Paul has a very interesting way of framing the idea of freedom. He talks about it a lot but specifically in Romans 6:18-20. This is just verse 18 but you should go read the whole thing “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?” In the Roman world where Paul lived if you were a slave, you had no personality. There was even a special phrase for this idea: Servus non habet personam. A slave had no past, no future, no property of their own, no family name, and no personhood. They were just property. It was possible to buy your freedom but that was typically not until you were old enough to not be of any value to your master. Some were treated better than others but they were still slaves. If you were a slave, you wanted freedom but generally, there was little to no hope of obtaining it. You were personless property. You did not belong to yourself. That is the idea behind the meaning of what Paul talks about when he talks about being a slave.
With that in mind, we can add in that Paul says we are either in Christ or in Adam. It’s a clear either-or scenario. There is no in-between we are either in Christ (sometimes called Spirit) or we are in Adam (sometimes called the flesh). You cannot be in both. This is important because Paul is framing an argument throughout all of his writing that says we exist as slaves one way or the other. The question is who the master is. What is unique is that Paul says we get to choose our master. Now by default, the master is sin or flesh.
Before Christ we were slaves to sin, we were slaves to our sin nature. We belonged to it. Sin was not something that we did as much as it was part of who we were. It owned us. We had no identity outside of it. Some of us embraced that more than others but true to the reality of the situation we all belonged to sin. Our natural default position was self-focused. Being controlled by sin means you are free from the requirements of righteousness. You belong to one master and do not need to listen to the other.
After you come to Christ the whole thing changes. We move from this position of self-focused to Christ and Spirit focused. We transition from one master to another. It’s like the old Bob Dylan song Gotta Serve Somebody says “yes Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody” and yes I just quoted Bob Dylan while talking about the Bible. You don’t get a choice in whether or not you serve but you do get to choose whom you serve.
When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we chose to serve Him, that’s the Lord part of the equation. We now not only have the power to stop being self-focused, but we have new requirements for service. Before when we served the sin nature the requirements were to do what feels good. Do what you want. Lookout for you. Now we are bound to the requirements of righteousness. That means we are outward and upward focused. We are called to seek the kingdom of God and let Him rule and reign in our lives here and now. We are called to walk as Jesus walked. We are called to love the Lord God with all of being and love one another.
The amazing thing is that as slaves of righteousness we are also adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. We are no longer just slaves and servants but children who are promised an inheritance. We get something we did not have before. We get a future. We get personhood. With the change in masters comes a change in identity. This is an amazing and glorious thing. We went from slaves with nothing to servants who are adopted by God. But that is not cause for bragging. On the contrary that is a call to surrender. In Philippians 2:6, speaking of Christ, Paul writes that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to used to His own advantage. Instead Jesus, fully understanding who He was laid down His rights and served.
That is our call. We are called to now understand our rights and lay them down. We say, yes, I am a child of God, and yes, I will one day see heaven but until then I have work to do. We place ourselves under the authority of Christ and do like He did. We submit ourselves and find our identity in God just as Christ did. We do not use our freedom for our own good but seek ways to serve and love one another. When we do this, we can rejoice that we truly know who we are.
We need to understand our identity and when we do, we can go out and do the things of God and for God without fear and with less hurt because we know who we are. We can move from a position of being a child and serving as obedient slaves and servants.
Just a thought,