Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Slaves to Christ

I have been recently catching up on John Piper's daily broadcast, and I just completed listening to the October lessons. At the end of October his sermons were coming from Romans 6. I was so impacted by his commentary about the concept of being a slave to Christ that I had to post it here.

In passing, I should mention that if the imagery of slavery bothers you – as it should in part – especially in America where the history of slavery is rooted in the most demeaning kind of racism, you will be encouraged to know that the imagery bothered Paul too. Verse 18 is parallel to verse 22 in saying, "Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of [were enslaved to] righteousness." But then notice how he pauses to apologize, in a way, for the inadequacy of the imagery. Verse 19: "I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh."

In other words, as humans we grope in our weakness and finiteness for language that is sufficient for great and glorious and complex realities, and have to settle for words and images that are partially helpful and partially misleading. Paul knows good and well that there were aspects of slavery that he would not want us to attribute to our relation to righteousness or to God, even though he says that we are "enslaved" to righteousness (verse 18) and "enslaved" to God (verse 22).

Jesus, you recall, did the same thing in John 15:15 "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." So there are some aspects of slavery that we should apply to our relationship to God and some that we should not. And there are some aspects of friendship that we should apply and some we should not. We judge from the context what aspect of an image we are to focus on.

Slavery in Romans 6:6, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 does not imply mainly being forced against our will to do something. It mainly implies that our wills are enslaved. They are bound to do sin or bound to do righteousness because by nature we either see the rewards of sin or the beauty of righteousness as more attractive. So in both cases we do what we want most to do. (This is true, we will see, even though chapter 7 will reveal that we can have a divided will, sometimes doing what we don't want to do.) But we are bound to do it – enslaved to do it – because our hearts are either so corrupt or so renewed in Christ that we see sin or righteousness as compelling. We are either enslaved to sin or enslaved to God in that sense.1

If I may be so bold, I am going to summarize what John Piper said that was so impacting on me.

Slavery, as we know it in the United States (or Western society in general), is the state where a person is bound against his or her will to do that they do not want to do or to go places that they do not want to go. In other words, the body is captive, but the will, the desire, is free and longs something better. Conversely, when we are slaves of Christ, it is our will that is captive by His glory and majesty, and therefore our bodies and minds willingly do that to which has captured our will. In other words, my mind is captive to and focused on Christ so much that my actions naturally work in harmony with my will because there is nothing better to focus my mind and actions on.

1 Slaves to God, Sanctification, Eternal Life from Romans 6:20-22 by John Piper (December 10, 2000)

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