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Shepherding to Freedom

Discovering Enslavement

Sigmund Freud famously established his form of psychotherapy aimed at discovering “resistance,” and then pushing into and overcoming that resistance as a way of seeking to provide help to his clients. While we are no Freudian psychotherapists, nor do we operate from the same base worldview, Freud put his finger on something that touches upon the human experience and shepherding alike. Instead of “resistance” as Freud would define it, wherever we discover “bondage” and “enslavement,” we must must seek to overcome, and if we are the ones shepherding, help to set the captives free!

It Is for Freedom…

Jesus rightly said that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36), in contrast to the slavery that sin places upon us. Earlier in that same section, Christ says that those who hold to His teaching are His disciples, they believe the truth, and the truth will set them free (John 8:31-32). The Apostle Paul says of the Lord, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). Elsewhere he says that he will not be enslaved by anything (1 Cor. 6:12), and while he is willing to become a “slave to all” that he might win some, he simultaneously declares his absolute freedom from any person’s opinion when he says, “I am free from all men” (1 Cor. 9:19).

The Christian faith is one of freedom—not a freedom to sin (Gal. 5:13), but a freedom from sin, and a freedom to obey God. What is more, the heart of the Christian faith is not to be bound by the opinions of others (Gal. 1:10) or the fear of man (Ps. 56:11), but the freedom to please God (1 Cor. 7:32). All throughout the Scriptures we see a God who calls us to be free to rejoice, worship, and praise, even if our circumstances are not as we would desire (see Job 13:15 and James 1:2-4). Our God calls us to a radical and total freedom from all other things that would demand our allegiance and bondage (Eph. 2:1-2).

Pressing Toward Liberation

Therefore, any place we find enslavement in a brother or sister, or one under our shepherding care, is an area to press into, seek to overcome, and help liberate. Allow me to say once again, this is not a freedom to sin or a freedom from God’s law—for God does not call us to an antinomianism of casting off His law—but a freedom from all else, besides what God would call us to be and to do.

This may be a rather general concept, so far as biblical truth and pastoral shepherding is concerned, but it has many practical ramifications.

  • When someone shares of bondage to a besetting sin, that is an obvious area where they could use some help in being set free.
  • When they share overwhelming guilt or shame, regardless of the specific solution, this is an area that requires greater examination and the offer of help to be set free.
  • If the opinion of a certain family member looms large in one’s life, our goal ought to be to help them live before the face of their God, free from the impingements of that person’s stifling opinion.
  • Alternatively, if someone is fretting over discerning the will of the Lord prior to taking any number of actions in his or her life, living in fear that they may make the wrong decision and live “outside of God’s will,” this too is a form of enslavement.

Our goal must be to see people restored to freedom—freedom to choose according to one’s conviction. This is because Christ has set free the conscience, and it is subjected to Christ alone, who is the only Lord of the conscience.

In all these examples, enslavement to one notion or another becomes the marker revealing where biblical help is needed. We serve a God who has set the prisoners free—the captives have been liberated. So long as we find ourselves still living as slaves and orphans, as opposed to friends of God and true sons, we have discovered a key area of need.

The world’s solutions may have historically said “resistance” is the key indicator of where overcoming and help is needed. But Christ would certainly indicate in His Word that “enslavement” is that key indicator we need to perceive and help others overcome. It is for freedom the believer has been set free, so let us be about the work of setting captives free!

This article was first published as "Counseling to Freedom" at the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog. Some modifications were made for Gentle Reformation.

Keith Evans

Keith Evans

Professor of Biblical Counseling (RPTS); Pastor; Married to Melissa. Father of 4 wonderful girls.

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