Releasing Captives - Taking Captives

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Over the past few months I have been seeking to focus more and more on gaining a clearer understanding of the real truth about the cross of Christ. After spending most of my life in the shadow of so many misleading explanations as to what the reasons were for cross, at last I began to learn what looks to be much more credible and sensible understandings of what really transpired there and how it affects our lives in a real way.

In my personal studies, questions and discussions with others I have continually challenged my own and other's perceptions about this vital topic that is central to all of our understanding of religion and our relationship to God. Between the many false theories about the cross of Christ, and many similar misleading beliefs about hell, millions have felt compelled to disbelieve in God altogether or were driven to insanity because the common explanations simply make little sense and they certainly do God no favors. I have learned how it has been the intentional scheme of Satan since the very beginning of sin to discredit and smear God's reputation, and these two doctrines in particular seem to be surrounded with the most lies intended to confuse and mislead us about God's disposition toward sinners.

I am currently preparing to meet with a group of people this spring to discuss in depth issues and questions about this topic and the meaning of the cross. That is one reason I am so intent on searching to discover whatever I can ahead of time. But even more than simply preparing for a week with fellow believers to explore this topic, I very much want to grasp the life-transforming truths about the cross at a much deeper level for myself so that I not only may be able to what I am learning with others but can become a better witness of the demonstration of the real power that revelation about God can make.

In this context I suddenly realized while reading the above passage that this is describing not only something we need to know about the fight of faith, but this is very likely a description of what went on inside the mind of Jesus during His last hours while hanging on the cross. I have been pondering this for a few days and the implications seem to be very significant. So I want to take some time to see what may emerge as I look into this deeper.

Jesus came to this earth to live as a human for a number of important reasons. One of those was to demonstrate what it looks like to live as a human, but human in harmony with our original purpose and design. Jesus did this by consistently relying totally on His Father as His outside source for all His wisdom, strength and guidance in every decision, word and action. We generally think that because Jesus was also God that He surely must have tapped into that advantage from time to time to do things none of the rest of us could ever do. Many assume that when He worked miracles healing the sick, walking on the top of water during a storm and many other supernatural things, He was simply asserting His superior powers to prove that He was God to those resistant to believing that fact.

Yet my understanding is that if He had ever done any of those things for those reasons He would have actually given in to Satan's temptations for Him. The primary focus of all the temptations of Jesus was to do that very thing, to prove Himself as God to those who refused to believe or to help get Himself out of a jam. Yet if Jesus had done any miracles for those reasons He would have also been indulging a spirit of selfishness or self-defense which lies at the very center of the sin problem.

Why did Jesus teach non-violence and practice it explicitly throughout His entire life? Furthermore, is it true that His life here on earth was an exception or very different from the God seen in the Old Testament who apparently used violence to frequently get His way, or the Jesus at the Second Coming who is thought to be coming with an attitude of fierce vengeance to inflict bodily harm or torture on any who have rejected His offers of mercy?

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (John 18:36 NAS95)

Jesus was quite clear about His stance on violence even when He could have used it most effectively. The taunts of religious leaders thrown at Jesus while hanging on the cross urging Him to save Himself were really echoes of every temptation He had faced His entire life on earth. At every turn He had been met with situations where He could have used His advantage to make life a little more comfortable for Himself, or safer, or to avoid suffering or shame or abuse. Yet consistently Jesus refused to even once indulge in using His own power or to take advantage of His divine prerogatives to leverage circumstances.

Rather, Jesus came to show by demonstration that the path to freedom from the bondage of sin is by living life in total reliance on God rather than depending on our own resources. Notice the strong message in each of these statements by Jesus Himself concerning the way He lived His own life.

Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:37-38)

So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." (John 8:28-29)

The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me. (John 12:48-50)

I have struggled for many years to try to understand the true nature of the battle against sin in my own life. For many years I tried very hard to just stop sinning, to stop from being selfish, to suppress lustful thoughts or to stop feeling resentment and hatred toward those who hurt or shamed me. The list could go on much longer, but for anyone having tried this approach for any length of time they will already know what is the conclusion. It doesn't work!

Don't think I simply failed to tap into the divine assistance I was supposed to get by trusting in God's power to help me overcome. That is what I was taught to do since I was very young. I was instructed like many others that we cannot overcome sin by our own strength, but with God's help assisting us we can be overcomers and become perfect. In fact we must become perfect before Jesus comes or we will be lost.

So I spent years of my life asking God, begging God, pleading with God to help me even more, to make me good, to do whatever it would take to empower me to stop sinning. But I finally began to realize that God is not into the helping business. What I see now in these words of Jesus describing how He lived is not a cooperative arrangement between the Father and Jesus where God filled in with extra power when Jesus was too weak to meet temptations or figure out what to do by Himself. What Jesus says clearly is that He simply reflected the Father in everything He said and did without any power-sharing arrangement whatsoever.

What I see now more clearly is that the only successful way to overcome sin and experience the kind of life Jesus lived on this earth is in a way very different than trying to get God to fill in with extra power when I run out of my own or exhaust all my own resources. Jesus was the only person who ever lived who had access to infinite power at the blink of the eye. Yet this Jesus never once used any advantage that is not something in my ability to do as well. And God does not expect me to try to be good or overcome sin with resources that are microscopic compared to the supernatural power Jesus had.

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

For too long we have tragically underestimated the enormous power and advantage of the enemies we face in our struggle against sin. We glibly think that because we have been privileged to learn a few new insights or have been handed down truths from generations past, that we now have what it takes to unmask deception and can refute all the enemy's lies. Yet if brilliant angelic beings in a state of perfection were no match for the subtle insinuations of the amazing brain of the most advanced creature ever designed by God that misled them, what gives us the crazy idea that we can outsmart him with our puny, malfunctioning lame brains? That is why Jesus never attempted to match wits with the enemy as a god/man but came to show us different way that will successfully save us from the trap we are in.

We have often thought that the battle against sin is about getting our behavoir in line with commands of God. Given that assumption we spend countless hours debating which commandments apply and which are outdated – or not. But what if salvation is not so much about obedience to lists of rules and commands but rather a more serious issue of compatibility with the society of perfect beings who do not want sinners to exploit their ecosystems or violate their freedom and destroy their joy?

The real battle of sin, according to Scripture, is not over how good our performance is or even how accurate our explanations might be about the facts concerning what we think is truth. It is a huge mistake to think that truth is composed of facts that could be restricted to the realm of knowledge. It is a huge mistake to think that righteousness is just about keeping the Law. And it is a tragic mistake to assume that salvation is some sort of legal adjustment needed whereby God is convinced to to change His mind about our sins through some technique whereby His 'justice' can be 'appeased' enough to grudgingly allow us admittance into paradise.

We must come to the place where we can see that sin is not so much about behavior as it is an underlying problem of distrust in God. Distrust is not initially a choice but a natural outcome of inherent lies we have that make us afraid of God thinking He is not trustworthy. Why should we trust someone who has inifinite power but threatens to punish any who refuse to cooperate with His ideas? So long as we cling to such pictures of a God who intends to burn alive any who do not cooperate with His government, it will be impossible to awaken the kind of faith/trust needed to give us compatibility to live around those who currently enjoy the pristine atmosphere and safety of heaven.

Do we ever consider the fact that when Jesus grew up the people around Him were very selfish? And those who were religious held notions about God that led others to see God as stern, vindictive, harsh and unforgiving. More than this, Jesus lived during a time of occupation in His country where the most powerful empire on earth used violent force to suppress any and all resistance. These circumstances aroused enormous resentment and hatred in the hearts of the people around Jesus and intensified their desire for a violent Messiah who would come with superior power to overwhelm the forces of the hated Romans so as to vindicate God's favor for His chosen people and exalt them over every other nation.

The battle between Christ and Satan engaged full force during the time Jesus spent on this planet, but this battle involved the attitudes and thoughts inside the mind. The outward actions are only symptoms of what is going on in the mind and heart, for the sins acted out externally are not where the real struggle takes place. The real battle revolves around trust in God versus the natural desire for survival and self-protection; this is where the core issues are decided. So when we become distracted by thinking that overcoming sin is about keeping up appearances and perfecting our behavior, we miss reality that what we see malfunctioning in our external life is not the root of the problem. The real problem is much deeper, down where our trust or distrust of God's heart affects our core decisions.

Notice how Paul describes where the real war takes place and what is involved in that struggle.

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

But what about Jesus? Is this actually where His battle took place just like ours? Did Jesus need external divine power to destroy strongholds? And what does this term mean anyway?

We see repeatedly throughout the ministry of Jesus how He demolished arguments and we like to cheer as we see how adroitly He unraveled skillful attempts by His enemies to entrap Him through sly ways of expressing things. But again I ask, was Jesus relying on superior skill of His own because He was so brilliant, because He had the advantage of being the only god/man who ever lived? If so, how could the rest of us ever hope to face supernatural enemies far smarter and more crafty than any Jewish leaders bent on tripping up Jesus in His words?

We just read repeatedly how Jesus insisted that He did NOTHING on His own but that He only did what He received from His Father. This means that so far as external sparring with crafty people bent on tricking Him, He never relied on His own wits even though He may well could have anytime He chose. That is helpful to know, but far more importantly, did Jesus have to stuggle in His own mind with temptations to doubt His Father's love and care and protection for Him like we do? For the truth is, that is where most of our temptations originate.

Notice a most important part of this passage toward the end. What most needs to be demolished is anything whatsoever that puts up any resistance to us knowing God for ourselves. And where does all of take place according to Paul? It all happens in the realm of our thoughts right between our ears.

It is this true knowledge of God, a true appreciation of His heart and His character that is lacking which results in producing sin in our lives. This passage also includes the word proud right before the word obstacle for a reason. Pride is a reaction to a feeling of emptiness whenever the soul does not feel valued by God. Pride is also a symptom of unbelief in the complete goodness of God leading to doubts that God has our best interest at heart. When we lack trust that God always loves, always cares and will never ever deviate from that in the slightest, room is then created for fear to come in and destroy our ability to rest in peaceful trust in God.

So long as there is any shadow of doubt about God's goodness and His agape selfless love for every one of His creatures, there will be found room for sin to take root and flourish. That is why Paul points out that any and every thought that is not perfectly in tune with the real truth about God's pure goodness and trustworthiness must be arrested, taken captive and dealt with sternly to prevent it from contaminating our heart and lead us to distrust God.

I just studied about how Jesus entered into the heart of the earth during His last days, and how the overwhelming temptation that was pressed into His mind was to waver from His simple, loving trust and dependence on His Father. Jesus had spent His entire life in close and intimate communion with His Father every day. But as He began to feel the enormous weight of all the sins of humanity, the doubts and lies and guilt and rage that every sinner has ever felt toward God intensely tempted Him to start believing the same thing Himself. That was the enormous power of evil He was faced off against.

Jesus has known all along that humanity's distrust of God is due to the lies we have believed about Him. But even in the face of overwhelming evidence provided by Jesus of His love for the people around Him, they still refused to believe His unconditional love for them even when it was right in their face. They continued torturing the Son of God even while He was forgiving and loving them.

Jesus was experiencing the painful awareness that His deep and passionate love for every human was being spurned, and the grief of that spurned love tortured Him far more than any of the physical abuse He suffered. Add to that His internal absorption of the effects of sin from every human along with the rejection of those He loved so dearly, and the great heart of God finally broke literally and cut short His life before the physical torture could even finish its hateful work.

What I am attempting to point out here is that what Paul describes as taking place inside our heads is the same sort of battle Jesus fought His entire life, but especially during His last hours leading up to His death. This was a high-stakes battle involving intense strongholds of the enemy, arguments concerning the trustworthiness of God, obstacles and lies insinuating that God should not be fully trusted along with swirling, vicious thoughts attempting to gain highest priority to disrupt Jesus' attitude of complete submission and trust in His Father.

Peter in one of the most important passages in Scripture speaks of this same battle eloquently.

In fact this is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and gave you an example, so you should follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even, when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but left everything to the one who judges fairly. (1 Peter 2:21-23 FBV, GW, CEV, NET)

What I find interesting is something related to why Jesus fought this battle to take every thought captive just as we have to do. Recall that at the beginning of His public ministry Jesus had announced one of the reasons He had come was to set captives free.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

I have never heard anything about Jesus launching a prison break to help prisoners go free. I suspect that John the Baptist may have dearly wished Jesus might do such a thing to free him from his unjust confinement. But instead Jesus allowed him to be killed by a petulant, spineless king manipulated through his own lusts. So what did Jesus have in mind when He announced that His mission was to free captives and oppressed?

I believe the key to answering this may be found in what we have just examined, when Jesus battled fiercely against every thought and doubt and fear that was being supernaturally shoved into His mind intended to get Him to doubt God's love for Him and then resort to taking things into His own hands to save Himself from pain or death.

It is said that Jesus could not save Himself and also save others. That is true, but sadly it is too often said relying on a wrong context that involves misunderstandings about the disposition of God or His involvment in what happened at the cross. The real reason Jesus could not save Himself and us at the same time was not because someone had to pay off some penalty to satisfy the demands of a law which required that someone had to bleed. No, the truth is that it was necessary for Jesus to be pushed all the way to the point of death while being tempted fiercely to doubt His Father's pure character of love. This was the only technique that could demonstrate to the entire universe that God's love cannot be suppressed, diminished or extinguished. Only a being who knew the heart of God fully had sufficient capacity to be pushed that far without wavering in His commitment to continue trusting God. Any other being would have cracked before suffering that much injustice, for their intimate knowledge of God would not have been sufficient to sustain them through such extreme pressure as Jesus had to endure.

So what is the conclusion of all this? Jesus gained the power to release all human captives by Himself taking captive every thought that assaulted Him on the cross, whether coming from Himself or from what He absorbed from others. By taking every doubt and every lie and every deviant thought absorbed from humanity captive by the power of faith in His Father, even as He experienced the burden of conscious awareness of all our doubts, fears and our rejection of His love, Jesus effectively annihilated the prison walls that have kept humanity locked and captive under Satan's lies.

It is all the lies relating to God's disposition of love for us that oppress us far more than any external oppression from others we may suffer. It is the lies about God that make us afraid to trust Him, that imprison us and that prevent us from embracing His grace and mercy and love. But those are the very things we must experience to bring us back into harmony with heaven. It was by dismantling and destroying every lie about God's character while hanging on the cross that gives Jesus the credibility to address and dispel those same lies from our own hearts as we allow Him to share with us His victory worked out on the cross at such enormous emotional expense to His heart.

The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Let us then, choose to live and stay in the freedom that Jesus has won through the blood of His broken heart for us on the cross. This price of this freedom has the power to break the captivity of our own minds free from all Satan's lies, for they have now been exposed and refuted through Christ's demonstration of the real truth about God's disposition towards every one of us.

And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10)

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (Ephesians 4:7-8)

As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. (1 Peter 2:16)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)


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