Sermon illustrations


Accepting Guilt and Sinfulness, A Psychologist’s Perspective

Hobart Mowrer was Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. Mowrer critiqued Freudian psychology and its assertion that guilt was merely a pathology to be dispensed with. In this excerpt, he describes the importance of forgiveness as it pertains to guilt and sin:

Just so long as a person lives under the shadow of real, unacknowledged, and unexpiated guilt, he cannot…‘accept himself’….He will continue to hate himself and to suffer the inevitable consequences of self-hatred. But the moment he…begins to accept his guilt and his sinfulness, the possibility of radical reformation opens up, and with this…a new freedom of self-respect and peace.

Hobart Mowrer, The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, 1961, p.54.

Being Formed in Christ’s Image

In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe the Biblical understanding of the process of spiritual formation over and against the “self-help” philosophies abundant in our day:

Scripture is also clear in its witness to the fact that only God can liberate us from our bondage, heal our brokenness, cleanse us from our uncleanness and bring life out of our deadness. We cannot do it by ourselves. Thus spiritual formation is the experience of being shaped by God toward wholeness.

But spiritual formation as “being formed” will also be seen to move against the grain of our do-it-yourself culture and our powerful need to be in control of our existence. Generally, we like to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Self-reliance is deeply ingrained in us.

To allow someone else to control our life is seen as weakness, to be avoided at all costs. The English poet William Henley captured the spirit of our culture well when he wrote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But spiritual formation as “being formed” will reveal that God is the initiator of our growth toward wholeness and we are to be pliable clay in God’s hand.

Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Carrying a Human-Sized Weight Around

In May 2018, in a Connecticut hospital, a group of twelve surgeons worked for five hours to remove a tumor from the abdomen of a thirty-eight-year-old woman. That may seem like a lot of doctors and a long time for a single tumor—until you learn that single tumor weighed 132 pounds! The patient reported that, prior to the surgery, the tumor had grown at a rate of ten pounds per week. That’s forty pounds a month! “Ovarian mucinous tumors tend to be big,” said Dr. Vaagn Andikyan, who was the lead surgeon on the team. “But tumors this big are exceedingly rare in the literature.

It may be in the top 10 or 20 tumors of this size removed worldwide.” The tumor was technically benign, but it was far from harmless. According to Dr. Andikyan, the patient couldn’t walk, she was malnourished because she’d been unable to eat, and she was at extreme danger for blood clots and other blood-vessel-related damage. Her very life was in jeopardy. “When I first walked into the examination room . . . I saw fear in the patient’s eyes,” Dr. Andikyan said. “She was so hopeless, because she had seen several other doctors, and they were unable to help her.”

Can you imagine trying to go about your day with a 132-pound weight dragging you down from the inside? Can you imagine the pressure that must have built up in and around that poor woman—the squeezing, maddening, crushing pressure? But then can you imagine what that patient must have felt like the day after the surgery? The week after? Can you imagine the change that must have taken place after a 132-pound burden was removed? “She’s back to a normal life, she’s back to work,” the doctor said. “And when I saw her in my office, I saw smiles, I saw hope, and I saw a happy woman who is back to her normal life and her family.” Wouldn’t you like to experience that kind of joy? That kind of freedom? I have. And believe me, it’s as wonderful as it sounds.

Vance Pitman, Unburdened: Stop Living for Jesus So Jesus Can Live through You, Baker Books, 2020.

Confusing Freedom

We are rapidly reaching the point in Western consumer societies where people confuse freedom with choice, as they are dazzled daily by an ever-expanding array of external choices in consumer goods and lifestyle options. But the pursuit of freedom has led to a surfeit of choices and a scarcity of meaning and value-a point at which choice itself, rather than the content of any choice, has become the heart of freedom. The result is that modern people value choice rather than good choice.

Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Defiance of Prometheus

The Greek god Prometheus descended from the race of the Titans, the gods that ruled the world before the reign of the Olympians, who were headed by the ruthless Zeus. The playwright Aeschylus portrays Promotheus as a friend and protector of humanity against the enmity and tyranny of Zeus.

Zeus wanted human beings to remain in their primitive and powerless condition, Prometheus defied the will of Zeus by bringing fire and civilization to human beings. For his “crime,” Zeus had Prometheus fastened to the face of a granite mountain and sent a giant eagle to eat at his insides. His executioners Hephaestus and Kratos debated the justice of his punishment, but both gods agreed that the will of Zeus was inescapable and that

         All things are a burden, save to rule

         Over the Gods; for none is free but Zeus.

Prometheus views the situation differently. He admits he provoked punishment with his actions but denies that his punishment is just. Prometheus rejects advice from friends to moderate his accusations and admit wrongdoing, telling them,

         Go thou and worship; fold they hands in prayer,

         And be the dog that licks the foot of power!

Instead of submitting to Zeus, Prometheus proclaims his hatred of Zeus and “all gods” all the louder. He knows he is doomed but remains defiant. He will not give Zeus the final victory of breaking his spirit. He cannot resists omnipotence, but he will never admit that omnipotence can be free from the demands of justice. Zeus rules sky and earth, land and sea, gods and men and beasts, but he cannot force Prometheus to believe that Zeus is right. The will that defies unjust rule is the last preserve of dignity.

The figure of Aeschylus’ Prometheus excites our sympathy and admiration. Whatever the playwright intended to communicate to his contemporaries, it is almost impossible to resist seeing humanity—and consequently ourselves—symbolized in Prometheus. Even if humanity is crushed by ruthless omnipotence, it can maintain its heroic dignity and inner freedom by refusing to acquiesce to the order that demands subservience. Hence, Prometheus has become the patron saint of those who dare defy God (or fate or chance) in the name of human freedom and dignity.

Ron Highfield, God, Freedom, and Human Dignity, InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Did You Know You Are Free?

This difference between possession and enjoyment is well illustrated in the story of Louis Delcourt.  He was a young French soldier during the First World War who overstayed his leave and, fearing disgrace, he decided to desert.  He persuaded his mother to lock him up in the attic of their home and there she hid him and fed him for twenty-one years.

But in August 1937 his mother died.  There was no chance now of his retaining his incognito and remaining in hiding.  So, pale and haggard, he staggered along to the nearest police officer, where he gave himself up.  The police officer looked at him in utter incredulity and asked him, “where have you been that you have not heard?”  “Haven’t heard what?” asked Louis.  “That a law of amnesty for all deserters was passed years ago.”

Louis Delcourt had freedom but did not enjoy it because he did not know that he had it.  It is the same with many Christian people today.  They have been set free by Jesus Christ.  But they are not enjoying their freedom because they do not know that they have it.

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Freedom from Sin

Its [Romans] message is not that ‘man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains’, as Rousseau put it at the beginning of The Social Contract (1762); it is rather that human beings are born in sin and slavery, but that Jesus Christ came to set us free.

For here is unfolded the good news of freedom, freedom from the holy wrath of God upon all ungodliness, freedom from alienation into reconciliation, freedom from the condemnation of God’s law, freedom from what Malcolm Muggeridge used to call ‘the dark little dungeon of our own ego’, freedom from the fear of death, freedom one day from the decay of the groaning creation into the glorious liberty of God’s children, and meanwhile freedom from ethnic conflict in the family of God, and freedom to give ourselves to the loving service of God and others.

John Stott, The Message of Romans (The Bible Speaks Today Series), InterVarsity Press.

Freedom is a River

Political freedom is great. But personal, social, and emotional freedom—when it becomes an ultimate end—absolutely sucks. It leads to a random, busy life with no discernible direction, no firm foundation, and in which, as Marx put it, all that’s solid melts to air. It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side—and fully commit to something.

David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, Random House Publishing Group, 2019, p.20.

The Nature of Freedom

The truth is that, as the saying carved in granite on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., declares, “Freedom is not free.” This means not only that blood is the price of defending freedom abroad, but also that, if freedom is to flourish and endure, freedom’s essential character and conditions must be guarded vigilantly, both at home and overseas.

Freedom can no more take a holiday from history than from gravity, and the plain fact is that it is harder to be free than not to be free, for freedom’s fire has not only to be lit once but must be kindled and rekindled all over again in each succeeding generation. How else are we to understand the fact that freedom never lasts and that freedom always becomes the greatest enemy to freedom?

Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Neglected Garden & The Right to Choose your Religion

The British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was once engaged in a conversation with a man who believed children should never receive any kind of religious education or instruction, not until they were old enough to decide for themselves what they wanted to believe. This would allow them the freedom to choose whatever religion they wanted to believe in, rather than have one foisted upon them by their families. Instead of disagreeing out loud, Coleridge invited the man to his home to visit his garden. When the man entered, he was shocked to find an overrun, neglected plot of land.

“Do you call this a garden?” the man shouted. “There are nothing but weeds here!” “Well, you see,” Coleridge said, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Temporary Liberation from Music

The Shawshank Redemption contains a poignant scene in which a prisoner, Andy, locks himself into a restricted area and plays a record featuring opera singers. Beautiful music pours through the public address system while prisoners and guards stare upward, transfixed. Another prisoner, Red, played by Morgan Freeman, narrates:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. . . . I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

The music liberated those prisoners, stirring feelings of a better reality and instilling hope that true beauty exists. We, too, though we live in a fallen world, dare to hope for a transcendent happiness that’s out there . . . somewhere.

Randy Alcorn, Happiness, Tyndale House, 2015.

True Freedom

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.

This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College Commencement Speech: This is Water.

True Freedom is Creating Your Own Purpose

At the end of the movie I, Robot (2004), the robot named Sonny has fulfilled the objectives in his design program. But now he realizes he no longer has a purpose. The movie concludes with a dialogue between Sonny and the other main character, Detective Spooner. Sonny: Now that I have fulfilled my purpose, I don’t know what to do.

Detective Spooner: I guess you’ll have to find your way like the rest of us, Sonny…That’s what it means to be free. In this view, “freedom” means that there is no overarching purpose for which we were created. If there were, we would be obligated to conform to it and to fulfill it, and that is limiting. True freedom is freedom to create your own meaning and purpose.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Penguin Publishing Group, 2009, p. 36.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Dallas Willard gave a series of lectures on the kingdom of God. In one, he discussed the popularity of the phrase, “The truth will set you free” by putting it in its proper kingdom context: 

The whole passage from John 8 is this, “When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want.

We have an elevator at USC [where I teach philosophy] in the humanities building that just says “The truth will make you free.” Apparently you don’t even have to know [the truth]. It just works, right?   Jesus really said, “If you continue in my word.” That means “If you put in practice what I do, if you walk in it.” 

Colleen Strachan

Until the Snake Has No Head

My grandad told me a story once and that story became a light. A light that unlocks the dark and releases you into the land of a thousand suns. Apparently, so the story went, there had been a tropical snake, longer than the length of a man, that wound its way up the stilts of a jungle cabana and slithered right into one unsuspecting woman’s kitchen. That woman turned around, split the day with one blood-curdling scream, and flung herself outside wide-eyed. That’s about when a machete-wielding neighbor showed up, calmly walked into her kitchen, and sliced off the head of the reptilian thing.

The strange thing is that a snake’s neurology and blood flow make it such that a snake still slithers wild even after it’s been sliced headless. For hours that woman stood outside, waiting. And the body of the snake still rampaged on, thrashing hard against windows and walls, destroying chairs and table and all things good and home.

My Grandad turned to say it, and I can tell you, it felt like a proclamation of emancipation: A snake can only wreak havoc until it accepts it has no head—that it’s actually dead. The enemy of your soul can only wreak havoc in your life until you accept that it’s already dead—and you’re already free. Be who you already are. Be Free — because you already are free. Your enemy is dead — so silence the lies in your head. No enemy can’t imprison you — because your Savior empowers you. Nothing can hold you in bondage — because you are held by him. Not one thing can hold you back — because his arms are holding you.

Taken from Ann Voskamp in Rebekah Lyons, You Are Free, Zondervan, 2017, pp.14-15.

We Always Had Been Free

In 1843, a twenty-one-year-old Massachusetts scholar was doing research on the American Revolution and what led up to it. Among those he interviewed was Captain Levi Preston, a Yankee who was seventy years his senior and had fought at both Lexington and Concord.
“Captain Preston,” the young man began, “what made you go to the Concord Fight on April 19, 1775?”
“What did I go for?” The old soldier, every bit his ninety-one years, was very bowed, so he raised himself to his full height, taken aback that anyone should ask a question about anything so obvious.
The young man tried again. “Yes, my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against `intolerable oppressions.’ What were they?”
“Oppressions? I didn’t feel them.”
“What, you were not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”
“I never saw one of those stamps,” Captain Preston replied. “I certainly never paid a penny for them.”
“Well, what about the tea tax?”
“Tea tax? I never drank a drop of the stuff,” the old veteran replied. “The boys threw it all overboard.”
“Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington, or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty?”
“Never heard of ’em,” Captain Preston said. “We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’s Psalms and Hymns and the Almanac.”
“Well then, what was the matter? And what did you mean in going to the fight?”
“Young man,” Captain Preston stated firmly, “what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We always had been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we should.”‘

Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What is Freedom?

Freedom is not what our culture tells us it is. Freedom is not my deciding, from the urges and longings of my sinful nature, to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it, with whom I want to do it. According to the Bible, that is bondage, not freedom. Rather, true freedom is living as Jesus lived, for he is the freest human being who ever lived.

In fact, he is the only fully free human being who has ever lived, and one day we will be set free fully when we always and only do the will of God. So, what is freedom? Amazingly, Jesus’ answer is this: Freedom is submitting—submitting fully to the will of God, to the words of God, and to the work that God calls us to do.

Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. Good News Publishers.

See also The Christian Life, Grace, Peace, Power, Slavery

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Freedom. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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