When I was 18 years old, I surrendered to God’s call to vocational ministry. But I really had no idea what I was surrendering to. Some years later, God gave me a mandate: “I sent My Son to set the captives free. You will go forth and ring the liberty bell.”
This mandate sounded evangelistic to me, and I was certain my calling was in the area of discipleship. I shake my head and marvel now when I recall that I once thought the only people who were captives were the spiritually lost!
But if anyone had told me then that Christians can be in bondage, I would have argued with all the volume a person can muster—when a yoke of slavery is strangling her neck! I was the worst kind of captive: a prisoner unaware. In fact, I had no idea I was in captivity until God began to set me free.
Perhaps you’re also unconvinced that Christians can live in bondage. Don’t take my word for it; take God’s.
The Bible says, “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” (Gal. 5:1, NIV, emphasis added). The fact that Paul wrote this warning not to the world but to the church (Gal. 1:2) and that he used the phrase “burdened again” indicates that he knew it was possible for believers to become bound.
I paraphrase Galatians 5:1 this way: “Don’t you realize that Christ gave up everything so you could be free? The cross purchased your liberty from every yoke and replaced it with Christ Himself [see Matt. 11:28-30]. Nothing can hold you captive now without your permission.
“Don’t go back to slavery! He did not set you free to live the rest of your life in self-inflicted bondage. Learn to live in Christ’s glorious liberty; then stay on the alert so you don’t return to captivity.”
End of Captivity
No other book of the Bible has more to say about the captivity of God’s people and the promise of freedom and restoration than the book of Isaiah. Isaiah ministered as a prophet to the people of God in and around Jerusalem during the period when the nation of Israel was a divided kingdom. Isaiah’s name means “the Lord saves,” and the word salvation is used in his book 27 times—twice as many as in the books of the other Old Testament prophets combined.
Isaiah speaks about the rebellion of God’s people and their resulting captivity to the Assyrians. But he also looks ahead to a time when the captivity will end, a time when Israel will be comforted by God and restored to her appointed purpose.
More importantly, Isaiah prophesies about the coming of the Deliverer, the One who is destined to set His people free:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Is. 61:1-4).
From this passage we can learn several important points:
1. God hears the cry of the oppressed. We must believe that God cares about those in physical, emotional, mental or spiritual prisons. God issued Isaiah 61:1-4 as a response to the captivity He foresaw when He looked down on rebellious Judah. These liberating words apply to us just as surely as they did to the Israelites. They will continue to apply as long as God looks down from the height of His sanctuary, views the earth and hears the groaning of the prisoner.
2. God fulfills Isaiah 61:1-4 in Christ alone. When Jesus read from the Scriptures in the temple, He quoted Isaiah 61 as His personal charter (Luke 4:14-21). Both Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:14 tell us that Christ Jesus was empowered by the Spirit. And we know that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Christ sets us free by the power of His Spirit; then He maintains our freedom as we learn to live from day to day in the power of that Spirit. Isaiah and Luke agree that only Christ was appointed to offer this kind of freedom.
3. Christ’s ministry is a ministry of the heart. Do you notice all the parts of Jesus’ job description? Christ came to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes … a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Is. 61:1-3).
Christ’s first priority is setting captives free from the bondage of eternal destruction (2 Pet. 3:9). But saved people, as I mentioned before, can still be in bondage (Gal. 5:1).