[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church entitled "Jesus: Lord Over All Demons." Click on the title to get the audio.]
For anyone familiar with the contemporary Christian group Mary Mary, you'll know the song "Shackles (Praise You)." My mind often thinks in song lyrics, and after a week of studying Mark 5:1-20 about Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac, this song got stuck in my mind. How could I help it? The chorus goes, "Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance...I just wanna praise You, I wanna praise You."
As we think about the picture of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5, we notice that this man's conquered condition is a physical picture of the spiritual condition of all mankind. Humanity is conquered by sin. Humanity is, in the words of the Bill Gaither song, "shackled by a heavy burden...'neath a load of guilt and shame."
As we seek to evangelize our friends and neighbors, the picture of a man conquered by sin is a helpful image to associate with those who do not know Jesus. First of all, it's true. Romans 8:7 says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." That's an amazing statement, isn't it? Paul is drawing a distinction between believers and unbelievers. The minds of unbelievers (i.e.- the minds set on the flesh) cannot submit to God's law...not will not, but cannot! In other words, their minds are conquered by sin, and there is no room for the rulership of God over their thoughts or lives. This is who we once were, and it is only by God's grace that this has changed. Sadly, it remains true of all who do not believe.
The second reason it's helpful to picture unbelievers in this conquered state is that it encourages us in our evangelistic efforts. Wait a second...it encourages our evangelism? It seems that a shackled humanity should be discouraging...humanity is conquered and hopeless! Well, this is true, but I think if we consider this carefully, we can be encouraged. It encourages us, first, because we know that any rejection of the gospel is rooted in this domination by sin...not by personal vendetta against us or a less-than-perfect presentation. Secondly, we are encouraged that ultimately, the only One who can free them from these shackles is Jesus Himself. Just as in the story, Jesus must intervene and set the prisoner free if they are to be 'free indeed.'
The final reason I would suggest picturing the unbeliever as a shackled man is to fuel our prayers. Remembering how dominant sin is in the unbeliever, we should be driven to pray more fervently for the Lord's intervention. In some ways, we instinctively know that God must make the first move if anyone is to be saved. I say 'instinctively' because we pray knowing that if God does not intervene, our friend will not be saved. We pray things like "Lord, open his eyes...Lord, open his heart...Lord, draw him to Yourself...Lord, show him how sinful he really is...Lord, give him a holy fear of hell and judgment." We do not pray, "Lord, I sure hope he makes the right decision here." We don't go to the throne of grace to express what we wish would happen...we go to plead with the God of the Universe to turn the hearts of men back to Him.
While it is tempting to only envision people like addicts, mass murderers, and those enslaved to pornography as conquered individuals, it is not ultimately helpful. If we do not have a proper perspective of the depravity of mankind, then the gospel is not really the gospel. The gospel brings salvation, and those who need this salvation are desperately and hopelessly lost. If we don't cling to this truth, the gospel can be reduced to a means of becoming a better version of yourself rather than the power of God to break the chains of sin and death.
You see, the seventy-year-old philanthropist who writes million-dollar checks for cancer research can't hear it, but while he writes that check, the chains of his sin rattle louder than any applause he might get. The seventeen-year-old girl who gets good grades and volunteers at a homeless shelter every Thursday sees the smiles of all those she serves, but she can't see the bonds of iniquity that will bring weeping and gnashing of teeth for all eternity. The seven-year-old boy who helps his elderly neighbor by getting her mail every afternoon after school doesn't know it, but he's actually the one that's helpless.
This is the reality of sin's domination over humanity. Let this picture come frequently to your mind, and let the gospel come frequently to your lips. Through the Spirit's application of the gospel, the eyes of the blind open, and chains fall from men's souls, for the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16).