If you have ever just gone about doing whatever it was you felt like doing without any real concern for how it would end, or what it may bring for the long run, you probably have come to the conclusion this way of "living free" isn't really "freedom" at all. In fact, the more you do whatever it is you want to do without regard to the consequences, the more difficult it is to work your way back from where those indiscretions let you end up. If you don't believe me, remember the last time you worked hard at changing the way you ate, losing a few pounds in the process. Then remember the day you chose to eat just a little treat or two, then the next, and then the larger portions, etc. In the end, you probably not only put on the weight you lost, but gained a few more pounds in the process. It wasn't "that big of a deal" when you were indulging, but now that the jeans no longer fit and the buttons are not quite meeting in the middle, you might just realize it has become a "big deal". In truth, every compromise is a big deal, even the small ones.
As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master. (Romans 6:20-23 MSG)
Right thinking and right living are linked to abiding freedom. If we see the link between how we think and what we do, that is half the battle in changing what it is we are trying to see made different in our lives. When we only attempt to change what it is we are doing without going after the root of our thinking, we will get a little bit down the road to change, but we will never quite arrive at the point of breaking free of what it is we want to leave behind. Most of our thinking is directly related to who it is we are listening to in the first place. Listen to a catchy tune just once and see if it doesn't turn over and over in your head a while. You may not remember all the words in the right order, but you remember something from the tune and you find it just bouncing around in your mind repeatedly. This is the power of advertising. They use tunes, jingles, catch-phrases, etc., designed to get us thinking about their product enough that we will buy it. They want what we think to affect our actions at the store!
Freedom is more than an outcome of one particular action - it is a lifestyle. As we engage in actions frequently enough, they either reinforce our freedom or they clearly reveal our "servitude" toward something. Don't believe me? Why do you think huge elephants can be made to stay in a small radius under the circus tents? It isn't because they don't know there are wide open spaces - they can see those. It isn't because they lack the energy to break free - they are huge and powerful creatures. It is because they have lived with the short leash for so long they don't believe anything else is possible any longer. They don't go beyond their leash limits simply because they "feel" bound. They begin to act as bound the first time they acknowledge the limits of the leash and then they reinforce this impression over and over each time they tug a little against the leash. It presents a little pressure in resistance, so they stay put. We are kind of like that sometimes - we get "bound" by some emotional, spiritual, or physical "leash" and then we give in each and every time we feel the resistance when we try to break free of its hold.
As our writer points out, the "leash" which binds us to some particular course of action doesn't seem all that hard to handle until you look at where it will lead you down the road - the "pension" of sin is death. God doesn't ask us to change our actions - he asks us to change our thought. He directs us to change our focus - from doing whatever seems good at the moment to listening to his still, small voice directing us to what will actually produce good down the road. When the elephant has pulled against the leash long enough, he gives up. In fact, the trainer may actually be able to remove the leash and just leave the "bracelet" around the elephant's leg. The elephant will stay in the same area just because he "believes" he is bound to the leash. Some of us are a little like the elephant - we have been set free, but we still feel bound - because of how we see ourselves. The elephant sees himself as bound to stay in the same area because he doesn't realize the removal of the chain which acted as his leash actually set him free to move outside of what had become his limited area. The reminders of his being bound remained because the bracelet remained. For many of us, we still see ourselves as bound to the old way of living life and making decisions because we see the "impression" of the old still hanging on.
The good news is that the bracelet is not what bound us to the past way of living - it was the chain! As long as we just focus on the "impression" of the old still being a part of us, we will never move outside of the place in our lives where we have been bound for so many years. The "bond" we have with the old has been removed - we are free to move toward the new. The way we think determines a lot about how we move. Focus on the weight of the past long enough (the bracelet) and you will only feel the weight each time you go to move. Focus on the fact the chain is no longer there, and you might just begin to take a few steps forward. When you do, you will no longer feel the resistance. Yes, the reminders of the past are still there (the bracelet) - they give you the impression you cannot really break free. But...the chain to what held us so bound to our past has been removed in Christ. In time, the bracelet will no longer give us any concern, simply because we are brought into the wide open spaces of true freedom. Just sayin!