God's Way of Setting Captives Free
Perhaps you’ve noticed how you can vow to change, make promises to do better, commit to trying hard, and yet find that temptation eventually overpowers all your efforts. We can try to grit our teeth and “white knuckle” our way to sobriety and still find that we fall and fail. By nature, we are weak, and it does not work to make vows and decisions, get together with a bunch of others and make commitments to stop drinking or smoking, promise our spouses we’re going to quit this time for good, etc.
Our efforts combined with programs, meetings, and sponsors may work short-term, but it does not make us “free indeed” like Jesus does (John 8:36). God’s way to lasting freedom is not through us putting fences around our behavior and promising to be accountable; no His way is to rescue us and give us an internal change in who we are, a radical replacement of our old hearts and our old selves, and a remaking of us from the inside out.
THE TESTIMONY OF KING DAVID
Illustration: King David in the Bible had a terrible moral lapse. It began with lusting in his heart after a woman, and he ended up committing adultery with her. One sin led to another, and he ended up having her husband killed, trying to cover up his sin of adultery.
Possibly you’ve noticed how one sin leads to another like this too. I used to get drunk or high and lose all inhibition, which led to many other sins such as sexual impurity, anger toward my wife and others, overeating food, smoking, etc.
David was hardened in his sin (Hebrews 3:13) for nine months until God sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke him. David’s heart then became broken over his sin, and as David cried out to God for forgiveness, he said these words:
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Psalm 51:5-7, 10-12
David understood his sin defiled him and so he prayed for cleansing, to be washed and made whiter than snow. He also prayed for God to change his heart. This heart change, this deep washing and cleansing, is what it takes to be free, not merely deciding to stop our bad behavior.
GOD'S WORK IN OUR HEARTS
Friend, if you and I are ever to get free from the control of all substances, God must work in our hearts. He must give us a new heart, a clean heart! Real and lasting change comes from an inner change, a change in our desires and loves, and passions.
Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Do you see how the issue is the heart? God must change our hearts - our desires, loves, and passions - for us to find real and lasting freedom. Otherwise, we can do all the programs we want, make decisions to stop, try as hard as we want, but we will remain enslaved, either to substance abuse like we have been, or to pride if we happen to be doing well for a time. Do you see this?
I remember one night having fallen very badly to drunkenness which led to other horrendous sins that night. I woke up hungover, in a mental fog, and was just full of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. I felt like there was no hope for me ever to change. Have you ever felt this way? Do you often hear the world’s lie running through your head, “once an addict, always an addict” like I did for so long?
Well, in my dark moment, I felt God calling me to Him, so I reluctantly pulled my Bible out of my suitcase (I was a professing Christian, so I always carried it), and I began reading through David’s prayer in Psalm 51. God enabled me to cry out to Him for the forgiveness of my sins and cleansing. I begged Him to wash me and make me new, to rescue me from this slavery I was in, to give me a new heart and a new spirit.
My prayer was from my heart, as I prayed, “God in heaven, please forgive me! Please remove my guilt and shame. Like David, I need a new heart! I need to be washed and cleansed; I need to be made new and set free. Please, God, you are my only hope. Help me.”
I remember that this was not an eloquent prayer, but God heard me that day, and He began working in my heart to change my life.
Maybe you’ve made efforts to change through programs and step-groups, but perhaps you see now that what you need is a heart change. You feel that you need to be washed and cleansed, be made new in your mind’s attitude, and be set free from the power of darkness. Maybe you know that you need a heart that turns away from over-drinking alcohol, smoking, or abusing prescription or illegal drugs. Perhaps you see the need to be given a heart that hates the things you once loved.
Do you acknowledge that turning to substances for comfort and pleasure is defiling you and causing harm not only to your heart and mind but also to those around you? Do you see the importance of having your heart changed? Of being washed and made clean on the inside? Do you want to see God do a remarkable transformation in your life?
Question 4. Are you ready to cry out to God like David did and like I did that dark day in my life? If so, please write out your prayer here:
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