Slaves; One and All

One of the great metaphors employed when speaking about a person’s salvation is that of “freedom.” Many times, in a sermon I have talked about being set free from sin, death, and the power of the Devil, free from uncertainty, free from condemnation, and so on. This is a rich Biblical image. Jesus Himself says, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He gives you the promise, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Saint Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia, says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This is a favorite image for us, especially here in America, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Freedom is part and parcel to our existence. It is part of the very air we breathe. Yet, because of this I often think that image can get a bit lost in all the other noise about freedom. It does not stand out as well as some other metaphors might.

But that is okay. The Word of God is rich in its language and employs a wide variety of images which help us grasp the incredible work of our God. Where one may, for a time, grow dull or become so well used it no longer startles the hearer, it just goes in one ear and out the other, there is always another to use. And you cannot get any more different from the image of freedom than that of slavery. Yet, this is precisely what the Apostle Paul does in Romans 6. That said, notice how it does not begin with slavery, but rather with the language and promises of baptism. Romans 6 begins with Paul making the bold declaration of the new thing that has happened to you because of the waters of Holy Baptism. He says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here, the image is of death and life, of being buried and then raised again from the dead. This happens, according to Paul, in the waters of baptism. If you have been baptized, then you have died with Christ and now live a new life. You live in Him. You are given a new identity, a new reality.

The crucial question which flows from this has to do with how you are to live. Since you have died and risen with Christ, now that you have been given this new life, this new identity, this new orientation in the world, what is it you are supposed to do? How do you conduct yourself? How do you live now? When people ask this question, the answer usually comes from one place and one place only. The answer is in the Law, the commands, the things you are to do, and the things you are to avoid. The churches are full of those who say you are saved by Christ alone, but now that you are saved let me tell you what you need to do to live in this, to maintain this, to perfect it even. In fact, this is how most Christians experience their faith. Christ did His part and now I need to do my part.

But in Romans 6, Paul does something very different, something which is quite shocking to our ears. There is clearly exhortation and encouragement to live in the reality of your baptism, to be what God has called you to be in His gifts, but he does this in the context of slavery. In fact, in his argument, he presumes you are slaves, each and every one of you. And if you are slaves, then what you do not have is freedom, or even more pointed, you do not have free will. That right there causes us to lean in and pay a little more attention. We are used to talking about our free will, our choices, our wisdom, and our options. After all, this is how faith is often spoken of. Christ did His work and now I have the free will to choose to do the things He has called me to do. I can choose to keep the Law, to perform the acts of obedience, etc.

This is what Paul says: “Are we to sin because we are not under Law but under grace? By no means!” He 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?” All of us are slaves, slaves of sin on the one hand or slaves of obedience on the other. And because you have died and risen with Christ, because you have been united to Him in the waters of your baptism, Paul goes on to say, you, “having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” It is a move from one slavery to another, from one master to another. Formerly, you were under the Law, but now you are under grace. Notice, there is no free and liberated “you” in this, as if you did not have a master or were not still a slave.

At various times throughout his letter to the church in Rome, Paul doubles down on this argument. There are two ways to live, two types of slavery, two masters under which all mankind toils throughout their days. Now, here is the thing. The slavery of sin, the slavery governed by the Law, is often presented as freedom. It feels as if here you are free to choose, free to do what you want. You can obey or not obey. You can follow your own hearts desires. Is this not freedom, to do what you want to do? Paul puts it this way in, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” You lived how you wanted to live. But what Paul shocks us with is telling you this is not freedom. This is slavery to sin. Not only could you do what you wanted to do, but you could only do what you wanted to do. You are bound to do it, bound to sin, bound to the never-ending works of the Law, bound to eternal doubt and uncertainty, bound to death, and nothing beyond.

So, Paul says to you, “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.” Just as slavery to sin produces fruit which leads ultimately to death, so the slavery of righteousness, the slavery rooted in your baptismal identity, produces fruit as well, fruit that leads to eternal life. But this slavery is governed by grace, ruled by the works of Christ, by the assurance of salvation secured by what He has done. You are now bound to your Lord, bound to His forgiveness, bound to His promises, and bound to His faithfulness.

Therefore, when it comes to the question of how then do we live, how do we conduct ourselves in this new life given by water and the Word, Paul’s exhortation is to, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under Law, but under grace.” The call is to live as the baptized. This is not a list of things to do, or ten steps to being a better Christian, it is a way of life which continues to trust in the promises of Christ. This life clings to the lordship of Jesus and His rule alone. And it will look different for each one of you. Perhaps it will be times of generosity, moments of kindness, or surprising acts of compassion. I imagine that among all things it will be a life marked by forgiveness; forgiveness received and forgiveness given.

The practice of your faith begins, perhaps, with the confession that you are not your own. You have been purchased, not with gold and silver, but with the precious blood of our Lord. You belong to Him. You are not free. You are a slave, a slave to grace, to love, and to forgiveness. You are bound to the One who gives Himself freely so you might have eternal life. As Paul reminds us all, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As a result, with joy you can say, “That is my Master, my Lord, and my Savior who gives life to all His slaves.”