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Freedom in Slavery: Liberty Through Bondage

‘Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brethren, fear God, honor the king.’

- 1 Peter 2:16-17 -

 

The Bible calls Christians lost sheep, living rocks, and fruit-bearing trees. Yet, to our shock, we’re also called ‘slaves.’ In a world where slavery was prolific, New Testament preachers turned legal bondage on its ear. By their doing, if a first-century slave called on Christ, they were now spiritually free. And if a freeman named Jesus as Lord, they became a slave to God. So while all Christ-followers were free, they were all also slaves. This radical redefinition posed a threat in a world where two out of every three people were (or had been) slaves. The allegation against those who loved and preached Christ in the Roman world was true. They were turning the world upside-down (Acts 17:6)!


 

This explosive new faith claimed that a divine Savior entered into history and humbled Himself as a slave, only to be exalted by the one true God for dying to save the world. For pagans, the thought of deity serving and suffering for men was absurd. Gods were served; never servants! Yet this revolutionary God-man and His apostolic preachers were rapidly turning ‘slave’ from a pejorative into a positive. Look no further than the New Testament epistles, where no less than Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude all proudly identify themselves as ‘slaves of Christ’ (Rom. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet. 1:1, Jude 1:1). What upside-down thinking!



The ancient world, much like the modern, idolized money and monarchy. Everyone either admired or aspired to importance. Christ’s closest friends were no exception. When James and John had their mom ask Christ to elevate them in the kingdom, Jesus corrected all His disciples’ shallowness, saying: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28). Their mouths must have hung open in shock and horror! They weren’t used to such an upside-down kingdom.

 

Dying to self and giving your life over to God didn’t start with Christ. First-century Jews had forgotten how many prominent Old Testament leaders found honor as ‘servants of God.’ These heroes of true Judaism included Abraham (Gen. 26:24), Moses (Num. 12:7), Joshua, (Josh. 24:29), David (2 Sam. 7:5), and Isaiah (Isa. 20:3). The Pharisees would’ve denied it, but Isaiah even prophesied that the Messiah would find honor by coming to serve, not be served: ‘The Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities’ (53:11). Yet false shepherds in Jesus’ day had no choice but to reject Him as they rejected the Biblical truth that honor comes by serving God at any price; be it social status or your very life.



Ask yourself what fundamental truth and foundational reality lives at the heart of Christianity? What core confession and theological absolute governs believers? The answer is three simple yet profound words: Jesus is Lord. Hear Paul: ‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). Elsewhere, Paul says: ‘No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:3). Scripture is clear that God plants this world-shaking confession on our lips by recreating us from the inside out. By the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to serve the Savior rather than our sinful lusts. Our renewed minds finally see that Christ alone casts our sinful shackles into the sea, and He puts on us a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light (Matt. 11:30).

 

Liberty through bondage sounds contradictory, yet believers see the truth behind the veil. God reveals to His adopted children that everyone has a master; it just comes down to who you serve. Jesus teaches: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24). Money motivates and dominates our fallen world, but slaves of Christ entrust their lives to a generous, loving Master who frees them from worldly woes. Paul says our reward for kingdom service is priceless and worthy of rejoicing over: ‘Having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit, leading to sanctification, and the end, eternal life’ (Rom. 6:22). What more could we want?



A heavenly transaction took place that we might confess Christ as King. As slaves, Paul reminds us we were ‘bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20) by the new Lord of our life. Peter adds that God didn’t buy us with mere ‘corruptible things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Since the cost to free us from sin and hell was the God-man’s blood, we must eagerly do as Peter says: ‘Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brethren, fear God, honor the king’ (1 Pet. 2:16-17). The price Christ paid dwarfs mountaintops, so our conduct ought to aim in the same direction!

 

Slaves don’t set rules or priorities. Slaves obey their masters in all walks of life. No command is questioned or wiggled out of. So Paul reprimands those who stray from the gospel, asking: ‘Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a slave of Christ. For I make known to you, brothers, that the gospel which I am proclaiming as good news is not according to man…I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:10-12). Paul was grieved when the gospel was dishonored as he served the very God who gave it. He knew the gospel of grace was inherently offensive, yet a slave cannot change his Master’s message, and nor should he want to!



Christ offended His hometown when He preached on spiritual bondage and religious blindness, telling His childhood synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed” (Isa. 4:18). His message offended self-righteous slaves of sin. But this upside-down Messiah came to destroy false teachers who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matt. 23:3). They enslaved sinners to systems that couldn’t save, all while rejecting God who cares for the weary and heavy-laden.

 

Works righteousness was and is a dead-end road. Only Christ saves by paying the sin debt we amass against God. By His life, death, and resurrection, Christ shows that serving God frees us today and glorifies us in the future. Jesus upended an ancient institution in order to save sinners and make them subjects in His kingdom. He said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Christ still gives abundant new life to all who call on Him as Lord. In Him we find the Master we long to serve in loving gratitude for the ransom He paid to free our souls. So let us wear ‘slave’ as the badge of honor that God intends it to be!

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