Slaves to Christ

chainsYou are free; but you are not free. There’s an important qualifier that needs to accompany all discussions of a Christian’s freedom in Christ, namely his slavery to Christ. You would think from the way that some Christians live that becoming a follower of Jesus means that you are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. But the Bible understands our freedom quite differently. We are freed from sin to become slaves of Christ.

The Scriptures are quite frank about our access to freedom in the finished work of Jesus. In John 8 Jesus has a whole discussion with the religious leaders about slavery and freedom. He states plainly that freedom is found in abiding in His Word. He states very boldly, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). The Son offers true freedom, not merely the illusion of freedom. But this freedom is not just a generic freedom. There is something specific which man has been set free from. We saw last week that we are born slaves to sin and bound in that relationship unless external help comes to our aid. Jesus has set us free, but specifically he has set us free from captivity to death and sin. That’s Paul’s dramatic point in Romans 6.

At the start of Romans 6 Paul is asking a question about the relationship of the Christian to present sin. He asks, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound” (v. 1). He answers with a confident “by no means,” assuring us that the Christian’s relationship to sin has so changed that he is no longer even to indulge in it. He supports his point by clarifying that the Christian has been set free from sin because of his new relationship to Christ. So Paul says:

We know that our old self1 was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free1 from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

We have died with Christ and therefore are “free from sin.” He repeats this same idea in a number of places throughout the New Testament. In Romans 8:2 that the believer is “free in Christ from the law of sin and death.” He spells it out in full description here in Romans 6, though, describing us as dead to sin. He continues, stating that sin can no longer have dominion over us because we are freed from it by the death of Christ. He says:

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. (Romans 6:8-12)

So freedom in the New Testament is of a specific kind: freedom from slavery to sin. But this does not mean we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want. For we have a new master: Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Paul’s articulation of our slavery to Christ is found here in Romans 6 too. He gives us a strong contrast in verse 13. He says:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13)

The way we use to relate to sin should now be the way we relate to Christ. Presenting ourselves as His “instruments for righteousness.” Paul is even more direct in the following verses. He adds:

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.  15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,1 you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  17 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,  18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:14-18)

Paul is clear that we are not bound to the law in the same way that we once were, we are “under grace”. But he is quick to assert that being “under grace” does not free us to indulge in sin. There are still boundaries for believers. Particularly here, Paul sees the Christian as one who presents himself as an obedient servant to Jesus, even calling him us “slaves of righteousness.”

This is strong language, but it wasn’t unfamiliar to Paul. He often referred to himself as a “bondservant,” servant, or slave of Jesus (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Titus 1:1). The apostle Peter does the same thing in 2 Peter 1:1, as does the disciples James (James 1:1) so this was a familiar trend and one worth considering. We are slaves of Christ. I want to pick this theme up again next week and explore in more detail what it means to be counted a slave of Jesus. After all we have been set free, but we are not free to do whatever we want.

Comments

  1. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    Good words. Thanks for this.

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