Breaking the Chains

by Mike Ratliff

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17 ESV)

When God saves His people their hearts are regenerated. This means that they now have the faith that is required for salvation. It means that they are now able to obey God because they have everything in place that enables it. However, many of us can testify to many years of bondage to besetting sins after salvation. Even though our salvation freed us from the penalty of sin and provided the only way for us become victors over our sin nature, our pride working in cooperation with our sin nature had deceived us into believing that pleasing our flesh would give us more fulfillment than the Joy of the Lord. When we give in to this by exposing our members to the desires of our flesh we move away from the light into darkness. If we do not repent of this and learn how to walk according the spirit, to become Spirit-led, we will eventually become enslaved to our flesh. This bondage can become very hard to break. In fact, we cannot break these chains by our will power. We cannot kill our sin by trying hard or doing good works or being super religious. What makes this a huge problem is that there are very few mature believers in our time who teach and disciple new Christians how to kill their sin and thereby live according the spirit.

In the passage above, the Apostle Paul tells us that all believers are debtors to the Spirit of God, not their flesh. He then tells us that professing Christians who never try to find victory over their flesh are not genuine. Part of the change in a regenerate Heart is a hatred for what God hates and a love for what God loves. God hates sin. Genuine Believers will also hate their sin. That does not mean that they know how to get the victory over their sin nature, but they do hate it.

So how do believers get the victory, to break the chains of bondage to their flesh? Let’s look at another part of the Bible written by Paul.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20 ESV)

Christians who become enslaved to their flesh have done so because of their foolishness. They are not wise. Where does wisdom come from?

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)

That’s right. We must ask God for it. We must ask believing, that is, with faith. When we do, He gives it to us. If that is all it takes, then why don’t all those Christians who are enslaved to their flesh do this? They don’t know how to ask by faith. Why? They are walking according to the flesh, rather than according to the Spirit. They are not Spirit-led.

Look back at Ephesians 5:15-20. Paul contrasts the drinking of wine to drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit. What happens when a person becomes drunk by drinking alcohol? Doesn’t the alcohol exert a form of control over the members of the body because it permeates the brain and causes motor functions to suffer. The behavior of the drunk also changes from that of when he or she is sober. The drunk has been taken over by the alcohol. The alcohol has all of the drunk. The word debauchery from v18 means “to lose control” or “be out of control.” Those at a wild party are in this state. Paul is giving us a contrast with this fleshly condition with that of a Christian who is filled with with the Spirit.

Paul is not saying that all of the evil must be removed from our Hearts so more of the Spirit can fit in there. Instead, he is telling us that a Spirit-filled Christian is one that the Holy Spirit has control of like alcohol has control of a drunk. He permeates their hearts, their entire being and empowers them like wind filling a sail. This is describing being Spirit-led. The Christian is so controlled, and empowered by the Holy Spirit that their character becomes more Christlike. They love what God loves and hate what God hates and it not just wishful thinking that their sin is in the process of being killed. The chains of bondage to their flesh are now fallen to the ground at their feet.

In this state, the believer prays believing. Their faith is dynamic and growing in depth and strength. He or she prays for wisdom and believes that God will work out the circumstances in their lives so they can clearly see and comprehend and learn His truth.

How do Christians become Spirit-led? How do they become filled with the Spirit? Look at Ephesians 5:19-21. What does it mean to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart? This is worship in spirit and truth. This is genuine worship. This not just singing Christian songs for their own sake or thinking that by singing these songs it is somehow worship. It is singing to the Lord in worship because of who He is and what He has done. It is a worship that expresses delight in Him for who He is and what His attributes are. For instance, we praise Him for His immutability. He never changes. If He makes a promise, He will keep it. That is why we know that we who are saved don’t have to fear that He will change His mind and cut us off. Worship that is genuine is inhabited by the Holy Spirit. He is right in the middle of it. He is both edifying our hearts and glorifying God (because He is God) in the midst of it. How can this cause us to be Spirit-filled? Look at v20. As we worship Him as a way of walking, we also thank Him in all that we do. This is praying continually with a grateful heart. This is walking in the Spirit. This is walking with our minds on the things of God rather than the things of men. This is walking in humility as pride is being ripped up by the roots. This suffocates and strangles our sin nature because we give no opening to it to blossom its vileness through our members. We give no provision for the flesh, therefore, we are in the process of killing our sin.

All of the Greek verbs in this passage and their participles are present tense. That means that this whole section of commands by Paul is describing a continual process that repeats over and over and over. We don’t become Spirit-led and then stop. No, this requires a walking before the Lord this way as a way of life. Now look at v21. This is the key to closing the loop, to complete the circuit that keeps this process going. We see that as a result of our being Spirit-filled, we will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. If you read through the rest of Chapter 5 and into Chapter 6 down through v9 you will see that everyone in Christ are to submit to one another. There are no exceptions. This treating others as we wish to be treated is the marker that reveals those who have entered by the narrow gate. When we follow through doing this in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will not look at anyone in our sphere as less important than ourselves. In fact, our view will be that all are more important than us. This is the essence of Chirstlikeness. If a church is full of people like this, what will it be like? Wouldn’t it be a true New Testament Church like that found in Acts that was pastored by the Apostles themselves?

This is how God builds up His Church. I did not say grow His Church. I said, build up His Church. More mature believers should disciple the newer Christians. No one should lord it over any other believers there. All of these submissions are done out of reverence for Christ. What is keeping us from doing this? God taught me this in 2004 by taking me through it. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but He did. I woke up one morning in September 2004 and realized that God had totally changed my value system. I no longer cared for material things, or fleshly things or money or anything except pleasing my Lord. I didn’t understand exactly how He had done that at the time, but I was, and still am, more grateful than I can describe in words here.

Dear Christian, do not think that God may do this for others but not you. I thought that way for more years than I can imagine. No one becomes Spirit-led by trying harder or becoming more excited. It is a work of God as we obey commands like this one from Ephesians 5. It is only by becoming filled by the Spirit that we can do anything that is not a work of the flesh. Jesus said in John 15 that without Him we can do nothing. This is what He was talking about. His Joy is our strength. When we abide in Him, don’t we worship and pray and study His Word and obey Him? Don’t we submit to all for His sake? This is Christlikeness. This is killing our sin. This is walking in the Spirit. This is Walking the Walk by Faith. This is being the Christian that God desires for you to be.

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11 thoughts on “Breaking the Chains

  1. Wow…talk about an answer to prayer. I was praying about this very issue tonight and then I get online and see this. I struggle, as we all do, and I hate it. I really hate it. The ONLY thing good about it is that God’s grace is greater. I’m glad that God used you as a source of comfort for me, and I hope He does so for many other people as well. Thanks brother, and may God’s presence be with you.

  2. AMEN!

    Mike, this speaks to my heart more than words can express…it confirms that God hears me and listens! I cannot help but cry as I read this.

    We serve an AMAZING King!

    In Christ,
    Sherry

  3. This has really blessed my soul. I was led by god to read chapter 4 of Ephesians yesterday and I read most of chapter 5 also. I know the struggle, I’m a young christian warring everyday against the flesh. Thank God for this message

  4. Fleeing from sin and something which will tempt us is very important, often I have really prayed and felt more close to God, but suppose I turn on the television or watch a movie, the worldliness in it again fuels my fleshly nature and causes me to sin and get me far from God again, so even if we gain victory over our sinfulness and feel closer to God it is very important that we keep fleeing from all kinds of things that would tempt us, This also might seem hard, but through grace all things are possible. I also have my struggles and wars and there are bondages which keep coming up. If we always have a fellow believer who can understand us a lot and encourage us in our faith, it would help a lot, and thats why mentoring or sharing also helps a lot. So fellowship with other believers also helps a lot, I am saying this because I have noticed that I tend to fall more into sin when I lack fellowship. But ultimately as Paul said, all things are possible through christ who strengthens me and without Christ we can do nothing. Thank you Mike, This is one thing which we should keep in mind everyday and war against because many a time I often feel I have lost the war to my bondages.. This did encourage me as all your other posts. God Bless, Paul

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