March 27, 2012

I have never seen a picture of a happy slave, no matter what kind of slavery we are talking about, I have not seen anyone who is happy in captivity. In fact as I look at pictures of people who were involved in American slavery, or the modern sex slavery that plagues this world I see nothing but brokenness and pain. When I see pictures, or hear stories of those who live under oppressive governments I don’t see happiness. Let’s face it, Slavery is a horrible place to be, to be owned by someone else is not fun, no wonder the abolition of Slavery has become a global concern.

In our busy and over worked society we have become mostly slaves to these things that keep us busy. Charlse Hummel would probably agree with me when I say we’ve become slaves to the urgent. They control us and give us no rest, no escape, here we are, this is all there is, you cannot get away. When we are enslaved to the urgent things we don’t get to experience freedom, we can only do what those things demand of us, when we finish those urgent tasks we are too burned out to do anything else.

The Apostle Paul uses slavery as one of the many metaphors he uses to describe the old and new life we have in Christ. Paul writes in Romans 6 “did you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey.” (v. 16) ESV Granted Slavery in Paul’s time looked more like indentured servitude found in the places like Jamestown in the early colonial period in America, but when you start to picture any type of slavery it isn’t exactly pleasant. This is the goal of Romans 6, to show us that slavery, that living by the old sin nature only brings death, but slavery to the righteousness of God, living by faith, will bring us life.

Now, is Paul using slavery because we are in chains to righteousness? I would say not, instead we were in chains when we were in sin, we were limited by that sin, everything was tainted by it, our relationships, our business encounters, our leadership roles. But when we surrendered our sin nature, when we go through that baptism process of being buried with Christ, dying to our sin natures and being raised to new life in Him we are now declared righteous because of the blood of Christ (See Romans 6:1-14). Once we have been raised to this new life we become free, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we serve rightousness because we live by faith.

But after we become a Christian an inner battle starts, there are still parts of that sin nature that we must work through as we work out our salvation. That battle rages around our own wills, the idea that now we are free so we go out and do what we want, we go after this cheap grace and we continue to live in sin. Meanwhile God continues to pursue us, after we have fallen on our faces before the holiness of God and told Him we would turn from our old lives, then going our own way continue to sin relying on grace, God still pursues us.

In my own life I’ve seen this same struggle lived out, for the first five or six years of my Christian walk I only wanted what I wanted. I never gave a thought to what God’s will might be for me. The problem was I still ended up where God wanted me, I certainly didn’t want to be a Sterling College, I never wanted to be studying Urban Ministry, yet here I am. On these things I fought God’s will, I wanted very little to do with it and I become cold and angry, legalistic in my ways. Thinking I was unloved by God for the things that I had done, filling my days with my own works, doing my own thing, being a slave to my old self, and to my will.

Then God got through to me, starting with the graceful, yet seemingly harsh words by a good friend to that day as I sat in the center of the Labyrinth, unable to fight any longer, finally in total surrender. Now, almost nine months later I can tell you friends that there is no better freedom than to be in a place where you are totally surrendered to God’s will.

In a conversation about this with one of my brothers here at Sterling it was said “so we are robots programmed to do good!” Meaning “is God then limiting our free will, is it just an illusion.” John Calvin once said of Paul that he “never limits the Christians Freedom” in fact, if you read 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul says “All things are lawful, but not all things build up” (ESV). In the context of the rest of the passage, there is an ongoing theme of not causing your brother to stumble, that we are free to live as long as we are not causing our brothers or sisters to stumble. In fact the very next verse states; “let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (v. 24). This means that we are free, but in that freedom, because we live by faith we should do what is good for our neighbors.

This passage in 1 Corinthians 10 culminates in the ultimate purpose, the goal of our Christian freedom, what Jonathan Edwards called “The End for Which God created the world.” This is found in 10:31 “Whether you eat, drink or whatsoever you do, do it all for the glory of Christ.” This is the chief end of man, this is what everything we do is to culminate in, bringing glory to a infinite and holy God.

So it is not total determinism, we are not simply pawns or robots. It is not slavery God wants but the surrender of our wills. The slave is told what to eat and drink, we are told “take and eat” (See Acts), we are simply instructed that everything we do bring glory to God.

But how do we bring glory to God? Well, if we believe God is sovereign, then we must also believe that God’s will for our lives is sovereign. That the purpose of our lives is leading to something bigger and greater than what we could ever accomplish on our own. In fact, when anytime I’ve put my will before God’s I’ve only ended up sitting angrily under a tree trying to figure out why it all fell apart. My will has only burned me out and failed me, destroyed me, God’s will brings life, God’s will for our lives gives us freedom.

But we don’t know the will of God, we are not quiet, we are too busy, our souls ache for it, but our minds and hearts deceive us. Praise God though, as Romans 8 tells us; “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words”  (v. 26 ESV). These groans that come from the spirit are intercessory, the spirit is calling out for God’s will in our lives, should we not learn to do the same?

This is why I put such a high emphasis on spiritual disciplines, because it is when we learn to quiet our spirits that we begin to not just experience God but know God. And in knowing God, we learn and know the will of God for our lives and for those in leadership, the lives of others. The battle is over, we live by faith, totally relying on the will of God, not as slaves to sin but as sons, elected for adoption (Romans 8:15). Set on a path of future glory, because God, who is trying to bring glory to Himself, glorifies us through Christ when we suffer with him (Romans 8:17).

So lay down your weapons, if you are dead to sin then you are no longer enemies of God. Stop making Him your enemy by fighting against His will for you, He is not the bad guy here, we become the bad guy. Start applying disciplines, put off the old life, live a life of total surrender. Discover for yourself the blessings that come through a true and personal relationship with Christ, unhindered by slavery to our own wills that often lead us to failed plans.

It is God’s will, through grace and the blood of Christ shed on the cross, the propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:25). That is what frees us, that is what takes us from slaves to sin, to slaves to righteousness.

Jonathan Faulkner
10:31 Life Ministries

Also available from Jonathan Faulkner
Good Discipline
Ready, Reset, Go
God’s Heart for Your Relationships

Also available from 10:31 Life Ministries;
A Chosen Generation (1 Peter 2:9): Called to Societies Standards  By Angel Edwards
College Commitment: The Toughest Test by David Faulkner
The Fire & the Storm: Being in the presence of a Holy God who Speaks by David Tank

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