You may have tired of hearing about my small group by now, but I learn a lot from them so I don't anticipate they'll disappear from this blog any time soon...We were talking the other day about slavery and freedom. A book excerpt we read said something along the lines of Christianity being about freedom. A group member took issue with that and said Christianity is about slavery. Other group members were stunned. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17). "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). But then we get Romans 6:15-23. In part, it says:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness...But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It's a paradox. We are free and yet we are slaves. So what exactly is freedom in Christ?
First, as one of our members pointed out, we are always a slave to something. A few years ago my church did a series on worship; part of the underlying theme was that we are natural worshipers. The question is not if
we'll worship, but who/what we are going to worship and how. To me, slavery is a similar issue. As Paul points out in Romans 6:16, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). We're always going to be serving someone, worshipping someone, enslaved to someone. That "someone" may be another person—perhaps someone from whom we are looking for approval and worth. It could be a social status or financial security. It could be an addiction or a hobby or any number of things. It could even be ourselves. Freedom is not synonymous with doing whatever I want whenever I want. Selfishness is a deceptive and cruel task master.
So what is freedom? Freedom in Christ is no longer having to contend with the sin nature. It is no longer being bound to do something that leads only to death. It is no longer being bound to a Law that judges my performance to determine righteousness. It is being bound to Someone who gives life. It is being bound to Someone who proclaims me to be righteous. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). After Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters, He talked about not worrying because God will provide. "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?...your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, clothing, etc.]. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:26, 32-33). We follow a law, but it is the law of the Spirit of life. We serve a master, but He is our Father and provides for our every need.
Freedom is about submitting to the Master who loves me and cares for me. It is about being in the flock of the Good Shepherd rather than in the pen of sin. More than that, it is about becoming a daughter. Paul explains:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)
Christianity is about freedom. Freedom from sin. Freedom from having to work for my own acceptance and worth. Christianity is also about slavery. Being bound to God and His righteousness, obeying Him because He has purchased us with a price. But, more than that, it is about being a member of God's family. I am sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit takes up residence in me. I am no longer my own, but His (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This same Holy Spirit is the one who testifies to my adoption. He is not just a seal of ownership, but a seal of belonging, guaranteeing an inheritance. Slavery to righteousness is a slavery that leads to life. Being a child of God means learning to live like I belong to the family. Not out of obligation or to maintain my spot in the family, but because that's how family works. God is conforming me into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). At times, obedience feels like slavery—it is a putting to death of the sinful nature and going against my "natural" inclinations. But, ultimately, it is a slavery that leads to life, and it is a slavery experienced in the context of family. Perhaps the writer of Hebrews says it best:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?...For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:1, 5-7, 11).
Christianity—slavery, freedom, sonship—a beautiful paradox that points us to an amazing God who longs to give us life, and life abundant (John 10:10).