John MacArthur: Principles for Living to God’s Glory: Enslavement

by John MacArthur

Life is full of gray areas—the daily matters, issues, and choices that aren’t inherently good or bad, and to which Scripture doesn’t specifically speak. How believers navigate those areas has a major influence on their spiritual growth, their testimony, and their usefulness to the Lord.

To help you develop biblical criteria for the gray-area decisions you face, we’ve been looking at some key instructions and exhortations from the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul told his readers, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Again, the apostle underscored the fact that he wanted to do only those things that are spiritually profitable. Part of that entails avoiding those activities that might result in personal enslavement. Paul knew that his only Master was Jesus Christ, and he would not allow himself to be mastered by anyone or anything else.

The immediate context in this portion of 1 Corinthians 6 is sexual sin, which is uniquely enslaving. However, the principle extends beyond sensuality to any habit or behavior that might become life dominating or Spirit quenching. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commanded, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.” Though the context there is different, the idea is similar to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: Don’t allow yourself to become addicted or enslaved to that which is sinful or potentially destructive.

When faced with a gray-area decision, one of the questions we must train ourselves to ask is, Will this activity bring me into bondage? Will it develop such an appetite in me that it forms a pattern of behavior I cannot control?

It’s ironic that man—the pinnacle of God’s creation—can so easily be enslaved by such simple things as computers, televisions, sports, games, hobbies, and even food and drink. And yet, we don’t seem to care—or even notice—that these insignificant things can so often and so easily gain complete mastery over our lives.

Smoking is a good example. From an objective perspective, what sense does it make to shove dry leaves into your mouth and light them on fire? What possible benefit could you derive from that? And yet countless people are enslaved to their smoking habits—it’s an addiction that effectively runs their lives.

And while you and I might disassociate ourselves from the stigma of certain well-known addictions, the truth is we are equally susceptible to becoming just as thoroughly addicted toanything in our lives. Some people are addicted to entertainment, whether it is movies, music, or sports. Others are addicted to clothes and shopping—they’re habitual consumers. Still others are addicted to a specific hobby or recreation, with all their time and resources going to fulfill and expand their ability to enjoy that activity.

Paul wasn’t merely warning his readers about immoral addictions. He wanted them to be on guard against anything that could take control or focus away from the Lord. And specifically, he is warning us against the kinds of activities that can become controlling desires that dictate and direct the rest of our lives.

And Paul was well aware that we are creatures designed for habits. Before we were saved, we were habitual sinners. And after salvation, we have to work hard to break those old, sinful habits and cultivate new, righteous ones in their place. In fact, in Ephesians 2:10, Paul says we’ve been saved for the purpose of good works. Through God’s transforming work, we’ve been set aside for the purpose of righteousness. And as long as He allows, we need to put our maximum effort into building habits that fulfill and accomplish His righteous ends.

That also means we must guard against the kinds of activities that, even if they themselves are not sinful, could lead to a sinful preoccupation with them.

Personally, that means that while I might be free in Christ to do something, I’ll nonetheless avoid it to confirm I am still in control of my desires (1 Corinthians 9:27). It’s not that the activity is wrong—it’s that I want to make sure I’m still able to turn it down. It might even be something as simple as a steak or a hot fudge sundae. Regardless of what it is, I don’t ever want to allow myself to get into a pattern of not being able to say no to it. Not being in control of your body and mind—even in the most seemingly insignificant areas—always spills over into your spiritual life.

When it comes to life’s gray areas, it’s important to evaluate the long-term effects of the decisions you make, and how even the smallest, most unimportant things can exert control over you. If what you are considering can be sinfully habit forming, why pursue it? Don’t allow yourself to fall into bondage to anyone or anything. You are a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

This Article: Principles for Living to God’s Glory: Enslavement, originally appeared at Grace to You, Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

2 comments on “John MacArthur: Principles for Living to God’s Glory: Enslavement

  1. John Mark says:

    Thank you God to the person you sent us to preach your words. May u protect him and and his family. God Bless Mr. John MacArthur.
    Im was blessed Sir to this message. Im 18 years old and i want to know more about Jesus Christ the God. In my age now I had bad habbit that Im trying so hard to not to do it again but 😦 i still do.I was so shy now in front of God, I kept on praying in him asking for forgiveness and making promises to not to do it again but i still do when that temptation come. I know this doing destroys me :,( but i dont understand my self why i still kept doing it.


    • Qoholeth says:

      Hello John Mark,
      my thanks goes out likewise.
      Thank you for your comment!
      We are all, oh, so wretched creatures. This reminds me of a Psalm by David:

      Psa 51:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
      Psa 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
      Psa 51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
      Psa 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
      Psa 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
      Psa 51:6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
      Psa 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
      Psa 51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
      Psa 51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
      Psa 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
      Psa 51:11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
      Psa 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
      Psa 51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
      Psa 51:14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
      Psa 51:15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
      Psa 51:16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
      Psa 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
      Psa 51:18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
      Psa 51:19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

      Even tho we are so wicked, God is great in mercy. For God loved his people before the foundation of the world. He saves them from their own evil ways, despite the fact, that we were living in rebellion against Him.

      By the Work of God we are saved. There is nothing in us that can account for that. So you can rest in your hope, that by turning away from sin and to Christ (which is the convicting power of the Holy Spirit), submitting to Jesus as your Lord (the one that then rules over your life) you are safe in the hands of a loving savior.

      John 6:38-40
      (38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
      (39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
      (40) For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

      Some wise man once said: Salvation is a gift, but it costs everything. Jesus nicely illustrated it here:

      Matthew 45-46
      45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

      The merchant, looking for pearls, the most expansive thing. Trying to make good business. He found a pearl, a pearl “of great price”, he went and sold everything for just one little pearl. All his possessions for the kingdom of heaven.

      Matthew 44
      44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

      Turning away from sin (repenting) always has a second necessary effect. To turn to the savior.

      I encourage you to turn to the Lord, the sovereign one, he will never cast anyone out!

      Matthew 11:25-30
      (25) At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;
      (26) yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
      (27) All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
      (28) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
      (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
      (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


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