When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.” (Luke 15:14-17)
This passage is from the familiar parable of The Prodigal Son. Please don’t tune out here, because this isn’t about reconciliation. Instead it’s about freedom, what it is and what it is not. Many would have us believe that freedom is the ability to choose to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want. Quite the opposite is true.
Jesus illustrates that by following his selfish desires, the son ends up as a slave caring for an animal he can’t even eat. Remember Jews don’t eat pork; they consider swine to be “unclean.” He can’t get any lower! The only way for him to be fed is to go back and work for his father. The lesson is clear: by indulging your desires, you become a slave to them. Does this sound like freedom? Hardly.
The son indulged his senses by repeatedly choosing entertainment over fulfillment. The world offered the first, while his father offered the second. On a daily basis, our senses lead us toward things which can’t fill us up. That’s why Jesus tells us that in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (from Luke 9:23). As such, we should expect an ongoing battle of our senses between things which lead us away from the Father and those which lead us toward Him. Jesus never said being a Christian would be easy. After all, he was the original, and we hung Him on a cross!
By the way, about that cross. Jesus died on it to free us from sin, not to sin. Obedience sometimes involves pain, which we like to avoid, but in that struggle, we receive the grace to persevere if we trust Him. When we unite our sufferings to His, literally put ourselves on the cross, He lifts us up. Remember, in The Prodigal Son, all those who worked for the father were filled. The work likely wasn’t easy, but they were rewarded well for doing it. And so it is for us; go to work for the Father every day and be filled!