"Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. 19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy."
Romans 6:16-19 (NLT)
When I read this passage in church last Sunday, I paused for a moment. Slave is such a strong word. It brings all kind of emotional baggage with it. God wants us to be his slave? When I hear the word, I can’t help thinking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin or similar stories about African-American slaves. There have been slaves ever since civilizations started to form, but for some reason this image hits the closest to home. Slavery is not a pleasant concept.
Then I thought: if God really wanted us to be his slaves, why didn’t he create us that way? He gave us Free Will, and he let us sin in the Garden of Eden. If he had wanted slaves, why didn’t he bend us to His will and leave out any impulse we might have to sin? Then I realized God doesn’t want us to be slaves against our own wishes. He wants voluntary slaves.
Voluntary slavery reminds me of seventh grade history class where we learned about slaves and indentured servants. I think I was too young to comprehend the material, because the only thing I thought of when the teacher said “indentured” was a bunch of old, toothless houseservants. But the idea is relevant, I guess. Indentured servants were people who had their fare paid to American and voluntarily submitted themselves to a life of servitude. Granted, this life was nothing compared to the suffering of the African-American slave, but it was slavery after a fashion. Maybe I need to brush up on my seventh grade history.
Then I looked closer. Paul is giving us a fact of life: you gotta serve somebody. That reminded me of Bob Dylan’s song of the same title. You have two options in life: serve the Devil or serve the Lord. Modern man has tried to create a third option: serve yourself. Sometimes this motto is hidden behind inspirational ideas: just be yourself, don’t let anybody change you. That’s a great idea if you’re a really creative, charismatic person in a sea of
As Americans most of us are fiercely liberated. Liberty can be nothing but good, we say. We cannot abide the idea of being a slave, in any sense, to anyone--even when it is to the ultimate power in the universe. Freedom wasn't invented in the United States. It wasn't even invented in ancient Greece. Where did this radical idea of freedom originate?
God gave man freedom in the Garden of Eden, when he was created. He gave us the ability to chose our destinies for ourselves, for good or for ill. Some people balk, "How could Free Will be bad?" Think about children. If you give a child complete free will, what will usually happen? That child will do whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants to. In this instance, Free Will is a bad thing. But we aren't children, we say. We understand it all. We see God's plan clearly in all situations, right? No--no one can. So if Free Will can lead down the path of darkness, why did God give us a choice? Why didn't he make us slaves to his will to begin with?
Loyalty is something that is hard to generate. You cannot force someone to be loyal to you. You can force them to obey, but if you gave a captive the choice of going free or staying with you because he is loyal, there is little doubt as which option he or she would pick. God gave us choice so that when we chose to follow him, we will be truly loyal.
With this in mind, Paul's use of the word slavery becomes more interesting. We are no longer slaves to sinful living, but we are not free men. Paul tells us that we must serve something. There are two forces acting in the universe: God and Satan. You may think you are serving yourself by being selfish, greedy, and lustful. But you have forgotten, you are not on the list. By serving others, you serve God. By serving yourself, you serve Satan.
It's hard for modern man to admit there is something higher than himself out there in the universe. Look at what we are able to do with science and technology. Look at our accomplishments, our great feats and strides. Surely, we are the highest form of life that has been or that will ever be, we say. No. We are merely slaves--slaves to our fantasies, slaves to our desires, slaves to a world which cares nothing for us.
God wants us to be his willing slaves. Our will has been freed, but our actions (starting way back with Adam in the Garden of Eden) have made us slaves. We must chose a master, and if we give ourselves to the slavery of the Lord.
Slavery is a word with an infinite amount of emotional baggage. But what does it mean? Total commitment. Your life is given to a cause. The dictionary calls it "submission to a domineering force". I think submission is the key word. There is choice, but if we want to be good Christians, we must give ourselves entirely to the will of the Good Master and let Him direct our lives. It's a big step, but one that needs to be made.