Friday, July 1, 2011

Free to be Slaves

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6:18

A few weeks ago my children celebrated the last day of their school year. This day was highly anticipated for the freedom it represented. After a few days of being home, they soon discovered that their idea of freedom was a little different than that of their parents. Time spent watching television and playing video games has been restricted, and everyone has been assigned a few household chores. Having parents who are both involved in education means they have been, and will be expected to help with various school tasks throughout the summer. After a lot of parental encouragement, our oldest found employment and soon found himself working 40 hr. weeks, leaving very little time for socializing. The reality of the situation has resulted in some grumbling about the fairness of it all.

These circumstances bring to mind the above verse from Romans. Paul talks about having freedom and being slaves all in the same breath. The statement doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. How is it fair that we have been set free from sin, but we are still slaves to righteousness? It doesn’t sound very liberating. Christ lived the perfect life that we, due to our sinfulness, cannot achieve. He fulfilled the letter of the Law that God demands. He then shed His blood on the cross, making atonement for all of mankind. Now we don’t have to worry, right? We can’t do everything that God demands. We know that, and God certainly knows that! That’s why He sent Jesus - to do what we couldn’t, right? We can all breathe a sigh of relief, right? I mean, we all struggle with some sort of temptation. So now, when the struggle is too difficult we can just relax, because we have an excuse, right? Our sin doesn’t condemn us anymore, because we believe in Jesus, and He set us FREE from that sin! We can celebrate that freedom and live our lives without feeling obligated to some archaic set of rules. If we mess up, then, no worries, we can say we’re sorry and know that we’re forgiven….right?

It isn’t quite that easy, though, is it? The Bible tells us that Christians are called to live transformed lives. God’s light and love is supposed to shine through us. Faith without works is dead. True faith bears fruit. Therefore, we become slaves to righteousness. We don’t take advantage of the freedom we’ve been given by living self-absorbed lives. Rather, out of thankfulness for what God has done for us through Christ, we show our appreciation by attempting to live lives that glorify Him. We continue to fight against the ungodly behaviors that entice us.

Does all of this seem difficult? Does it feel like an obligation? Does it feel a bit like worthless freedom? My children may not always appreciate the responsibilities and restrictions they’ve been given during their free months. However, these guidelines are for their benefit. They will learn life skills they will need when they move out of their childhood home. They will gain a healthy work ethic, and learn to be productive citizens who contribute to the common good. In the same way, the precepts found in Scripture are for our benefit, not God’s. God gives us guidelines so we can live healthy lives, lift up and help our fellow man, and lead more people to true peace and the hope of salvation.

I love my children, and I will help them. I will teach them how to load the dishwasher, and I will help them fold the laundry if they become frustrated. Yes, living a righteous life is always a struggle and might even feel restrictive. But God loves us, His children, and gives us the help that we need. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word and Sacraments. We are strengthened in our Christian walk by spending time in prayer and in worship with the community of believers.

When I am assigning household tasks, I sometimes teasingly refer to my children as “slave labor.” I do not pay them an allowance. They understand (deep down, maybe) that the things they do around the house are a privilege of being part of a family in which each member contributes for the benefit of all. We are likewise privileged to be part of God’s family and to have the opportunity to bless others by being reflections of Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for freeing us from the death sentence of sin. Help us to be responsible stewards of this gift of freedom. Create and grow in us a desire to live as slaves to righteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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