And how exactly does God’s word unchain us?
Initially it does so by revealing to us the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of all people. God opens our heart, as He did with Lydia (Acts 16:14), and like her, we are immersed to receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of Holy Spirit (2:38). Forgiven and filled with the Spirit—that’s about as unchained as you can get in this life!
Yet that’s not the end—it’s really just the beginning. Getting into Christ is unchaining, but so is allowing Christ to get into us. Allowing Christ to get into our lives is a lifelong process the Scripture refers to as transformation or sanctification (different sides of the same coin). Paul speaks of it in 1 Thessalonians 4 as pleasing God (v. 1). Our Father is pleased as we surrender our lives to Him at increasingly deeper levels as we mature.
One of the keys to transformation is that we seek God’s reign over the entirety of our lives (Matthew 6:10). That becomes our simple and single purpose (Matthew 5:8). Among other things, this means we cannot compromise with sin—but through the Spirit we put it to death (Romans 8:13). This means we develop a holy hatred of it—we don’t cherish it in any way.
That’s important because too many times disciples can have the wrong goal—we want to change our behavior, but God wants to change our heart. We seek outward conformity, but He wants inward transformation. Yes, this is radical but welcome to discipleship 101. Read the opening chapter of the Sermon of the Mount and see if this isn’t exactly what Jesus was saying in explaining His kingdom.
And yes, it’s hard. And for whatever issues we have that have us—it will be one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. But we’ll never overcome anything if we are content to just deal with it at the surface level rather than at the heart level. It will be like pulling weeds out of your lawn without getting the roots. Your lawn will look good for a day or two but as long as the roots are still there, so is your weed problem.
But what if I look into my heart of hearts and I can’t honestly say I totally want to give something up? I mean, I know I should, but I’m just not there yet? Is there any hope for me?
Of course there is. By acknowledging that you know you should do this, you’re in essence saying, “I want to want to.” A man told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). What was he saying? He was saying, “I want to want to,” and Christ had no words of condemnation for him. Lean into wanting to want to and God will grow that into something more.