Whose Slave Are You?

Slavery has been a part of human society and in different cultures for thousands of years.  We readily recall the enslavement  of Israel in Egypt, and how God used Moses to deliver them out of bondage. Then there was the infamous Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the extreme hardship when thousands of Africans and their descendants served their masters in the Americas. This atrocity which started in the 16th century continued for over 300 years until the valiant efforts of the British Navy and men and women like Toussaint L’Ouverture, John Newton, Abraham Lincoln and, Harriet Tubman (they called her “Moses”), lead to the eventual abolition of slavery in the 19th century.

In light of the horrors of slavery, we cherish our freedom, individual rights and independence. Some countries enshrine achievements in their Constitution.  Sadly, although we proclaim liberty mankind is still engaged in slavery throughout parts of the world.  Jean–Jacques Rousseau (18th Century. philosopher) observed: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

Slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness?

The early New Testament church wrestled with slavery, which was an integral part of the socio-economic fabric of the Roman Empire. Paul used the social construct of slavery in the book of Romans to describe the believer’s experience and relationship with God. James Montgomery Boice in his commentary on the Book of Romans said:

There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone…. There is one being …who is totally free… That is God.  But all others are limited or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question is: Who or what are you serving… We must either be slaves to sin or slaves of Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom.

Paul addresses this question in the 6th chapter of Romans where he contrasts two forms of slavery, under two different masters, under different rules and leading to diametrically opposite outcomes. Here is how he describes it in Romans 6:16-22:

16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

Slave or Servant?

Most English Bible translations use the less pejorative term servant for the Hebrew ebed and the Greek doulos, instead of the more emotively charged word, slave.  However, between these two words (servant or slave), the one best describing our relationship with Christ is “slave.”  Perhaps God allowed Israel to suffer as slaves at the hand of their cruel Egyptian taskmasters, so they would learn how to relate to Him, God, the Almighty, who owned them yet provided for them so bountifully and treated them with such grace and loving kindness.

One might ask: Why is the word “slave” a better rendition than servant for the Greek word doulos? Here are a few reasons:

  • Slaves are owned by their masters, servants are hired. 1 Cor. 7:21-23; 6:19-20
  • Slaves must fully submit to their masters. Rom. 6:16
  • Slaves are singularly devoted to one master
  • Slaves are totally dependent on their masters. Psalm 123:2
  • Slaves are personally accountable in all things to their masters. 3:22-24
Bondage or liberty?

As we saw from Paul’s argument in Romans 6, we are all slaves, either to the master of sin or righteousness. But the lifestyle, the conditions, the fruit and ultimate outcome of living under these two regimes are as different as night from day, light from darkness, or death from life!

Consider the contrast between the bondage of sin and the liberty of righteousness.

  • Sin and disobedience to God causes bondage, oppression & servitude. As God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 6:5-7), so He is able to deliver us from the bondage of sin and the cruel hand of Satan, the harsh taskmaster, and god of this world.
  • Sin, false teachings and lies enslave, but truth (God’s word John 17:17) sets us free. Jesus, the Great Liberator, promised to set every believer free:

John 8:31-36; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:32, 34-36).

  • Living by the flesh causes a spirit of bondage, but by the spirit of God, we are adopted  into God’s family (Rom. 8:12-17).
  • Sin alienates us from God, produces bad fruit and leads to death (physical and spiritual), but righteousness draws us to God, produces good fruit that leads to life eternal in God’s family. See Gal. 5:19-25.
  • Sin brings bondage through the fear of death while the perfect love of God removes all fear (Heb. 2:15; 1 John 4:18).

Obedience to the law of God is the pathway to true liberty and blessings.  God’s laws bring liberty and blessings when we obey them. You can be sure, one “who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does,” (James 1:25). While God’s spirit brings liberty, this should never be seen as license or freedom to do as we please. Paul warned in Romans 6:1-2 against taking the grace of God for granted:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

John Milton (17th Century British author/poet) wisely observed: “None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.”

From bondage in sin to liberty in Christ

Jesus came to bring deliverance and liberty for the captive, oppressed and broken-hearted (Luke 4:18). But we must fight, revolt and lead an insurrection against the enemy using the powerful spiritual weapons (like prayer and fasting) to tear down and destroy the enemy’s strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4-6).

Jesus Christ, the Great Liberator and Burden-bearer is calling us, out of sin’s bondage to liberty in Him our Messiah. As He called and led Israel out of Egyptian bondage in that first Passover, so He is calling us out of the bondage of sin in this world to freedom and life eternal. He wants to remove us from under the burden (Ps. 81:6). Accept the invitation, let Jesus be your burden bearer – Matt 11:28-30. His way (rules of life) are anything but burdensome – 1 John 5:3. His plan is to erase the branding, which the old slave master of sin forced on us and put His own name upon us – to change our relationship from being slaves to being friends and family. What a wonderful transition awaits us!

Jesus gave this assurance to his disciple and to us: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends [Greek- philos], for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you,” (John 15:15).

The choice is before us: choose sin, which leads to bondage and death or choose righteousness that leads to peace and life eternal. Whose slave will you be? The wicked taskmaster of sin who will lead you to death or the One who promises you life and a place of honor in His family? Here is the hope that awaits all those who will surrender themselves to be slaves of righteousness:

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure,” (1 John 3:2-3).


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