Spiritual slavery is a reality with which all people on earth are faced, since all of humanity are slaves of sin because of the depraved nature which they inherited from Adam. Sin is the consequence of alienation from God, and that accounts for their condition of spiritual and moral depravity. The Fall has rendered humanity despicable in the eyes of God (Gen. 6:5-6). Paul says: “... through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
All lost people are subject to different forms of slavery to sin, and that also includes unsaved pastors. Peter refers to false prophets who promise liberty to people while they, themselves, have not yet been delivered from their sins: “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19; NIV).
Slavery can take on many different forms. It refers to a condition which is the result of a large measure of control which a person or habit has gained over one’s life. Slavery determines your character, personality and behaviour, and in many respects accounts for who you are. In short, it deprives you of your freedom to be a different person from the one you are because of your enslavement, and often causes you to sink away into a quagmire of sin and unrighteousness.
God made man an independent being with a free will. The only good form of external control over his life is when God controls him through His Holy Spirit, but even that calls for a wilful decision by man to accept this, as well as his continuous collaboration with the outworking of God’s plan with his life. All other forms of control which a person allows over his life have detrimental consequences and gives rise to slavery of one or other sort.
Human beings have five senses which expose them to influences from the depraved world, and this is a big problem because they have a sinful nature which is inclined to evil: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Under such circumstances it is obvious that a person will become enslaved by one or more sins, that he will repetitively commit them, and in due course be increasingly dominated by them.
When a particular sin has gained extensive control over a person, it becomes a form of idolatry to him. He bows down to that idol and serves it almost day and night. Paul says: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them” (Col. 3:5-7).
One of the moral sins which may lead to slavery and idolatry in the lives of many people is the love of money. The name of this idol is mammon: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). The frantic pursuit of money has destructive consequences in a person’s life: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). Gambling is one of mammon’s activities by which he ensnares many people, dominates their thoughts, and eventually destroys their lives and financial assets. They risk everything for the possibility of gaining instant wealth.
A very common form of addiction to sin is the use of different forms of drugs which, once started, leads to the repetitive and continuous use of tobacco, liquor, marijuana, and a large variety of other drugs. Such people are rightly described as drug addicts. With time the addiction becomes worse, resulting in increased drinking and smoking, and the taking of more and stronger drugs.
However, it is not only these sins that are habit-forming. All sins eventually achieve a strong hold upon their victims. Unclean thoughts, sexual immorality and pornography are closely associated, and are only a few examples of sins that can reduce a person to the brink of slavery. Some of these sinners sacrifice their health and even their lives by recklessly exposing themselves to contagious diseases. But all of them pay a high price by the spiritual darkening of their mind, as well as a bad conscience that accuses them of their atrocities. When sins of this nature are publicly exposed, they often give rise to divorce or even murder. Sin is always a destroyer of human lives.
Millions of people become the slaves of false religions, which are all the products of Satan’s deception. They do not realise that they are actually slaves of the devil when they bring sacrifices to idols, but that is exactly what they do: “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons” (1 Cor. 10:19-20).
This form of spiritual slavery can push people to great extremes of even killing other people and sacrificing their own lives in the interest of their idol. After the devil has enslaved people he drives them to the point of self-destruction. Even if he does not turn them into extremists, his basic purpose with false religions is the spiritual blinding of his victims in order to prevent them from accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ when they come into contact with it: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age [Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
Unfortunately, spiritual slavery is not always discontinued when people repent from pagan religions to Christianity, since many of them subsequently become the slaves of false forms of the Christian religion. They become adherents to a large number of sects and then set out, by all means at their disposal, to defend their distorted doctrines against the truth of the Word. Many of them make big sacrifices (financially, and also by tolerating scoffing and rejection) while they proclaim their false teachings. These people are also slaves of sin, even though they do not realise it. Because of their ignorance they have been exploited to proclaim lies and live by them.
Slaves of people
During earlier centuries there existed a forced form of physical slavery when rich people in various countries bought slaves to serve them. But this practise has largely been discontinued. The phenomenon which we presently encounter is that some people either willingly or as a result of intimidation, become the slaves of others. They voluntary engage in slavery because of the supposed benefits these practices offer to the “slave”. Many people become the slaves of their employers, of political parties, or of any other interest group, for the sake of the reward or benefits which are offered to them. They will, without complaining, do anything which is expected of them, even if it is in conflict with their moral principles.
Other people reduce themselves to a position of slavery because of unreasonable pressure which is exerted upon them. Children sometimes become the slaves of their parents because they are pressurised to believe as the parents believe and to act as they act, lest they might lose their accommodation, financial support, or even their inheritance. In this way their personal liberties are jeopardised or even completely removed. There are also elderly parents who become the slaves of their children, as they are running the risk of the withdrawal of certain privileges if they do not fulfil the role which the children impose upon them.
Jesus Christ is our God, and He delivers us from all forms of sinful dependence to which we were subjected: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). He came to the world as Saviour to break our bonds of slavery. After being set free, we should ensure that we do not again accept a yoke of slavery, because there are indeed Christians who later again relinquish their freedom. Paul says to such people: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
The liberty of the Galatians was threatened, and Paul warned them against it. They were liberated from a pagan religion by accepting Christ as Saviour, but were subsequently in danger of becoming entangled in slavery to the Mosaic Law. The law with its commands of circumcision and the observing of certain holy days was so important to them that they considered subjecting themselves to it (cf. Gal. 4:9-11; 5:3). But that would utterly have destroyed their Christian faith, as well as the liberty associated with it: “Indeed, I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. ... You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:2, 4).
The Lord Jesus has come to set us completely free from the bonds of sin. If we are still the slaves of addictive habits, then the fault is definitely not with the blood of Christ that cannot cleanse us (1 John 1:7), but with our unwillingness to take a decision to confess and forsake our sins, even though it will mean facing a difficult time of breaking a particular habit. Millions of people have received this salvation, and we should not try to live without it.
When we follow and serve the Lord Jesus we have the obligation to ensure that He is the first and greatest love in our lives, as that would preclude all forms of slavery. He said: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). The person who you love the most, also influences your values and disposition in life, and for that reason you willingly follow that person’s example. If that person is not Jesus Christ, then you have problems as only He sets a perfect example, and can also forgive your sins and change your character to become conformable to His holy nature. If you still do not know Him in this way, then you do not know Him very well and will easily become a follower, and even a slave, of people (and things).
In biblical times there were people who did not become followers of Jesus because some of their family members had rejected the idea. Parents were mostly opposed to any decision by their children to leave the synagogue and turn their backs upon the traditions of their forefathers. Those who succumbed to this parental pressure and refrained from converting, grievously harmed themselves. Because of their wrong decisions they proceeded to be the slaves of a false religion, and therefore also of the devil who is the father of deception. The Lord Jesus said to unrepentant orthodox leaders who also rejected Him: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).
The good news is that the Lord Jesus came to break the bonds of all forms of moral and religious slavery, and to make us free in Him. He came to the world “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1).