As a youth pastor, I had the opportunity to watch many Christian illusionists. I loved it all – the sights, the sounds, the escapes – it was phenomenal. And whenever I went to see a Christian illusionist, the Gospel presentation almost always went the same.
After getting the attention of the crowd through humor, they would urge the crowd to get serious for a bit, and they would begin to talk about sin. Usually, as they spoke of sin they began to either chain themselves up, or have an assistant help them.
They would always mention that the shackles represented sin, and how it bound us and prevented us from living in the freedom we were meant to live. And finally, when they were bound by chains and shackles, they would usually up the ante even more by getting into a black bag, or some other additional hindrance (maybe even talking about how sin leads to darkness and shuts out the light).
Then they play some dark, foreboding music as they either ask the audience for complete silence or to cheer them on. And in dramatic fashion, they twist and move and talk about how they might not be able to get out “this time,” until they have the audience completely riveted, and then (like magic) they escape.
They usually follow with a presentation of the Gospel that says something along the lines of, “our sin shackles us, but by the power of Christ, we can be set free!”
And for some reason, it took a decade’s worth of watching this act that it dawned on me
This teaches a completely false gospel
The gospel does not, and has never, given us the strength to escape the shackles of sin by our own intelligence, training, maneuvering, or wisdom. In fact, only a great failure of an escape artist can adequately display the gospel.
Only when a master escape artist shackles themselves to the extent that their lock picks, their double-jointedness, and their experience fails them and after 5-10-15-30 minutes they realize that they will not be able to escape on their own and with raw bleeding wrists and ankles they cry out in agony in their failure to rescue themselves.
And in that moment, a rescuer steps on stage with the keys.
And they begin to free the escape artist, one lock at a time.
That’s the gospel. That’s what it means to have been set free from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:17).
The gospel is not your training.
The gospel is not your bobby pin that you use to pick the lock.
The gospel is not adjusting your body in just the right way.
The gospel is Jesus Christ removing the shackles that you never could remove, despite your best attempts.