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Slavery, Service, Freedom


One of the central messages of the New Testament is that those who place their trust in Christ will know the truth and such truth shall set them free (John 8:32). But this seems to be in contrast to the way that Jesus's first and highest followers described themselves. Consider how James opens his letter to the Jewish Christians scattered throughout the ancient world. In James 1:1, he describes himself as a servant of God and of Jesus. However, the word servant in our English renderings of his letter is translated from the Greek word for slave. James is calling himself a slave of the Lord. This was also the case for Paul (Romans 1:1), as well as for Peter (2 Peter 1:1). All of these great Christian men helped develop the idea that those who follow Christ are free, and yet they used a then contemporary word denoting slavery to describe themselves.


This strange arrangement makes perfect sense when you consider what every thoughtful person knows – regardless of whether or not that person is a Christian. And that is that no one is truly free. We are all bonded to something, and therefore a slave to whatever that something is. For instance, we are all slaves to gravity, or to certain elements of the social order, or to any number of things that govern the minute details of our lives. But Jesus wasn’t talking about that reality. He was talking about something far more meaningful because of its spiritual implications. The person who is not a Christian is bonded to a terrible spiritual master: sin. This master becomes increasingly controlling as a person yields more and more to its power. Sin baits men and women with pleasure, using it to strengthen its grip on a person, but then delivers less and less pleasure as that grip tightens. To use the words of one theologian: [Satan’s use of sin is to produce] “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure . . . to take a man’s soul and leave him nothing in return.” The truth of Christ sets a man free from that downward spiral. He may still struggle in the fight with sin, but instead of having an ever diminishing pleasure, he has an ever increasing joy in Christ, along with an ever increasing disgust for sin. At some point he is freed from its deceptive hook entirely, either in this life, or the post resurrection one. The truth of Christ lifts us from the evils of a fallen world and frees us from its gravity like a mass of balloons carrying us on spiritual winds. No longer will we crave sin and feed darkness and strife. Instead we will walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:13-26)


In this sense, the slavery that the great apostles were citing is not the potentially cruel slaveries of iron fisted cultures, but the loving permanent service that one freely gives to the master who has rescued him from grave and permanent debt or trouble. Christ has rescued us from sin. He has broken those chains. We are free. And those of us who see this freedom in the same way that the apostles did, freely give our lives to his service. Our only bondage is a joyful one that holds us fast to true freedom.

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