The prison doors have been opened, the gates swung wide. The warden has come to you, handed your release papers to you, and in his gruff, awkward voice informs you that you are free to go.
Yet you sit in your cell. Looking around, you see all the memories of the years you’ve spent here. This cell, this prison, has become your home.
You could walk out at any time, but you don’t. You’re frozen. In your head you’d like to get up and leave but you can’t seem to will your legs to move. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to make it happen.
What We Know
We’ve already established that you are free. You are no longer held captive by anything.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1
When Jesus died he took away all our sins and put them on himself. He made us free. The walls of our prisons shook. Our chains were broken loose. The doors were opened wide.
So Why Can’t We Leave?
Because of what Jesus has done, we are no longer required to sit in our cells. We can get up and leave at any time. So why do we stay? There is fresh air and sunshine, friends and family, and freedom just outside that door. Yet we languish in our prison, now of our own making. We do it on purpose, with intention, and of our own free will. We sabotage ourselves into staying.
Why would we do that? Here are some reasons that we choose to stay:
We stay where we are because it’s what we know.
As long as you sit in that cell they continue to bring you 3 square meals a day. They walk you out into the yard for some fresh air and maybe a bit of exercise and then take you back to sit in your cell once again.
There’s just something about this place. It’s not particularly comfortable, but it’s horribly familiar. Yeah you have to use the bathroom in what amounts to being in public. The cinder block walls and metal bed are always cold and there’s a faint hint of mold in the air at all times. But you have a few books and enough room to stretch out if you need to. Maybe you even have a chair or a desk if you’re one of the lucky ones. This prison cell has become your home.
We’re creatures of habit and tend to trend toward what we already know or are comfortable with. Our sin, our “habits”, have become a sort of “center” for us. We know what to expect out of them and we’ve made an agreement with them over time.
It’s Not That Bad
You’ve all probably heard the story of the dog sitting on the nail, right? Just in case, here’s the really quick version:
A person moves in across the street from someone whose dog just howls and howls. All day and all night the dog just won’t stop howling. After a few frustrating days the person goes to their new neighbor and asks him about the dog. “Is everything alright?,” they ask.
“Oh yeah. He’s just laying on a nail.,” the new neighbor says. “Well why doesn’t he just get up and move?” “Well, I suppose because it doesn’t hurt that much.”
We laugh at that. In our heads we might even chastise the dog. “That’s dumb. If he’d just move he’d feel so much better.”
But … this is our story. Think about it. We stay in our prison cell, locked away in our sins, because, well … they just don’t hurt that much. The pain of the sin or addiction and it’s circumstances just aren’t strong enough for us to make any real changes. Yeah, we could walk out the door to freedom but things aren’t that bad in here. Why leave?
We are afraid to move. Literally scared out of our minds. We’re afraid of what we’ll find “out there.” It’s a different world with different rules and expectations. If you were to leave, what would life be like?
Freedom is a scary proposition. Choosing it is to choose life but, in the short term, it might feel like death. Like starting a new diet, you have to leave behind your comforts and lovers and move into new territory. Broccoli instead of potato chips. Water instead of Mountain Dew.
Caffeine withdrawal headaches suuuucccckkkk and it feels like death. In the long run though, when you’ve gotten past the hard withdrawal parts, there is freedom. Your body is so much healthier for it.
The same is true with the things that keep us in our cell. We fear what the short-term pains of freedom will be. We might need to leave behind some “friends.” We might need to not go that certain way home. We might need to actually pick up a glass of water.
Whatever the thing keeping you in your cell is, we don’t look past the short-term pain long enough to know how worth it leaving our cells and embracing that pain will be. All we see is pain. So we stay rooted where we are. It’s easier to stay in your prison than it is to have to figure out how to change your life.
We Don’t Honor The Gift
As we learned last week, freedom isn’t free, but it was free for us. Jesus bought our freedom on the cross. It was a gift. It’s ours. We are free and it didn’t cost us anything.
But what I’ve learned about free things is that we typically don’t value them as much as we would if we had paid for them ourselves.
How many free ebooks do you have that you’ve never read? How many free samples of things that you’ve never opened? How many free 30-day trials to things that you never even used once. (Side note: Raise your hand if you’ve ever signed up for a trail period like that and then you forgot you had to cancel it. They charged you, and you were like “What even is this thing?” ✋)
We take gifts given to us that we don’t really want and re-gift them. We bring home large quantities of stuff from conferences (a.k.a. “swag”) and then dump the majority of it in the trash because we don’t really care about it.
Regardless of the source, we tend to place low value on things that are free.
We’ve been given a great gift. Our freedom has been handed to us, but rather than walk in that freedom, we choose to stay in our prison cell.
Maybe we don’t really believe that the gift was for us. Maybe we don’t accept it because we’re trying to avoid getting burned. Maybe we don’t believe that we’re worthy of such an extravagant gift. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t care.
Whatever the case, we don’t honor the gift that has been given to us. We throw it away. We believe that the life we have inside our prison cell is better than the life of freedom that’s been handed to us.
You Are Free
The truth is, we are free.
There are no chains. No shackles or handcuffs. There isn’t even one of those ankles bracelets with the GPS tracking that tell the authorities where we are.
But here we sit, in a prison of our own making.
Let me tell you something. Our time of remaining in our prison has come to an end. We’ve embraced these reasons, these excuses for far too long. It’s time for us to break down the walls of our prison with intention and purpose. With hammer in hand we must destroy it.
Our enemy would rather that we leave it standing. Even if we walk out into the daylight of freedom, if we leave the walls of our prison intact, he knows that we have a fallback in case we ever want to go back. There will always be something left to entice us.
We would rather leave our prison standing too. I mean, after all, we built it. Brick by brick, over a long period of time. It really is a work of art. Craftsmanship of the highest order. We spent so much of our lives building it. It would be a shame to bring it all crashing down.
Also, when things get tough, when the arrows of the enemy inevitably come crashing down on us, we’ll desire a place of safety and refuge. If you’re in prison, you don’t need to worry about the arrows, right? You’re not vulnerable. The enemy has no reason to shoot at you. It feels like a safe place.
Guys and gals … listen to me … IT’S PRISON! You’re a prisoner. It is not a safe place. You might not get shot at. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some dude with a shank waiting for you around the corner. I’ve seen Prison Break, I know how these things work.
As long as even one brick of your prison remains on another, we will always have a tendency to go back. We will start picking up the pieces and slowly but surely putting it all back together again. Each time we do, the prison gets a little bigger and infinitely harder to destroy.
We must fight this with everything within us. We need to feel the pain of our imprisonment for what it is, and find the desire to leave it forever.
Once you’ve tasted freedom, I mean real freedom, the last thing you need is to be tempted to go back to what you once knew. Remaining free will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life. It will be the most important work you might ever do.
It will be worth it, I promise.
Honor the gift you’ve been given. Fight against familiarity, pain, and fear. Stand up and walk out of your prison.
After all, you’re free, remember? You can do that.