“But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Freedom beats at the heart of every person. This has always been the case. Freedom hasn’t always been as widely available in the world as it is today, but the freest people have always been the envy of the rest. In the ancient world, some longed for it but assumed they weren’t made for it. Today, there are occasionally national revolutions to obtain it, even as rulers try and deny it every way they can because they understand that the freer people are, the less power the ruling class has. But our longing is freedom. So, why would anyone want to follow a religion that calls its devotees to be slaves?
Paul says that we are slaves twice here. Let’s start with the less controversial time and then move to answer that uncomfortable question. We are first slaves to sin. We talked about this on Monday morning.
When we are born into this world, we are born enslaved to sin. Because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, every single one of us save Jesus alone by the miracle of the virgin birth is born into sin. Sin corrupts our thinking and reasoning processes from day one.
Any observant parent can affirm this theological truth. That original bent toward sin begins to show itself remarkably early. It is a young child who first looks at his parent and stubbornly refuses to obey. That’s sin.
What starts as cute quickly becomes much less so, and then begins to reveal itself as entirely more sinister than it first appears. We begin to discover that we keep going back to sin even when we don’t want it. We can’t escape. The harder we try, the harder we get jerked back to that pole when the chain around our heart finally recoils.
What we are discovering is that we are not the free people we imagined ourselves to be. We may put on a show of freedom by insisting on looking somehow different from the majority culture we are in, but we are merely children building elaborate sand castles in a backyard sandbox. The show may be grand, but it all exists within the box of sin.
But then we hear about another way. We are presented with some teaching about this path that leads out of sin. And the more we hear, the more we like. So we begin to adjust our lives to it. As we do, we suddenly discover that we have the power—a power inside of us that came from without—to not sin. We venture out from our pole and find that we can at last keep going. Nothing pulls us back to that old starting position. We are free.
There’s just one little problem. Well, it’s not really a problem, per se, because we are free at the end of the day, but it’s something that can nag a bit at the back of our minds when we first encounter it. You see, when we receive this teaching and accept its basic premises to receive this incredible of freedom, we give our lives over to Jesus. That is, we give total control of our lives over to this new master. He is good and righteous in ways sin never was, but He is our master. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness. How is this better?
Imagine it like this. You are on an enormous beach. It is exquisite. Smooth sand that sticks perfectly when it’s wet. Gentle surf. Warm water. And a cloudless sky with a sun that won’t burn your skin no matter how long you stay in it. Sounds amazing even for a mountain guy like me. But then you go and build a little box on it and start playing there. In fact, you start living in the box. You do everything in the box. Everything. You sleep there. You eat there. You…well…do things that come after eating there. It starts to get pretty gross in there. But you can’t leave. You’re stuck in the box. Even when you want to, you can’t get out. That’s the thing about this box: Once you have chosen to go in it—and everybody chooses to go in it—you can’t get out again.
But then, somebody comes along and makes it so you can get out of the box. Now you have the whole beach to enjoy once again. There’s just one thing: You can’t go back in the box. You can enjoy every part of the beach you want. Except that one. Now, you might wonder why you would ever even want to get back in the box, but the thing about the box is that it’s painted on the outside to look really inviting. It’s still just as nasty on the inside, but it doesn’t look it from the outside. But if you go back in it, you’ll be stuck there again.
Here’s the question: Are you free outside of the box? Certainly you are, but there is also a sense in which you are a slave to the whole beach now. This is how all freedom works. It is broad and spacious and gives us room to pursue our hearts’ desires, but if we let those desires run in a direction away from freedom, we will lose it. Freedom has boundaries. If we cross them, we won’t be free anymore. So we are free, but we are also, in a sense, slaves of another kind.
The trick is that our sinful nature always wants what it does not have. And we make whatever it is we don’t have to seem really grand. It’s the grass-is-greener syndrome. When we enter the kingdom of God through the grace of Christ, though, we have something that really is better. We simply need to live in such a way as to keep it, remembering that no matter how it may look in a moment, sin—life back inside the box—is not going to be better than our freedom in Christ. Ever. But, we can choose it, as foolish as that would be. That’s what makes us free.
So, here’s the takeaway: If you have stepped into the freedom of the kingdom of God through the grace Jesus won for you on the cross, keeping it requires that you stay away from the sin that dominated your life before. That may sound like a kind of slavery from the outside, but it is the nature of freedom. And freedom is always better than slavery. Live free.