It was my first trip to Kenya. I was still adjusting to the culture shock when our team arrived at a boy’s juvenile detention center outside of Nairobi. Our van parked, and lots of young boys of all ages approached us with machetes in hand. My initial fear vanished when we discovered that the boys had been using the machetes to cut grass. As we mingled with the group of welcoming boys, we were told that most of them were thieves. They had lived as street kids, and they survived by stealing.
Our team divided the boys into small groups so we could interact more personally with them. I’m a mother of 4 boys, and I was shocked to realize how much these boys reminded me of my own. They were curious and funny and full of energy. We opened the Scriptures and taught them some stories. Then, we gave the boys a chance to tell us their stories.
After hearing several boys share, I assumed we were done. But then a tall, skinny boy stood up to speak to our group. He introduced himself as Elvis and started to explain his predicament. “I’m a thief. I like to steal and I’m good at it. But I don’t want to like it. What’s wrong with me? Will you pray for me that I won’t want to be a thief?”
His words stunned me. Initially, I was shocked at how openly he talked about his sin. But then I began to see how freeing it was for him to do so. That day, in a children’s jail and with the voice of one of its prisoners, God taught me about the freedom that comes in Christ.
Know the Problem
My young friend, Elvis, knew his problem. He knew he wasn’t free. He was a slave to sin (Rom. 6:16). Most of us don’t want to believe we are enslaved to anything, but God’s word teaches otherwise. Prior to our adoption as sons and daughters of the King, we all serve sin as our master.
Our social and economic status doesn’t make us immune to the problem of sin. As a privileged American, my circumstances appeared to put me at an advantage whereas Elvis’ did not. But regardless of our circumstances, Elvis and I both knew the feeling of being enslaved to sin. We are both needy, and neither of us can remedy our situations. We all need someone to act on our behalf, a reconciler to make peace between us and God. We all need Christ.
Elvis may not have ever read Romans, but he intuitively understood Paul’s comments in Romans 7:18-19:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
I’ve never personally struggled with the desire to steal, but I identified with Elvis’ words. There are other sins I enjoy doing, but I don’t want to like them. For example, I love to criticize others even though I loathe myself as soon as the words leave my mouth. In the moment, I love to eat whatever I want and however much of it I want, but afterwards I’m left empty and wondering why I choose gluttony over God. The war between flesh and spirit is real, and it attacks all of us on different fronts.
Know the Answer
How can we be free? Elvis knew the answer was only found in Christ (Rom. 7:25). He realized as much as he didn’t want to steal, he was incapable of making himself stop. But he also knew where to go for help. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Elvis knew, like any son knows, that he has to go to his father when he needs help.
Pride will convince us if we just try harder, we can quit sinning. But our white-knuckled efforts won’t transform our hearts to want better things. We will also believe the lie that it’s best to hide our sin. Adam and Eve tried in the garden (Gen. 3:7-10). But we can’t hide from the One who sees all things (Jer. 16:17).
We are not the answer. Our best efforts won’t fix this problem. We are not our own liberators. Christ is our liberator. Our freedom was purchased for us by His work on the cross. The sons and daughters of God are no longer slaves to sin. We have been set free to serve our Father as master (Rom. 6:22).
Know the Freedom in Christ
When we serve God as our master, we begin to know the incredible freedom we have in Christ. We are free from the power of sin. We are free to be His. We are free to fail and go to Him for help. We are free to have problems.
I was amazed at the freedom Elvis had to own his problem. He saw it so simply. He was a thief. He liked to steal. He knew that was wrong. He needed Jesus to change him. Freedom in Christ means knowing that it’s good to be needy, and we bring God glory in our dependence on Him. God’s words to Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9 are for us as well: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Elvis exposed my pride. How often have I tried to keep my problems and sins covered in darkness, hidden from others. How freeing it was to see this boy drag his problems into the light and ask for help. Freedom in Christ means no more hiding in the dark. He welcomes me into His light.
Elvis didn’t downplay his sin or try to make himself appear innocent. He knew his sin made him dirty, and he simply wanted God to make him clean.
Elvis exposed my self-righteousness. How often do I try to dress myself up before I approach the throne. Elvis reminded me that all my righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). I come to Christ empty-handed. Freedom in Christ means no more pretending. I am welcomed by my Father.
The Bible shares an encounter Jesus had with a thief (Luke 23:39-43). Like Elvis, the thief on the cross knew his sin and it’s consequences. He didn’t try to hide it. He also asked Jesus for help. We know Jesus offered this thief redemption and an eternity with Himself.
God used a child thief to point me to my Savior, my righteousness. I am free to approach the throne boldly for mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16) like he did. I am free to drag my ugliness into the light to see God redeem it. I am free to be needy for Christ.
If you are mired in sin, listen to little Elvis. Own your sin. Confess it to God. And discover how to be free in Christ.
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