Updated: May 30
On a recent trip to Kansas City, Missouri, I met a woman named Freedom. Normally, my extroverted self would have asked about the story behind her unique name, but I kept quiet (a rare occurrence for me). We introduced ourselves and then made conversation later on in the day. Although I held back in speech, I was deep in thought. I began to think about the heart of God and His desire for all to be saved and all to come to knowledge of the Truth, that He may call us all “free” (1 Timothy 2:4 NIV).
Freedom of course is not free. As Christians, “you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthian 6:20 NIV). That price was hefty, the death of the Son of God on a cross for our atonement. When someone believes in what Christ did for them and declares His lordship over their life, they receive the freedom He died for. So if someone is free by this definition, can they ever be bound? A question I had to ask myself over and over again.
I want to tell you a story about bondage, my bondage. Not pre-salvation, but post-salvation.
Merriam-Webster defines a stronghold as “a fortified place.” Alternatively, it is “a place of security or survival,” which can be “dominated by a particular group.” To fortify a place is to prevent something or someone from penetrating its walls, for the purpose of securing it. Strongholds, as talked about in the Bible, keep us from the knowledge of God and true intimacy with Him. They are typically dominated by Satan. They provide a sense of false security so that you are deceived into thinking you are protected, but really you are bound. As believers we are equipped with weapons of “divine power to demolish strongholds,” this is one of the advantages of our freedom in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). But we must be aware of the stronghold in order to fight it. Initially, I didn’t know I was bound or being “strongly held down” by a life decision that I had made. By God’s grace, He eventually made it abundantly clear to me. I couldn’t silence the war raging within me any longer.
Okay so let me set the scene. This is about a relationship I had with a fellow believer. I was able to check off many boxes of what I believe Scripture describes as a godly man. I thought this surely had the stamp of approval from God. So I ran with it, ran a little too fast I might add, and didn’t sit down too often to talk with my Heavenly Father about it, until sexual sin crept in.
Your stronghold radar doesn't work if you don't talk to God regularly.
It was subtle at first. Hand-holding and cuddling, then kissing, until those things hadn’t become enough to satisfy the once innocent gestures of affection. And so the physical intimacy had progressed, much more. Eventually we tried to put boundaries in place, but once you’ve crossed a certain line it’s very difficult to work backwards. As I mentioned before in a previous article, when introduced to physical intimacy we continue to crave it, this is to keep a husband and wife as one in a marriage, yet it has no place in a dating relationship.
At one point, a proposed solution was marriage, “but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). Deep down I wasn’t satisfied with that option as we were dealing with another issue in the relationship as well, emotional immaturity.
I wondered, “if we are not able to respect each other’s boundaries now, how will we be able to respect each other in marriage?”
The guilt would usually set in the next day, but it had intensified where immediately after committing an act of sexual sin, I would feel incredible shame. One night in desperation, I crawled up in the corner of the sofa and spoke to God. Holding back tears, my first thought was, “I can’t go to God after what I’ve done.” But my second thought, by the grace of God, was “this is when I need to go to Him the most.” I closed my eyes and I imagined a garbage can filling with trash. I told myself, “that is me,” dirty, unclean. Then, the Holy Spirit reminded me to rebuke that image. I said, “that’s how the devil wants me to see myself, I rebuke that in the name of Jesus.” Instantly, the image changed to a deep and luscious garden. I was standing barefoot and I could feel the soft moss on the ground beneath me. I could see vines hanging in front of me within arms reach. This was the most vivid and visceral vision God had ever given me. Then I heard Him speak to my spirit, “this is where I created you to be, this is where you belong.”
My place of security was that garbage can. The enemy enticed me with sexual sin and then shamed me for falling for his trap. The more I fell for it, the more fortified those walls became, blocking out the Truth. I grew comfortable in my sin and began normalizing it. The trash became bearable, I got used to its stench. This is how a free woman becomes bound. How do you break strongholds? Declare them broken down in the mighty and matchless name of Jesus Christ. As instructed in spiritual warfare, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). I had to rebuke the warped image I created of myself, and that’s when God restored my sense of identity as His child.
God's Original design for me was to be in communion with Him, in the garden, just like the rest of humanity before The Fall.
In that moment, I knew I hadn’t been living in the freedom God had poured out His precious blood to give me. Though, I didn’t make the decision right then and there to end the relationship. Strongholds are STRONG. Depending on how deep of a garbage can you’re in (maybe even a dumpster), you may need to continually rebuke the attacks of the enemy. Satan wants to steal the identity of believers, but Jesus is interceding for us. What broke the bondage once and for all was the Word of God: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:13-15 NIV).
My relationship was certainly headed towards destruction. Staying in the relationship meant contributing to his and my own separation from God by choosing sin over obedience. I knew we hadn’t been able to put an end to sexual sin while remaining together, so the most loving thing to do was to break up. Just as sin is a choice, so is obedience. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” but we are also to work out our own salvation in “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). What will we decide to tremble over? The shame of our bondage or the glory of the Almighty God who has set us free?
I want to be called free. I want to walk in soft, mossy freedom while here on earth. That means living a life surrendered to God’s will, abiding in the Vine. Will you also choose that over bondage?