 2 say this, Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.”

Who will believe Jesus with me?  Who will believe you can walk out of the grave of shame?  Who will believe you can break the destructive cycles of sin?  Who will believe you can live out of the shadows and walk in the light with Jesus?  Who will believe that you can live in confidence?  Who will believe your story can be redeemed and that you can help set others free because of the freedom that Jesus will bring into your life?  Who will believe it with me?

I was maybe eight years old when my two cousins and I were jumping on a bed at my Uncle and Aunt’s house.  I was the oldest.  I knew not to do it.  I broke one of the posts on the antique bed. My Aunt came in and told me she didn’t care who had done it. Whoever had done it was going to get a spanking.  I quickly pointed to the littlest kid in the room, throwing my cousin John Luke under the bus.  She whipped him.  (Why he ever continued to speak to me, I do not know.)

Instantly, I was ashamed of what I had done, but rather than come clean, I let that feeling wrap itself around me for like three years.  I was embarrassed, humiliated and afraid to look my Aunt in the eye whenever I saw her. I would try to limit time with her alone because I could hardly stand to see her knowing what I had done. The whole thing sat like a weight on my chest to the point where I could hardly breathe in her presence, and I had to tell her the truth.  She was beyond gracious and completely reassured me of her love. Instantly, the weight and fear and shame that I had carried for three years, came off of me.  I’m sure over the course of those three years, my cousins had already convinced her of the truth.  I’m sure she already knew what I had done when I finally spilled my guts, but I didn’t get the freedom from that shame until I confessed.

Listen, God already knows what you have done, so if you are worried that something you might need to tell God would be a disappointment to Him or if you are worried about how He might react?  Well, He already knows.  And His grace is infinite.  He is standing here with keys, ready to unlock some prison doors, ready to open some locks, ready to lift that weight off of your chest that is suffocating you.  He will free you for the future that awaits.

The shame of sin will keep you failure-focused, but God’s forgiveness will get you future-focused. I don’t know about you, but I want to live for my future instead of living chained to my past. God has a special future for you that you cannot know unless you allow Him to free you.

As we start to sing this next song, confess your sin to the Lord. Open up to Him about the shame that binds you.  Tell Him about your weakness and your failures.  Tell Him about the things you have experimented with and have explored that are beyond the parameters of what He says is good for you.  Tell Him you are sorry for going your own way.  That is what confession is.  Let Him free you today.

Freedom from the Sting of Death

Not only can we be free of sin and shame, but we can have freedom from the sting of death.  I think we would all agree that experiencing death is the least desirable part of life. I mean, we all look forward to growing up and having expanded freedoms.  We look forward to being responsible for our own lives.  We may be excited about getting an education or pursuing that dream job.  We might love the part of life that would allow us to fall in love and get married or to have a family.  We enjoy the moment when after hard work and careful money management, we have some more financial freedom and can travel more or have more experiences that are rewarding or fulfilling.  Maybe it is the moment we become grandparents that we find to be the zenith of all of our life experiences or maybe it is when we can finally retire and “par-tay” for the rest of our lives. 

I don’t know what high point you are living for with life, but I am guessing it’s not death.

We dread that part.  We don’t look forward with anticipation to that part.  But as believers, we can look forward to that moment because death becomes the doorway into eternity and our best life.  You see, Death is a part of life, but death isn’t the end of life.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you will live eternally somewhere.  Earthly life is over when your soul leaves your body, but that is not the end of your life. Your soul will leave your body and will either move to Heaven or to Hell, but you WILL exist for eternity.

What would make death unbearable would be that there is potential on the other side of death to be separated from God forever.  You might be separated from God now because of your sin, but you still have access to Him, and you are still benefitting from His presence in this world.  As bad as things can be in this life, the only thing that makes this life bearable is because God is still at work in the world.  God’s Spirit is still present on this earth.  If that would not be the case, even life on earth would be a perpetual hell.

Jesus has overcome death and has made eternal life in Heaven possible.  In so doing, the Bible says He has taken the STING out of death.  Death cannot hurt us.  Not only does our sin no longer have to separate us from God, but our earthly death does not have to separate us from God!

The Apostle Paul actually said he desired to be in Heaven which he said was better by far (Philippians 1:23).  We just have trouble fathoming how Heaven is better by far that any day here because we haven’t been there.  We haven’t seen it or experienced it. 

Oh, we have some descriptions of what Heaven will be like in the book of Revelation.  We have heard some stories of people whose hearts have stopped beating and who entered into that eternal state or have caught a glimpse of it, only to be given their earthly life back and to report on their experience, but most of us can’t imagine how incredible Heaven will be.

We can’t picture it fully, but we can trust the words of Jesus.  He said in John 14 that He would go and prepare a place for us.  He would get a room ready for us in Heaven, and when He was ready for us, He would come and get us.  If you can trust God to remove your sin and shame, surely you can trust Him to make good on His promise to get you to Heaven.

Why did Jesus raise the Widow of Nain’s son from the dead?  Why did Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead?  Why did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Why did Jesus, Himself, come back from the dead and appear to His disciples and over 500 people? Why did many tombs open the day Jesus was raised from the dead and see others also come to life that day?  To demonstrate that He has power over death.  Those who believe in Jesus will also have power over death.  Do you believe in Him?  Do you believe Him? 

We’re getting ready to observe communion, the Lord’s Supper.  We’re going to eat and drink the elements that represent Christ’s blood that was shed for our sins on the cross of Calvary and His body that was pierced as He was purchasing our eternal freedom.  All who are Christians are invited to share in this experience together.  Our ushers will pass the elements today and you will lift out two cups that will be together.  The wafer, representing Christ’s body, will be in the bottom cup.  The grape juice, representing the blood of Christ, will be in the top cup.  When you receive the elements, you may go ahead and take them, even while we will be singing.

As you eat and drink this meal you are actually previewing, you are prophesying about where you will spend eternity.  You are foreshadowing the events that Revelation describes as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  This isn’t just an act of remembrance.  It is an act of faith. If you are a Christian, as you partake of these elements, you are saying by faith, “One day I will have a celebratory meal in eternity with Jesus.” He has given us this meal to keep us thinking about the day we will eat and drink anew with Him in Heaven.

Are you free today from the sting of death or is your eternal destiny still undecided?  Do you know that today could be a day of true deliverance, of true freedom for you, if you would confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?  If you have asked Him to forgive you of your sin, you can also ask Him to make His home in your heart and to get your home in Heaven ready.  You can reserve your place in that eternal mansion by praying, “Lord, forgive me.  Save me.  Live in me.  Empower me to live for You, and take me one day to be with You where You are.”  Even if you are just saying that prayer for the first time today, if it is from your heart, you have become a follower of Jesus and followship doesn’t end in this life.  You can follow Him through death and into eternal life in Heaven.  So, if you have just prayed that prayer in your heart, you can share in this communion experience with the rest of us!

Freedom from Strongholds

Early in my ministry, when I was just 26 years old and single, I found myself admiring a married man.  He was a good guy, and we had a lot in common. I was friends with him and with his wife. I remember having the thought, “If something happens to his wife, I could love their child.”  I knew I was in trouble.  Admiration was evolving into thoughts that weren’t helpful and that could derail me. 

I confessed those thoughts immediately to my prayer partner, Linda Russell.  She prayed with me, and those thoughts were taken captive.  I didn’t struggle with that notion ever again.  I shudder to think what would have happened if I had let my mind entertain the thought any longer because I believe that once you open the door to a stronghold, you give Satan some authority over your life.  You may try to close that door, but he finds a way to put a doorstop in the door, to keep it cracked open.

Satan is looking for our weaknesses. He knows how to entice us, how to push our buttons, how to distract us away from our pursuit of God.  Satan wants to get us to think we deserve to be happy, and that our happiness is more important than our holiness.  Following our lusts won’t make us happy. It will make us hostages.  But sometimes, we fall for it. 

The Bible says, “Don’t give the devil a foothold” in Ephesians 4:27. The word choice is interesting, isn’t it?  Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t give the devil a neckhold.”  He doesn’t say, “Don’t allow Satan to grab you by the wrist.”  He talked about our footing.  He referred to our stance, our balance, our ability to be firm and sure-footed.  Anything that compromises our ability to stand puts us in a very vulnerable position, doesn’t it?  It’s hard to be dragged off when you are standing on both feet, but get someone on the ground and it is easy to pin them, to bind them, and to take them away.  Paul said, “Don’t allow anything to knock you off your feet because it will make you easy to be easy to be controlled.”  He also tells us in Ephesians 6 that we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can take our STAND against the devil’s schemes. 

Listen to me, Satan is never not at war with you, so you can’t go about your day assuming he isn’t out to get you.  He doesn’t have to get you to fall down some gaping, slimy evil pit.  He just needs you to give him an inch.  He’ll take the mile.  When we open the door a crack to Satan’s schemes, when he gains a foothold, it is easy for that foothold to become a stronghold and for him to gain power and control over our lives.  When we sin, we are being tempted by Satan, but we are wrestling our own flesh, our own desires.  Once we sin, we move from being tempted by Satan to battling him and if we don’t confess and repent and ask for God’s help, we wind up being controlled by him.

What is a stronghold?  A stronghold is anything you can’t break free from.  It is the thing you no longer want to do, but you continue to do it anyway.  It’s the thing you are doing while at the same time you are asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Satan uses the allure of sin as fun of sin as exciting or even as comforting, to suck you in.  He wants you to have to smoke that, to have to drink that, to have to buy that, to have to have your friends’ approval, to have to see the pornography, to have to have sexual encounters beyond the biblical expression of sex, to have to look a certain way, to bow to a certain number on the scale, to have to have that certain level of success at work, to have to have a certain number of friends, to have to be invited to that certain party, to have to have those certain grades, to have to be perfect and well-liked, to have to stay isolated and to yourself, to have to drive a certain car, or to live in a certain kind of house which makes you a slave to debt. 

You can be set free from compulsions and addictive behavior.  You can quit throwing up or starving yourself in order to maintain a certain appearance.  You can quit lying to cover your tracks and walk in truth and integrity.  You can stop searching for porn sites to feed your fleshly appetite.  You can quit eating to soothe your loneliness.  You can be free from the anxiety and pressure that come with having to be perfect.  You can be free from the stronghold of social media that has consumed your time and gripped your thoughts.  You can be delivered from fear about not being good enough and step out to serve the Lord in some capacity.  You can put the drugs down.  You can break off abusive relationships.  You can quit giving in to people who are pressuring you to compromise your values and beliefs, to sell yourself or to sell substances.  You can get free from the people who want you to be underhanded and shady at work.  You can get out of debt and stop sabotaging your financial stability.  You can.  You need God’s help to do it, but “With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Someone called me last week to tell me that God had set her free from a sexual addiction. Isn’t that awesome?  God is still doing His deliverance work. You can renounce the day you opened the door to Satan.  You can proclaim to Satan that you are done being his slave.  You can kick him to the curb. You can evict him from your life.  You can confess that the blood of Jesus, the blood that covers your sin is also available to you to break any stronghold in your life.  You can call upon the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that is greater than the power of the enemy, and ask God to deliver you, heal you and permanently free you.  It doesn’t matter how deep you are in, there is no pit where God will not go to pull you out.  And if you need a counselor to walk alongside you for a minute, as sometimes it is a process, we can get you to one who knows how to believe God with you.  To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Will anyone believe with me that you can be set free, free indeed?

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