Many think of captivity only in terms of imprisonment by other people. Physical captivity is abhorrent, but the effects may not endure eternally. The greater bondage is to the father of lies—a form of captivity that is far more devastating and potentially longer lasting. Remarkably, this spiritual captivity results from personal choice as one yields to uncontrolled desires and passions. One can be in captivity to sin or to the pursuit of worldly honors such as fame, wealth, political power, or social standing. One can also be in captivity through obsessive preoccupation with activities such as sports, music, or entertainment.In these three paragraphs, Elder Workman points out that it isn't just what we usually think of as sins (robbery, murder, etc.) that can enslave us. It is anything that we carry to extremes, including things that aren't bad in and of themselves (at least, they are not bad in moderation). It can be blogging or video games or sports or any number of things that lead us to neglect our duties and obligations--that lead us to neglect our families and our God. I think many of us fall into this trap.
A particularly powerful source of captivity is tradition. Traditions exist in every culture. In some countries, tribal traditions run deep. Some of these traditions are wonderful, preserving culture and defining social order. Other traditions are contrary to the gospel and priesthood government and, when followed blindly, result in captivity.
Even individual and family traditions can lead to spiritual captivity. Traditions that are contrary to gospel principles offend the Spirit and, if followed, obscure one’s ability to be guided by the Spirit to recognize righteous choices that would expand freedom. For example, consider family traditions regarding the Sabbath. How does your family feel when a major sports event conflicts with Church responsibilities? Yielding to unrighteous influences diminishes your freedom and amplifies the danger of captivity.
Freedom to choose all that is “expedient” is a gift given by God to His children. Thus, we can choose liberty (freedom) and eternal life through Christ, or we can choose captivity and death according to the power of the devil (see 2 Ne. 2:27). It is often said that we are free to choose whatever course we desire, but we are not free to avoid the consequences of that choice.The slavery we allow ourselves to brought into limits our choices and our freedoms. It damages our lives and the lives of those around us. I liked Elder Workman's final paragraphs:
Spiritual captivity rarely results from a single choice or event. More often, freedom is surrendered one small step at a time until the way to regain that freedom is obscured....If we are succumbing to spiritual captivity, we may not recognize the growing loss of freedom in our lives. Yet the more spiritual captivity we experience, choose, or permit, the less freedom of choice we feel in matters of spiritual importance.
Some seek to explain spiritual captivity as something out of their control. Is it really out of their control? Typically, freedom to make righteous choices is measured by a willingness to sacrifice that which is the object of desire or passion. Hence, sacrifice is a guiding principle and is the key to setting oneself free from captivity.
Some people feel they are in captivity because of their poverty. Poverty can indeed be disabling, limiting some of the choices one can make. However, poverty is not a source of captivity in the eternal sense.
The mortal Jesus had few possessions, and He relied on others for His food and keeping. Yet He was not in captivity. His willingness to sacrifice all that Heavenly Father required and to keep all the Father’s commandments brought Him ultimate freedom.
The Lord requires sacrifice to test the faithful. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. He asked the rich young ruler to “sell that thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21). The Prophet Joseph Smith and the pioneer Saints sacrificed much to establish the Church “in the top of the mountains” (Isa. 2:2). The Lord asks us to sacrifice too.
Father Lehi, in his last recorded discourse to his sons, pleaded with them to “shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe” (2 Ne. 1:13). His words evoke the Savior’s message: “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).
How, then, does one “shake off the awful chains” of spiritual captivity? As we purify our hearts through repentance and turn to the Savior with a firm determination to obey His commandments, He will enlarge our strength through the power of His grace. Each righteous choice we make can then lead to future righteous choices. The struggle to escape spiritual captivity and regain our freedom is not always an easy process; indeed, it may lead us through the refiner’s fire. But because of the Atonement and the great gift of repentance, “though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18).
The Savior promised, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). Let us implement in our lives those principles that we know to be true. Rather than submitting to captivity, let us make righteous choices and “continue in [the Savior’s] word.” Then we shall be truly free.
There is always hope. We can always free ourselves. It may not be easy, but it can be done.