Explanatory note: How Remembering the Gospel Frees Us from Captivity to Sin
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ…” (Col. 2:8)
My pastor recently taught this passage and shared Paul’s heart as he warned us about our great danger as believers: being taken captive by delusion to plausible arguments, human philosophies, and man made laws (Col. 2:4,8). He reminded us that these words were written to Christians who had actually received Christ, not to unbelievers who were already in captivity to sin and worldly thought. As believers, we need to be aware that the possibility of giving in to practical, sensible sounding arguments, worldviews, and teachings is very real.
In the last year God graciously allowed me to turn from my captivity to issues related to food and parenting, but I wanted to see what else I was seeking to conform myself into the image of, in the place of Christ. I quietly asked God to show me these things as we moved into the time of communion. This is what He showed me:
You are crushing yourself under the burden of comparing yourself to others.
God immediately showed me that I am a "Sad Moralist". This is someone who Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson describe in their book, Counsel from the Cross, as being one who, “has a pride problem. He believes that he ought to be able to do better, so he is harsh with himself, and he thrashes himself with condemnation, hoping that by so doing he will be able to obey and finally find rest”.
I saw that because I’m naturally inclined toward melancholy, I have a realistic outlook about my ability to achieve righteousness on my own. Simply put, I know it’s not possible. Instead of applying the hopeful cure of accepting Christ’s righteousness on my behalf through the gospel message, God showed me I had exchanged it for a false remedy: “Well, I know I can’t be as good as Christ, but I’ll at least focus on being better than the people sitting next to me in the pews on Sundays. I can’t be as loving and patient as Christ is, but I can be a better mom than she is, eat healthier than that family does, and look better on the outside, and trendier, than the gals here.”
At that moment God allowed me to feel the putridity and load of this sin. I felt as the psalmist did when he wrote, “For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. … My iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds (sins) stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:2,4-8). I was using the people around me to achieve a gross ends: self-glory.
My self reliance spoke up. But what do I do!?
I began to cry as we rose to worship.
You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are. It’s who You are. It’s who You are. And I am loved by You. It’s who I am. It’s who I am. It’s who I am.
God spoke to me of the work He did to identify me with His perfect Son.
“I am the God that came to proclaim freedom and good news to captives like you (Luke 4:18). I knew you’d abuse the people around you at your altar of self-worship. And I loved you anyways. So much so that I bled to take the penalty you deserve for such prostitution of my image bearers. My flesh was ripped from my back in place of the wounds that you should have felt. I loved you enough to have my Father turn His face away so that you can gaze into His eternal smile towards you, even though you have sinned greatly against your King. I have died your death, so that you may live and walk in newness of life that I alone can offer you. You are loved by me.”
Immediate rest came as I realized God is not expecting anything else of me than what I am right now, exactly as He found me. He is not shocked and distancing Himself from me because of my unrighteousness. No! God knew I wouldn’t be able to meet the standard I created by measuring myself against others, let alone His perfect standard of holiness. Because of that, He sent His only Son, Christ, so that He could fulfill the righteous requirement for weak sinners who come to Him by grace, through faith (Romans 8:4,10:4, Eph. 2:8-9).
This gospel message is the only thing we should seek to pattern our lives after. Why? Because it is the only message that contains the full measure of power needed to train us for righteousness as we renounce ungodly and worldly passions, and to live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). By grace, turn from your captivity to comparison and be conformed into the image of the Perfect Son.