The Chains We Forge in Life
by Pastor Gene
In A Christmas Carol, Marley’s ghost pays a visit to his old partner in business, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens writes:
Again, the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Scrooge trembled more and more.
“Would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”
It’s a compelling image, this idea of forging chains as we move through life. Ebenezer Scrooge’s chains are fairly obvious. He’d forged a chain of greed, as we see in his penny-pinching lack of mercy. And in there too, perhaps, is a chain of insecurity, fearing that the time may come when he himself might not have enough. I see a chain of bitterness too upon Scrooge. He’d long ago said no to a wife and family in order to pursue his first love: personal wealth. So, as A Christmas Carol opens, Scrooge is alone in his old age with his idol of gold.
The truth is, there are chains we forge in life, and we often do forge them “link by link, and yard by yard.” But not all of these chains are forged by our own will. Some we choose, but some are put upon us by others. And it falls to us to discover how we might make them fall.
But, be sure of this: God wants those chains to fall and for us to walk in true freedom, the freedom Jesus won for us at the cross.
Let’s briefly consider a few heavy chains that wrap themselves around God’s children, weighing us down and keeping us from going forward in His plan or our lives.
The Chain of Unforgiveness
Can I tell you the world’s worst-kept secret? Satan, our great enemy, hates forgiveness. He hates forgiveness for two reasons.
First, he knows that forgiveness reflects the very heart of God. It is the mark of a Christian who’s truly come to know Jesus, and who has come to understand just how much he or she has been forgiven. God requires nothing less of His children than true and genuine forgiveness. “Forgive,” Jesus said, “and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
Second, he knows that unforgiveness makes us a prisoner. The Greek word translated “forgive” (ἀπολύω) means to “set free” or to “to pardon a prisoner.” Interestingly enough, everyone who refuses to forgive is a prisoner in a cage of his or her own making! When you forgive, the person you’re really setting free is you!
Unforgiveness is one of the chains we forge in life and that ponderous chain can only fall by coming to Jesus and becoming like Him. Forgiving does not mean denying our hurt. Nor does it mean excusing sinful behavior. Nor is forgiving forgetting. It’s not forgetting, it’s pardoning. As Marjorie Thompson puts it:
“To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be … [It’s] not that the actual wound is ever completely forgotten, but that its power to hold us trapped in a continual replay of the event, with all the resentment each remembrance makes fresh, is broken. The behavior remains condemned, but the offender is released from its effects as far as the forgiver is concerned.”
Forgiveness is a decision we make to let love rebuild what sin has broken. Unforgiveness, though, is one of the chains that we forge in life, link by link – a chain that keeps us from moving forward in God’s plan.
Left unchecked, unforgiveness leads to another, even more destructive, chain: the chain of bitterness. So, ‘watch yourself,’ warns the writer of Hebrews! “See to it that … no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).
The Chain of Carnality
Another terrible chain that troubles God’s people is the chain of carnality. Nothing will keep us from experiencing our new life in Christ more effectively than playing with sin after we’re saved. Carnality instantly breaks our fellowship with God and we remain out of fellowship until we work through the process of contrition, confession and repentance. When we’re out of fellowship with God we cannot experience the fruits of the Spirit – especially joy and peace.
Although sin is a chain that God drops from us the moment we’re saved, we set out to reconstruct it almost immediately! Salvation sets us free, but carnality soon begins its work of enslaving us again and robbing us of the freedom that is ours in Christ.
Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that … we would no longer be enslaved to sin … So, you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus … Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness … Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Romans 6:6, 11, 13, 16a).
So, each time we let sin have its way with us, we forge another link in a chain that shackles us. Jesus cut right to the point in John 8:34 when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
That’s why the writer of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). That’s what carnality does: it becomes a chain – a ponderous chain – that wraps itself around us and keeps us from running the race that God has set before us.
The Chain of a Poor, Unbiblical Self-image
A final terrible chain believers forge in life is the chain of an unbiblical self-image. In some cases, this chain fastens itself to us if we feel unloved when we’re very young, or especially if we’ve suffered some kind of abuse. It can grow as we struggle to work through things that we were told about ourselves when we were children – things that are not true, but that we took deep into our hearts.
Now, admittedly, I grew up in a far less delicate time than we’re living in today. When I was growing up, people didn’t think so much about how what they said and did might affect their children for decades to come. But we have to be VERY careful, because the things we say to our children can stay with them for many, many years, even for their entire lives.
Even a few calloused words spoken in a moment of anger – or words repeated time and time again by a heart poisoned by bitterness – can weigh them down with chains that will stay with them even into old age, chains that will still be there long after we’re gone.
Isn’t it a terrifying thought to think that the enemy might use our words or actions to cause our children to think about themselves in such a way that it cripples them spiritually? Or that is psychologically destructive? And it’s very likely that we’ll do just that if we try to mold them into who we want them to be rather than rejoicing in who God made them to be – and helping them to flourish there.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” wrote the wisest man who ever lived – and, boy oh boy, is that ever true of parenting (Proverbs 18:21a).
As believers, one of the hardest things to do is to develop a biblical self-image – to believe that what God says about us is more true than what anyone else says – even our mom or dad.
‘I’ve seated you with Christ in heavenly places,’ the Father says.
‘You’re hidden with Christ in God.’
‘No one will ever snatch you out of my hand,’ Jesus says.
‘I love you and the My Father loves you.’
‘I will never leave you or forsake you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’
‘I know you, and I love you anyway – and you are more than a conqueror because I love you.’
‘So now, drop those chains and let’s walk together.’
- What are some of the chains that you’ve forged in life?
What are some of the chains that have been put upon you by others?
Do you still carry them? If not, how were you able to make them fall?
How have you labored to fashion them, link by link?
- Do you struggle with forgiveness?
What do you think of the idea that the prisoner unforgiveness creates is you?
Is unforgiveness keeping you from experiencing the joy and peace that are yours in Christ?
Is there someone you still need to forgive?
Does it help you to consider that forgiveness (1) does not mean denying our hurt, nor (2) excusing sinful behavior, nor (3) necessarily forgetting, but, rather, it’s simply pardoning?
Do you need to ask God to help you forgive someone?
- Have you allowed a root of bitterness to enter your life? How has it affected those around you?
- Are you forging a chain of carnality that keeps you in a state of broken fellowship with Jesus?
Do you need to come to the place of contrition, confession and true repentance?
What has the chain of carnality cost you in your life as a believer? Relationships? Your testimony? Something else?
- Does your image of yourself differ from what God says about you in His Word?
Are ghosts from your past keeping you from accepting who you are in Christ?
Is there something that you need to talk to Jesus about?
 Thompson, Marjorie J., “Practicing Forgiveness – Moving Toward Reconciliation” (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012).
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