Jesus “unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” — Luke 4:17-21
It is no accident that Jesus kicked off his earthly ministry by reading from Isaiah to proclaim He had come to “set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). This was a staggering pronouncement that would take direct aim at a downtrodden, sin-soaked world that had experienced years of judgment, captivity and political oppression at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, and even the wayward leadership of the Jews.
Not only was Jesus’ prophetic fulfillment “good news” to the poor, the blind, and the brokenhearted looking for relief from their various oppressors, but it was the unveiling of a new spiritual disposition of freedom that would show the depths of God’s love and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ. As John Angell James once succinctly put it, “The very genius of Christianity is a spirit of freedom, and all its precepts are opposed to tyranny.”
The Gospel, you see, has bestowed upon believers, not only freedom from the tyranny of sin and death through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18; 8:2), but also a deep and intimate understanding of the mechanism of demonic oppression that outwardly drives this world. We know, according to God’s word, that we spiritually wrestle against “the rulers of the darkness of this world,” and yet we are also mindful of our need for deliverance from “unreasonable and wicked men” who thrive in that oppressive darkness (Ephesians 6:12; II Thessalonians 3:2). Because of this knowledge, we as Christians are of all people the most capable of seeing the necessity for Christ’s “spirit of freedom” to guide us in our temporal affairs as much as in our spiritual duties (John 8:32).
The “genius of Christianity,” as noted by John Angell James, is in spying out and eluding the traps of this oppressive world. This dynamic spiritual intellect which comes with the “renewal of the mind” (Romans 12:2) has prepared us to rightly oppose tyranny in all its forms whenever it infringes upon the abundant life given to us by our Creator with His great expectation for all people, made in the image of God, to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28; 9:7). Hence, we join with the psalmist in asking our gracious Lord, “Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:134).
Historically, this Christian “spirit of freedom” was the driving force which transformed Western society, triumphed over the tyranny of Rome, spread the Gospel to every corner of the world, and presided over the rise of thriving urban centers, organized free-market commerce, universities, hospitals, and the establishment of liberty and justice through the guiding influence of God’s word. Indeed libraries are filled with books detailing the achievements of men and women whose lives were forever changed by Jesus Christ and how they impacted the world through ideas found in Scripture in a wide variety of disciplines that greatly serve humanity. And all of this was done in the fertile ground of a free society cleared and tilled by the redeemed stewards of Eden to bring forth good fruit for the glory of God.
The Great Dumbing-Down
These days, however, this genius of Christianity seems to have become dumbed-down by professing Christians who have forsaken their God-given vocation as trusted guides to true liberty. Too much comfort and idleness in Western society has created an “ease in Zion” where some disciples have grown fat and happy with their luxuries, amusements, and friendship with the world. As a result, the grace of God has been recast as a cover for unrepentant sin, even within church building walls where mere professors have “crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness…” (Jude 1:4).
Sadly, the most recent statistics from pollsters like Barna Group and Pew Research Center indicate that American Christianity is, to some degree, a “salt that has lost its savor” (Matthew 5:13). The number of people who still identify as Christians, gather consistently for worship, or regularly read the Bible has now fallen to under half of our country’s population. Because of this noticeable drop in Christian influence, the type of liberty being pursued by many citizens is no longer guided by God’s revelation and the Holy Spirit, but is one that seeks to break free from God altogether, leaving Him out of our cultural and societal equations and our day-to-day living.
Individuals nowadays have been given full authority by the American “oligarchy” to determine their gender, sexual orientation, or personal level of fleshly excess: gluttony, drunkenness, slothfulness and the like (Galatians 5:19-21). It is the age of a self-serving freedom where people can engage in all manner of sinful pursuits, or as A. W. Tozer once specifically named them: the self-sins of “self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them.” According to Tozer, this idolatry of the Self has been nurtured by the triumvirate of “secularism, materialism, and the intrusive presence of things” which has “put out the light in our souls and turned us into a generation of zombies.”
Ironically, this growing aspiration of our American society to provide people with complete freedom from the moral constraints of God’s will is creating the perfect climate for the rise of a true tyranny. Having rejected God, or more specifically, the easy “yoke” of Christ, these self-focused zombies seem oblivious to the fact that they are escaping from the perfect “rest for their souls” (Matthew 11:29-30), and running headlong into the waiting trap of the ultimate slave-master: Sin, and the oppressive world which traffics in it (John 8:34). As Warren W. Wiersbe put it, “The worst bondage is the kind that the prisoner himself does not recognize. He thinks he is free, yet he is really a slave.”
Common Sense Aligns With God’s Word
This understanding about the devilish trap of personal freedom isn’t exclusive to Christianity, by the way. Even secular thinkers are beginning to see the problem with this mad pursuit for unmitigated self-focus and self-determination. Psychologist Barry Schwartz, for example, suggests:
“There is a dark side to all this freedom from constraint, to all this emphasis on individuals as the makers of their own worlds, their own destinies. It leaves people indecisive about what to do and why. Freedom of choice is a two-edged sword, for just on the other side of liberation sits chaos and paralysis. Thus, there is a price for freedom—danger.”
In a worldly sense, Schwartz has come to an insightful conclusion: the price for one’s unrestrained pursuit of freedom, autonomy, and self-determination is “chaos, paralysis, and danger,” or as he specifies elsewhere, the loss of a sense of safety and security when one is left to his own devices in a world of “too many choices.” In this instance, says Schwartz, total freedom can suddenly be “experienced as a kind of tyranny” that leads to “dissatisfaction with their lives and in clinical depression” as the weight of the world now rests solely on their shoulders.
The Bible would say that this need to escape from personal responsibility is how tyranny worms itself into your life by offering empty promises of safety and security to harbor your self-centeredness. It is the wolf, after all, who will don the sheep’s clothing to capture your trust, and the tyrant who will come bearing gifts to secure your submission (Matthew 4:9; 7:15). We are, in fact, frequently warned of this trap of deception: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit; with his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him” (Jeremiah 9:8).
Not surprisingly, however, Schwartz stays firmly planted in his fallow field of man-centered psychology. He argues that the solution to this problem is to “deemphasize individual freedom and to determine which cultural constraints are necessary for people to live meaningful and satisfying lives.” To be sure, there is some merit in what he suggests, and yet students of the Bible would make one major correction to Schwartz’ prescription: It is the righteous constraints and blessings of God our Creator, and not the dictates of a fickle culture, which bring a meaningful and satisfying life. King David, in utter devotion to his Lord, sang of the “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” that come when one follows the “path of life” as revealed by God (Psalm 16:11). And in Isaiah 35:10, we read how sorrow will cease to exist when “the redeemed of the Lord… shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
The late J. Vernon McGee, with a view to Scripture, expounded on this matter as well:
“Man has tried to be happy without God; it is being tried every day by millions of people. The book [of Ecclesiastes] shows the absurdity of the attempt. Solomon was the wisest of men, and he had a wisdom that was God-given. He tried every field of endeavor and pleasure that was known to man, and his conclusion was that ‘all is vanity’… In Ecclesiastes we learn that without Christ we cannot be satisfied—even if we possess the whole world and all the things that men consider necessary to make their hearts content.”
The Danger Of The Snare
From a biblical perspective, then, the “danger” which Schwartz specifies (without knowing it) is the spiritual pitfall of liberating oneself from a faithful relationship with God and thus falling into the “snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:29). Now held captive by Satan to do his will, these libertines become “slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19), who are “disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending their life in malice and envy” (Titus 3:3). This entrapment into the quicksand of a hateful and chaotic life happens because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4); and without this light, they cannot see the deadly snare Satan has set before them. This is why, as Proverbs 4:19 teaches, “the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”
What God’s word teaches us about the condition of man, therefore, is significant for the dark times we live in. When people actively reject the constraints of God, their sense of freedom and happiness will be short-lived when they quickly find themselves stumbling into the snare of the true tyranny of this world. People may push God away and crown themselves monarchs over their self-made kingdoms, but they will soon find that they are, in reality, a co-conspirator with the evil rulers of this dark world (Matthew 16:23; John 8:44; Acts 5:3). O how wretched is the man who freely pursues his sins and discovers he is trapped among the tyrants of this age! As A. W. Tozer perceptively pointed out, “‘What shall we do?’ is the deep heart cry of every man who suddenly realizes that he is a usurper and sits on a stolen throne.”
So what shall we do? This is a particularly pertinent question for today considering the desperate state of the world sparked by a jackbooted political reaction to a global pandemic. Communist China is aggressively expanding their power base; Taiwan is under imminent threat of invasion; Europe is in political turmoil; Australia has fallen to totalitarianism; Afghanistan has been overtaken by Islamic extremists; and America is in the midst of an existential panic as angry mobs and the ruling elite demand stricter control over the population. Indeed this convergence of world crises appears to be the perfect storm to send the frightened masses into the waiting arms of any tyrannical power that claims to offer them shelter from the raging winds.
Of all the countries of the world, however, America is especially vulnerable during this pandemic-driven madness because of our unique, but deadly mix of rampant self-determination and the governmental overreach which is stoking fear and paranoia in order to herd us into our “proper,” segregated pens. At first glance, these two things may seem mutually exclusive, but they are not. True to the wiles of the devil, the tyrants of this age are encouraging everyone to break free from God and live as they please, except there is one catch. The present oligarchy will finance your godless, self-serving lifestyle, but only if you allow them to create the “safe space” for you to do so. Then up go the fences. You can indulge in all your amusements, engage in your various pet sins, or even change your pronouns or gender, yet all other aspects of your life must fall under their ultimate control as a sacrifice for “the greater good.” The trap, you see, has already been set.
Eluding The Snare Set Before Us
Yet praise be to God that He has shown us the way to true freedom! Indeed, the next time the ruling elite offer fleshly indulgence and satisfaction in exchange for your allegiance to their immoral authority, remember the wisdom of Proverbs 23:1-3: “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you… Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food.” Such devious rulers wear pride as a necklace and violence as a garment (Psalm 73:6), and the delicacies of the flesh which they spread before you will only war against your soul if you consume them to satisfy your belly (1 Peter 2:11; Philippians 3:19; Proverbs 13:25).
Instead, let us desire the gracious delicacies of God, knowing that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). He is our Maker, after all. Is it not wise, therefore, to heed the holy instruction of our Creator who knitted each of us together in our mothers’ wombs and formed every aspect of our inner being? (Psalm 139:13). With all long-suffering and lovingkindness, the Lord has shown us through His word how to live in such a way that brings abiding peace and true contentment. In terms of our focus here, He has warned us of the spiritual cages that will trap us when we stray from His will and look elsewhere for our own personal satisfaction. Without Christ, we will never find it, and thus we will be easy prey for the hunters who hunt for our souls.
In Ezekiel 13:18-23, the Lord warned His people about false prophetesses who would “hunt for their souls” using deceptive elements of fleshly comfort (pillows sewn on sleeves) and prideful self-satisfaction (fine veils over the eyes) to trap them like birds being persuaded to fly and yet driven into unseen nets. Concerning this snare of the soul, Matthew Henry said, “It is ill with those who would rather hear pleasing lies than unpleasing truths. The false prophetesses tried to make people secure, signified by laying them at ease, and to make them proud, signified by the finery laid on their heads.”
In Verse 22, we see that such lies and deception were directed not only at the wicked, but the godly people as well. The godly would be frightened into submission, while the wicked would be encouraged to keep doing what they were doing. Keil and Delitzsch, in their commentary on the Old Testament, wrote: “They (the false prophetesses) do harm to the righteous and good, and strengthen the hands of the wicked. By predicting misfortune and divine punishments, with which they threatened the godly who would not acquiesce in their conduct; whereas, on the contrary, they predicted prosperity and peace to the ungodly, who were willing to be ensnared by them, and thus strengthened them in their evil ways.”
Is this not the same satanic strategy being implemented in our day to ensnare and control the fearful masses, both the godly and the ungodly?
The Gospel Is True Freedom
As unyielding Christians, therefore, our message of salvation and the righteous plan of escape from tyranny needs to be loud and clear to everyone. For far too long we as God’s people have silently stood by while the wicked rulers and false prophets of our age “have deluded and comforted the wicked with vain hopes” and “disheartened the righteous with groundless fears, or made them sad with the lies and calumnies invented against them” (Benson Commentary). This can stand no more; it is time to find our voice again in the world.
Not only it is our prime duty to proclaim that God sent His only Son into the world, to be the propitiation for our sins, so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9-10), but we have also been called to “learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). We must “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12), once again trusting in the “weapons of divine power” to target and destroy the snares of this world: the arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
What a divine arsenal we have at our disposal! The Bible, in its infinite wisdom and harmony of content, has given us a strategic surveillance of the predictable maneuvers of our spiritual combatants. The consistent sightings of the “devil’s snare” spread throughout many centuries and books of the Bible reveals the perfect knowledge of God, and should prick our ears to this particular tactic often implemented by the enemy. Is it not staggering that under the inspiration of the Spirit, David would highlight and praise the excellence of God’s powerful show of force against the evil traps set by Satan and his worldly army?
“I will say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague. He will cover you with His feathers; under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and rampart.…” (Psalm 91:2-4).
“Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” (Psalm 124:6-7).
The Snare Is Broken!
This is the stunning genius of Christianity, that we have obtained the true Spirit of freedom which is only found by faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17). “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1), for “having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Therefore, “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16), knowing that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Thankfully, this is the happy condition of believers who go out into the world to destroy the spirit of tyranny and the strongholds of Satan with the glorious Gospel of peace, knowing that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword can separate us from the love of Christ. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Why? Because when we fly to Christ, we are eternally and beautifully free!