Slavery, Abolitionists, & Compassion: Part 2

In the first part of this post we established that all unrepentant sinners are slaves to sin as Jesus points out in John 8:34. Slavery to sin is far worse than any physical slavery mankind has ever employed. Jesus as the true abolitionist, is the one who fights against slavery and he is the one who ultimately brings true freedom (John 8:36). As Christians we also work in this ministry of freeing people from slavery, a slavery we were under once. 

We also saw that Jesus combated slavery to sin by calling some slaves the “sons of the devil” and this action was an act of compassion on his part.. Jesus’ compassion took the form of opposing slavery in every facet he encountered. To those entrapped by sin and who hated their slavery he showed tender mercy pointing them to freedom via repentance and belief in him. To those who were arrogant in their slavery, who claimed to be free, he took out his verbal baseball bat and started to swing also calling them to repentance and faith. The method changed, but his heart motive, compassion, remained the same.

So this leads us to the question, as little abolitionists who are working for the true abolitionist, “How do we show compassion to those enslaved by sin?” Let’s start with a list of what would not be compassionate:

  • It is not compassionate to walk up to a slave and to affirm him in his slavery. Our world tells us we are to accept and affirm people for who they are, in bondage and all. By this world means to affirm them and encourage them to continue on in their sin, no matter the consequences. If we view sin correctly, as Jesus did, we would recognize that affirming someone in their sin is like approaching a slave on a plantation and saying to them, “Slavery is good for you. It is the core of your identity. I accept you as a slave. Carry on.” This is a far cry from compassion.

  • It is not compassionate to approach a slave and to say their slavery brings out that person’s true self. We as a culture are told to place ultimate confidence in our own view of ourselves. The finest shifting sand around. To be holy in this culture, it is our job to build up other’s in their pride by seeing them primarily by their own self-identification. But if this self-identification is actually slavery, if it will actually lead them to death, how should we respond? We must not approach the slave to sin and say, “Those chains around you really bring out the colors in your eyes. They make you look so beautiful, they display your strength and that you are true to yourself.” This again is not compassion, this is in fact the opposite, this is hatred toward the slave.

  • It is not compassionate to accept or support the laws and societal forces which are arguing for and enforcing slavery upon the masses. Can you imagine if the abolitionists of the 1800s walked into Congress and said the laws put in place to further slavery were good things? Can you imagine if the abolition movement had turned a blind-eye to the legal forces in place in America that legalized slavery? Would such actions be compassionate? Would such actions have helped those trapped in slavery? But yet we are told time and again to do just that. Love would dictate that we oppose all the forces which seek to further slavery in our society.

  • Finally, it is not compassionate for a former slave who is now free, who knows the way to freedom, to refuse to show those in bondage the way to freedom. The success of the Underground Railroad, and of people like Harriet Tubman, is displayed as people, even former slaves, cared for those who were suffering so much that they risked life and limb to lead them to freedom. We too are former slaves to sin, we have been set free by Christ, and in turn we are to lead others to freedom.

The analogy of sin as slavery is important to keep in our minds. As we war against this wretched form of slavery there are many battlegrounds we must fight upon. We must expose the forces of this world which argue for slavery for what they are—lies which lead to bondage and death. We must oppose the laws of the land which seek to normalize and promote slavery and which at the same time seek to prevent true freedom. We must also look with sympathy on those trapped in slavery and show true compassion by pointing them to freedom, even when they are so deceived they think they are already free. This is the example Christ gave us. This is true compassion.