There once lived a very beautiful woman who made her living by prostituting herself. Though she was tyrannized by a harsh and cruel pimp and often sought to break free from the bondage that he held her in, there was a part of her that quite enjoyed the vulgar depravity of her life.
One day, as fate would have it, a kind man fell in love with her, and the woman, suitably enamored herself, thought that here was an opportunity to break away and lead a new life. There was one little problem, however: her pimp. Her freedom would first have to be secured from him. Sensing a wonderful business opportunity, her pimp put a huge price tag on her, and even though the man almost bankrupted himself in the process, he succeeded in buying her freedom.
They got married and for a while the couple lived happily, but then the woman began to grow restless. Her husband was a little too straight for her tastes, and she found herself looking at her old life with a certain wistfulness. She forgot about all the pain she had suffered at the hands of her owner, remembering only the wild parties she had enjoyed so much and the attentions of the men who flocked to her. There soon came a day when the lure of her old life proved irresistible and she returned to it.
Her husband, as you can imagine, was shattered by her betrayal, but his love for her was so great, he never stopped trying to get her back. He knew that there was only unhappiness and pain for her in the life she led, and he loved her enough to want to release her from that. It took many years for the woman to come to her senses, and to her amazement, she found he was there - still waiting for her. He had never stopped loving her or wanting her despite the pain she caused him.
This story, with minor variations, is the story of Hosea and Gomer, which can be found in the book of Hosea in the Old Testament. The story takes place soon after the death of King Jeroboam II. Jeroboam II was the fourteenth king of Israel. His forty-one year long reign was one of the longest by any monarch over the land, and though it was blessed with much peace and prosperity, there was much iniquity too.
The former ended with the death of King Jeroboam, and as Israel began to slide into political, social and spiritual bankruptcy, God sent a prophet of love - Hosea - to save Gomer. Gomer was a temple prostitute who sang, danced and otherwise performed for the men who visited her. Hosea led her away to freedom, but after a few years, during which Gomer bore him three children, she returned to her old life. Much later, she repented, and Hosea, ever loving, took her back.
I know that there are many among us who would think that Hosea was an imbecile to love a woman who behaved in such worthless a fashion, and believe that he should have dumped her for a more loyal woman the instant he found out that she had betrayed him. Indeed, that was my own first reaction when I read the story, until it struck me that the woman in the story was representational of every Christian who returned to his or her sinful ways after being saved.
At one time in our lives we were all slaves of the devil, indisputably the biggest and most tyrannical pimp there ever was. In bondage to him, there was perhaps nothing we could do but sin! Jesus, however, secured our freedom. It cost him his life to deliver us but he willingly paid the price because he loved us so much. I don't doubt that we are thankful to him for that, but rather than show our gratitude by living close to him in love and obedience, we return time and time again to our old slave driver, like a faithless whore.
This might seem very harsh, but the truth is harsh and it is time we faced up to it. Peter, quoting the Proverbs, doesn't put it any less mildly. He compares our returning to sin to a dog that returns to its vomit, or a pig that is washed returning to wallowing in the mud (cf 2 Peter 2:22).
John puts it across with even more bluntness. In his first letter that he wrote from Ephesus, he called anyone who continued sinning a child of the devil! "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother."
Scripture is very clear about sin and how God feels about sinners. Yet, the vast majority of us believe that we can't stop sinning. It is a view point we have accepted largely because the Church refers to us as sinners. The reason it does so, however, is to instill in us a required quality of humility, so that we don't get arrogant before God and repeat the sin that Adam was guilty of. God does not like proud people.
I remember an occasion in the past when things had begun going very well for me spiritually. It had been after weeks and weeks of struggling with my baser instincts and I found myself getting increasingly in awe of my "holiness." Then came a day when I got a little self-righteous with somebody. Two hours later I messed up big time, and with my sense of "holiness" in shreds, I spent the remainder of the day in shock, wondering what on earth had happened.
God was what happened. He showed me, in His own inimitable fashion, that the only reason I managed to remain "holy" was because of His grace; because His hand of protection held me up. The instant He let go, I went sprawling on my face. It took a couple more falls before I figured this out, though, after which I never make the mistake of thinking myself "holy"; calling myself a "sinner" is far safer.
But I have never ever believed myself to be constrained to sin. If I was set free, then I was free (cf Romans 6:18), and there was no way I was going to live like a prisoner. It is essential that we all come to the realization of this truth, because unless we do, we will continue to live as though we are still in bondage to the devil. We are not. And if we ever forget we only need look at the cross and remember the price that was paid for our freedom.
May the Spirit be with you.