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Are you a prisoner or a priest?

A 19 year old inmate looks out of the window of the Young Offenders Institution attached to Norwich Prison on August 25, 2005 in Norwich, England. | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Everyone falls into one of two categories. You are either a prisoner or a priest. Please allow me to explain.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Galatians 3:22). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away” (Romans 3:10-12).

Prisoners of sin are unable to free themselves from its tenacious grip. You need someone much stronger than yourself to set you free. This is exactly what Jesus does for those who are converted through faith in Christ. Believers in Jesus “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18).

What exactly does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that you are now free to choose good over evil. Prior to conversion, you were in bondage to sin. “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” (Romans 6:20). At that point, you lacked any spiritual power to resist evil thoughts and sinful behavior. 

When God saved your soul through repentance and faith in Christ, you underwent a spiritual circumcision. “In Christ you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ” (Colossians 2:11).

This cutting away of the sinful nature freed you from its corrupt control over your life. You are now free to say “No” to temptation. You have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:14) and liberated to live a new life. “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22). The grace of God “teaches us to say ’No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12).

Unconverted people remain prisoners of sin. “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). Paul then added: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:9).

Did you catch that critical point? The Holy Spirit lives within everyone who has been saved, redeemed, justified, born again and forgiven. If the Spirit of God lives within you, then you have been converted. And if the Holy Spirit does not live within you, then you remain unconverted and bound by sin.

Are you a prisoner or a priest? Are you controlled by sinful nature, or have you been redeemed by the blood of Jesus through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? 

The New Testament uses the words “priesthood” and “priests” to describe everyone who is in God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (1 Peter 2:9). “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Revelation 1:5-6).

In the Old Testament tabernacle, “only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood” (Hebrews 9:7). Believers in Jesus have been given the privilege to approach God directly. “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).

Direct access to God is granted the moment you are converted through repentance and faith in Jesus. Followers of Christ trust Jesus to wash away their sins and have been “freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). You are now free to say “No” to those desires and temptations that controlled you “in the life you once lived” (Colossians 3:7). 

Christians “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). Believers want to obey the Lord. Paul wrote, “In my inner being I delight in God’s Law” (Romans 7:22). In other words, Paul wanted all of his thoughts and actions to please the Lord. And yet like all Christians, he still found himself falling short of the mark. (Romans 7:14-20) Jesus is the only sinless One.

The old nature (sinful nature) remains “a slave to the law of sin,” (Romans 7:25) but the real you as a Christian is who you want to be as a follower of Christ. The real you has been liberated to serve the Lord. "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6:18).

The Holy Spirit works repentance in the heart and enables people to pray in faith: “Wash me, Jesus, with your precious blood.” Those in God's royal priesthood have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus! “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).  

Are you saved or lost, converted or unconverted, believer or unbeliever? If you are still lost in sin and unbelief, now is the time to turn to the Lord as you confess your sins to God and trust Jesus to free you from your chains. If you refuse to repent of your sins in this holy moment and decline Christ’s offer of forgiveness, your heart will become even harder toward God.
Therefore, I strongly urge you my friend to choose wisely. Jesus will gladly welcome you into His arms today. After all, He humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-8) and chose to suffer the agony of crucifixion and death on a cross in order to pay for our sins. 

How will you respond to Christ’s sacrificial death on your behalf? Will you turn to the Lord and receive Christ by faith? (John 1:12) It is the only way to be set free from the overwhelming power of your sinful nature, and the eternal penalty of sin.

So are you a prisoner, or a priest?

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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