What would it be like to be in prison? Without freedom—enslaved to someone else? Can you imagine it?
When American and British troops invaded Iraq and took over Baghdad in March 2003, they uncovered some terrible things—things that had been going on for years under the rule of a ruthless dictator. Saddam Hussein had absolute power in his country. Anyone who opposed him, or his party, or his policemen, in any way, could be jailed—without provocation, without a fair trial.
In those prisons, people were subject to torture and frightful conditions you can’t even conceive of. When the Americans came in, many Iraqis flooded in to these jails—people who’d been imprisoned and tortured in them, families of people who had just disappeared in them.
“I was 23 years old and just married when they came for me,” said Ismael Samoi, a man who had been imprisoned in an underground jail for 22 months. The Sunday Times of London followed him as he revisited the prison (April 13, 2003).
“His hands were shaking as he led the way to a series of small, stone-walled rooms,” wrote the Times. “Pointing out the meat hooks in the ceiling from which he had been suspended by a rope tied round his ankles or hands, Samoi showed raised burn marks on his wrist. ‘They would beat us with rubber hosepipes while we were hanging until we dripped blood,’ he said.”
This is so far from any experience any of us have had, it is nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to actually be in that situation! But for a moment, I’d like you to try.
“In the next corridor were a series of even smaller cells, with barely room for one person, where torture by scorpion was carried out. ‘We called these the lonely cells,’ he said. ‘My 15-year-old cousin died here in the dirt and dust. Many died here. They would put you in alone with these big, very ugly creatures that get on your clothes so you can’t get them off and they sting.’” What a tragic end for that 15-year-old!
Why would Saddam Hussein do anything so cruel to anyone? It is unnatural—it does not make sense!
But it does help us understand one of the basic truths of the Bible—that there is a being called the devil, a being that personifies evil. The devil hates human beings! He wants to do whatever he can to make us miserable, and destroy us if possible. He would love nothing more than to do those types of horrible things to you and me.
History is filled with examples of people being imprisoned, held captive, enslaved, and subject to the worst kinds of punishments. Some are born into a system where they are considered second-class or third-class citizens, and have nothing but a slave’s life to look forward to. They are imprisoned by that system, just as surely as a wild animal trapped in a cage.
When I was young, my mom regularly visited women in a women’s prison, and would take my sister and me with her. These women had no freedoms. They were stuck in an environment with other criminal women. They became hard and bitter, totally focused on themselves, absorbed in self-pity. They knew their lives were not their own.
I also remember visiting a juvenile prison when I was a teenager. It really didn’t seem all that bad: There were school rooms and recreational facilities. But the kids in there were not free. And they knew it.
In a newsletter called The Beat Within, written by and about incarcerated youth, some essays were printed written by teens facing the possibility of life in prison. Here are some of the things these young people said:
“If I’m convicted, I may never get to breathe fresh air or see the outside for the rest of my life. It feels like someone is just all of a sudden taking my life. Everything that I know and love they’re trying to take from me. … The worst part about my situation is that I can’t be with my family anymore and it eats me up inside. … It can be very easy for someone to say, ‘Maintain, keep your head up, stay strong,’ but they’re on the outside looking in and don’t have a clue about how this situation feels. It can change a person’s whole personality or mentality.”
“I am 16 years old. I’m in juvenile hall for one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. It is very, very hard for me, knowing I’m going to spend the rest of my life in prison. … When I’m in this room thinking about my freedom, family and girlfriend, all that, I start getting sad, then I start crying until I fall asleep.”
I’m not trying to scare you, or imply that you are criminals.
But what I do want to do is paint a vivid picture in your mind of what slavery is like. What it’s like not to have the freedoms you have.
I imagine the young people in those prisons would be able to better relate to the story of the Israelites—who were slaves in Egypt. (Not that the Israelites were criminals—this is just giving us a basis of comparison.)
“And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour. … and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage” (Exodus 1:13-14; 2:23). The Israelites had no freedom. Their lives were at the mercy of their taskmasters.
They cried out for freedom!
That one 16-year-old said he sits in his cell thinking about freedom. And he knows he is not free, and he just cries himself to sleep!
The man in that Iraqi prison and his cellmate would climb onto each other’s shoulders so their fingertips would just reach a small grille high on the wall. He said, “This is how we dreamed of freedom, just to touch the free air.”
Slavery is a terrible thing!
God hates it! He doesn’t want anyone to have to endure slavery.
Satan loves it. And he’ll do anything to bring someone into slavery.
You could say that God is a giver of freedom, and Satan is a spreader of slavery.
A World Held Captive
Why is this important?
The truth is, Satan has managed to bring virtually the whole world into the bondage of slavery!
People are trapped, they are miserable, their lives are plagued by failure. And what makes this especially cruel and vile, the devil has deceived people into believing they are free.
Even more: He has done this in such a way that people are actually helping him to enslave them—thinking they are making themselves more free!
People all over this Earth are living in misery. They are crying themselves to sleep—they are reaching out, trying to touch the free air. But at the same time they are making choices every day that are extending their prison sentence and increasing the torture! Choices that are strengthening Satan’s grip on their lives—and yet all the while thinking that they’re becoming more free.
The Bible says the whole world is deceived (Revelation 12:9). Satan has kidnapped them—captured them—enslaved them—yet they are so completely deceived they don’t realize what has actually happened to them!
Do you realize that most people do not know what true freedom is? They are captive in a kind of slavery.
That example of Israel in Egypt is very important in the Bible, because God actually uses it to help us understand what sin does to us. God compares sin to slavery.
Many people see sin as sexy, exciting, glamorous, fun. God sees sin as slavery.
The Apostle Peter talked about people whose idea of freedom was totally wrong: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19; Revised Standard Version).
What does he mean by saying that if you are overcome by something, you are enslaved by it?
The fact is, sin is addictive!
Many sins have an immediate payoff. The Bible even talks about “the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Violence, hatred, wrong use of sex, stealing, drug and alcohol abuse—these things do feel good for a season, for a little while. They may make you feel free! People will do these things, thinking they are so free.
But that feeling doesn’t last, and pretty soon you find yourself wanting that good feeling again, so you do it again—and again—and then again. And it literally overcomes you—enslaves you!
Take the example of drug addiction. Drugs can actually alter your mind so you crave them.
On a pbs television special, one teen who was addicted to drugs said this: “All I thought about was drugs. I didn’t think about nothing else. All I was doing was—like if I wasn’t smoking, I was looking for it. If I wasn’t looking for it, I was talking about it” (In the Mix, “Drug Abuse: Altered States”).
Another teen said, “I was addicted to drugs. I was very addicted to drugs. Your brain doesn’t tell you, ‘[M]y body’s not functioning without drugs.’ It tells you, ‘[Y]ou’re sick. You need some medicine.’ That’s what it’s telling you: ‘You need to medicate yourself. In order for you to feel better, you need to get that. Go get it’” (ibid.)
A doctor interviewed on that program explained, “If you are addicted, if you have this compulsion to use drugs, it’s because your brain has literally been changed by drugs. Your brain has been hijacked.” Who do you suppose is really doing that hijacking?
In an addiction, you’re hurting yourself, or you’re hurting other people—probably both! But the drive to get that feeling overrides everything else. Even as your world is falling apart around you, you continue to go deeper into slavery.
It’s easy to recognize this with something like alcoholism or drug addiction. But the truth is that all sin has this addictive quality!
Have you ever known someone who essentially abandoned their family because of the feeling they got from being with one particular girl or guy? Perhaps you know people who are addicted to pornography, or addicted to the Internet, or to food, or television, or video games. Some are addicted to arguing, or sarcasm, or gossip! Some are addicted to gaining acceptance from their friends, and become easy victims of peer pressure.
Maybe they feel guilty, and wish they could stop whatever it is, but no matter how hard they try they just can’t overcome it.
Why? Because they have been overcome by it! And the truth is, they are actually enslaved by it.
That is what Peter means by saying, “Whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.”
What about you? Do you have some addictions in your life you want to be rid of? Things you want to overcome, that have actually overcome you?
Freedom From Slavery
“Peter paints an extraordinary picture. Imagine someone coming to you enclosed in a cage, handcuffed, their legs bound by shackles—and offering you freedom! ‘They promise … freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption ….’ That’s exactly what is happening so often today! The drug pushers and pornographers do not have true freedom!” (Gerald Flurry, No Freedom Without Law, p. 4).
Think about this: Why would someone even do drugs in the first place? Because they are already enslaved! There is something missing in their lives—or they are enslaved by peer pressure. They might think that taking drugs is making them more free, but it’s only enslaving them more. They don’t know what true freedom is.
The fact is, sin enslaves you.
And we must realize that God hates slavery, and He wants to keep you from being enslaved—He wants to give you true freedom! God wants more than anything to see you live out a happy abundant life, free from the slavery of sin!
So, what is the solution to this world’s slavery?
It is God’s law.
Sin leads to slavery. And what is sin? It’s breaking God’s law!
So God wants to educate you in His law, and He wants to help you keep His law. Not because He wants to restrict your freedom, but because He wants to give you true freedom!
“My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye” (Proverbs 7:1-2). Some people think God’s law is a curse. NO! It is not a curse—it is God spelling out exactly how to avoid slavery! How to have true freedom. God’s commandments are there to help you avoid being entrapped.
The Foolish Young Man
Read Proverbs 7:5-21. This is the story of a foolish young man who allowed himself to get entrapped by a loose woman. She looked good and her words were so enticing! There won’t be any consequences, she said. We’re free to do whatever we want.
If you have a weakness, Satan will throw it at you and try to ensnare you. And if you’re foolish, you’re going to walk right into it—it seems too good to pass up. It feels too good. But then whap!—the trap snaps shut!
“All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter … as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life” (verses 22-23, rsv).
God is pleading with us: Don’t do this! You’re going to get hurt! You’ll be trapped! Stay away from these problems. “Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her” (verses 24-26).
God says to flee fornication (i Corinthians 6:18). Don’t flirt with it—run from it! It’s a trap! We can’t try to walk the line and think we can handle it. Everyone who does that thinks they’re the exception—that they won’t get burned. But there are no exceptions. You must be honest with yourself about that: You are not the exception. You can be enslaved just as easily as those “many strong men” who went before you. God says there’s a trap there, and you need to stay as far from it as possible.
Slaves of God
Notice this closely: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants [slaves] ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).
What this verse is really saying is, there is no such thing as the freedom many people talk about. Their idea of freedom is, Do whatever you want—be accountable to nobody. That does not exist, because that makes you a slave of sin, and it leads to death. And before death, it leads to misery and failure. There is no way around that.
On the flip side, it is not easy to obey God’s law. It actually requires becoming a servant of God. You actually become enslaved to righteousness and to God.
So the question is, Who would you rather have as your master—God, or Satan? It’s one or the other!
One of them wants to destroy you—and the other wants to give you every blessing, happiness, and opportunity He possibly can.
One of them wants to do to you what Saddam Hussein did to the people in that prison. But God wants to see you soar like an eagle. He wants to bring you right into His family!
Who would you rather have guiding and directing your life?
If you want to be free from slavery of sin, you have to obey God. Follow His advice! It works!
God is saying to you, You don’t have to make life-destroying mistakes. I’m showing you the traps! Just steer clear of them when I point them out to you.
Are you humble enough to realize you need God’s counsel?
How to Avoid Slavery
“I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). Paul talked about two laws here: “the law of sin” and “the law of my mind.” What was the law of his mind? God’s law—the law that God had educated him in!
You need to be educated about that law. You need to know what God expects from you, or you won’t even know what to resist! You won’t know how to avoid the slavery that comes from breaking God’s law (verse 7).
King David said, “Your commandments make me wiser than all my enemies.”
If you learn about God’s law and then obey it, you will be on the path to true freedom!
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). That’s true freedom! Freedom from sin and death!
The world thinks it is true freedom to be free from authority—free from taking advantage of the wisdom and experience of older, more righteous people—free from those things that bring balance and stability into our lives. They want to be free from good things!
God wants you to be free from bad things! That’s true freedom: freedom from all the curses and penalties that come from breaking God’s law. Freedom from destructive addictions. Freedom from failed relationships that fell apart because of your own selfishness. Freedom from depression. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from having to lie to cover your tracks. Freedom from worrying whether what you did is going to be found out.
God wants you to be free to have a full, abundant life that you can live right out in the open, because you have nothing to hide. He wants you to be free to have strong, healthy relationships with your parents. Free to build strong friendships with other young people based on positive, upbuilding, encouraging things. Free to enter a beautiful marriage at some point, free from any regret about past relationships.
True freedom is grounded in God’s law.
Read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20—they actually start with that language: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”—or land of slavery.
The Apostle James understood this. And he coined an expression I’d like you to remember.
The Law of Liberty
James 1:25 reads, “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” The perfect law of liberty! It’s a law that gives you liberty! It makes you free!
When God says stay away from something, just say Okay! Must not be for me! And you’ll be blessed for that!
When God says do it this way, just say Okay! That must be the best way! You’ll be blessed for that!
You don’t have to experiment. You don’t have to wrack up failures in life. You don’t have to get burned. You don’t have to realize what the right way is by first doing it the wrong way and finding yourself enslaved by it!
All problems in your life, and in this world, come from that law of liberty being broken! When that perfect law of liberty is violated, people become enslaved!
You can be free from that. Be a doer of the law, and you’ll be blessed. Keep the law of liberty, and you’ll have true freedom.
It takes vision to recognize a rule or a law as actually giving you greater freedom. But trust God—the way to abundant happiness and true freedom comes from keeping God’s law of liberty.
The Truth Sets You Free
Jesus Christ said, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. … I do always those things that please him” (John 8:28-29).
Think about what He is saying. He wouldn’t do anything of Himself. He followed His Father’s instructions exactly. He did only what pleased His Father.
A lot people—even a lot of people who call themselves Christian—would look at that and say, No way! That’s slavery! You have to do what pleases you! But Christ would disagree.
He then said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (verses 31-32).
Do you believe what Christ said? Only God’s truth can give you true freedom. Anything else is fake freedom.
Read verses 33-36 in John 8, as Christ talked about true freedom. He concluded, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (verse 36).
The U.S. freed many prisoners in Iraq, but now they live in a country with all kinds of problems and chaos. They still don’t have true freedom!
Only God can truly make you free. He hates the slavery in this world. He created mankind in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), He gave us free moral agency, and intended that we be noble and free creatures!
God created us with an incredible potential—to become resplendent spirit beings! He wants to fill your mind with hope for a wonderful future! He created you to be in His family! Not as a servant, or a slave—but a son! (Romans 8:15, rsv). That is worth 10 million times more than any fleeting pleasure that comes from sin. (Our free book The Incredible Human Potential will explain this truth to you.)
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. … Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of god” (Romans 8:18, 21). Glorious freedom!
God’s family is a family of freedom! And it is true freedom—infinitely more precious and valuable than the false freedom offered by this world.
Ask yourself, How am I enslaved by this world? Think of the problems in your life, and ask, Where am I breaking that perfect law of liberty?
How does God make you free? How does the truth make you free? How wonderful could your life be with true freedom?
Nurture true freedom in your life. Make it your life!