Slaves to Sin

chains“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night,” so wrote the hymn writer Charles Wesley. Wesley understood very clearly what the Scriptures say about man’s natural state apart from God: namely that we are born slaves to sin. To really grasp the full weight and beauty of the gospel we must see clearly how desperate our state was. Slaves to sin and bound for hell is who we all are apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said it plainly, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slaveto sin” (John 8:34b). We are slaves because we commit sin. In fact the very idea suggests we could have no other recourse but to sin. Slaves do what they are told, they obey. They have no rights and no freedoms. It is a picture of being held in bondage, shackled to our sin.

This is not to say that non-Christians are only ever as bad as they can be, or that Christians are perfect and faultless. The Bible speaks more specifically to individuals being bound to their own selfish pursuits and unable to please God. So Paul writes to Titus saying that apart from Christ all of us were “slaves to various passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Our moral bent as sinners is always away from God. We may do good things, we can be nice people, we can even be humanitarians, but because we do not desire to glorify God it will not save us. The problem lies in our hearts.

The prophet Jeremiah said of the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9)? In addition he adds, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). We cannot change our status before God. We are bound in slavery to sin and self. Apart from His working in us we will never want to glorify Him and will always remain estranged from Him; until God intervenes we will always be His enemy.

This is foundational to understanding the gospel. If we do not see the tremendous plight we are in apart from Jesus then we will never grasp our need for Him, or understand the beauty of what He has accomplished for us. The gospel requires that we start here: understanding our slavery to sin. But thanks be to God that it does not leave us here!

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