Life in Three Movements: Bound, Released, Transformed

Below is the first installment in a three part series entitled “Life in Three Movements: Bound, Released, Transformed.”


Have you ever tried to lose weight or stop smoking? Have you ever tried to keep a New Year’s resolution, a resolve to do something good (as opposed to giving something up) like calling your parents regularly or serving the poor or handicapped? Women, have you ever tried to stop coveting your best friend’s husband? Men, have you ever tried to stop lusting, period?

Have you failed miserably at one or more of these? Have you actually enjoyed some success at one or more for a season only to fail as energy and focus waned? Take heart, you’re not alone.

The Apostle Paul is the most prolific writer in the New Testament. And you know what? The paragraph above reflects his experience of life. I do the things I don’t want to do(overeat bad foods, ignore poor or worse have contempt for them, cheat, desire) and I don’t do the things I want to do (eat well, clothe the naked, maintain fidelity, honor my parents). I can’t avoid the evil. I can’t even achieve the good. No wonder Paul concluded, “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7). Like us, left to his own devices and desires Paul would ask, as more than one of my dear friends has asked, why isn’t there more fruit in my life?

In part because we fail to understand the predicament we are in, the gravity of the situation that grips us. We deceive ourselves into believing that we need only to tack or alter course a bit when actually we need to come about, make a 180 degree turn. We kid ourselves into believing we are hindered (getting some pushback) when we are actually shackled and in iron. The challenge is one of bondage. Nothing less captures it.

And it is not a bondage we can fix. We cannot simply free ourselves though we will exhaust all efforts to do so. We cannot simply slip the surly bonds of our chains. The power is not within us to do it. Fundamental to understanding our situation is appreciating that we attack our bondage like every other challenge in life, as if we can fix it. Out of groceries? We go to the store. Toilet clogged. We grab a plunger.

Central to experiencing more fruit in our lives is acknowledging how shackled we are and how little we ourselves by our own power can do about it. At least then we understand rightly the challenge we face and rule out the most likely person, in our very humble opinions, to address it. You! Me!

As God had to do something as radical as part the Red Sea to free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, HE must do something even more radical to deliver us (that’s me and you equally) from our bondage to sin, our inability to do consistently the things we ought to do and the propensity to those things which we ought not to do. And He does. Movement 2.

Meanwhile, let us return to Movement 1. We must accept the confines of our enslavement, the utterly inescapable bondage we are in. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) And “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:20) As much as we would like to avoid admitting it, our state of being apart from God is unrighteousness, bound by sin. This is not a statement dividing redeemed from unredeemed but speaks to the common and defiled ground upon which we all stand, redeemed and unredeemed, Jew and Gentile.  Worse we cannot alter our situation. The law, obedience to the standards set by the maker, is not possible through human striving. The law does not have the power to achieve what it demands of us. We get it. We just can’t do it.

A great illustration of this for me is the civil rights legislation and era that marked my youth. I was raised in a city, though not in a home, that perpetuated the myth that whites were superior to blacks. The Civil Rights era rightly claimed something else, the utter equality of men before God and country. However, the legislation only provided remedies when someone failed to recognize that utter equality. The law had (and has) no power
to cause a white person to appreciate the equality of men much less to love a black person. That only comes with a transformed heart. Sanctification, being changed by a force beyond us into the likeness of His Son, is the only thing that causes us to appreciate that God is no respecter of men, that He shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34). Only then can one appreciate the utter equality, that I am no more and no less than the man beside me.

Alone we can’t achieve what civil rights legislation promotes. Nor can we observe the commandments of God. Remember, fail in one part and we have failed in it all. More than a means of escaping our situation, the law highlights our situation, “through the law we become conscious of sin.” It shines a spotlight on how far we check up short or miss the mark.

Depressing? It should be. And it is made worse by our context. Americans are deeply troubled by any notion that we are enslaved when we so boldly and routinely proclaim we are the land of the free and home of the brave. This situation is seemingly hopeless. And it is . . . apart from release or Movement 2.

4 Responses to “Life in Three Movements: Bound, Released, Transformed”

  • kay alton Says:

    John, it is so good to read your thoughts and enjoy the expression of simple truths in gracious words.

    We are delighted that you and Kristin are well and that your family is continuing in the blessings and goodness of God.

    Seems you now have a towhead. Jesus loves these little children, redheaded, towheaded, blackheaded and blonde or is that gray on daddy’s head.

    Miss you and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Jamie Holman Says:

    I’m so slow. I didn’t realize I could get a regular dose of Pastor John here. Look forward to making your site a part of my regular reading. Talk to you soon. Jamie

  • John Richardson Says:

    Great to hear from you Kay. I pray the Altons are well. You are missed. PS The Kingdoms want me to have black hair. The church? White. It ends up a combination of the two.

  • John Richardson Says:

    Jamie, Obviously I fail miserably at self-promotion! How is it such a good friend, Godfather to my second son and fellow brother in Christ didn’t know you could get a regular dose here? One of the very early articles I posted on this site was a theological compare and contrast of the movies Taken and Gran Torino. As you will recall, you recommended both to me. Come often. Dare to post (again). Hope to see you soon! John PS Roll Tide

Leave a Reply