One of the most important realizations of the Christian life is that we no longer have to be a slave to how we feel.
There are many words to describe the internal stirrings of our soul— desire, emotion, passion. No matter how rational or disciplined or principled we pride ourselves on being, it is this ever-changing sea of swirling emotional currents that we really ride the ship of our lives on.
Sometimes our emotions serve us well: like a steady river they can carry us to where we want to go. Other times our desires seem to be in a dead calm and we can’t seem to go anywhere, don’t even feel like getting out of bed in the morning. Worse, we may feel a strong current of anxiety, anger, lust, or pride pulling us toward a destination that we know will end in misery. Most days, we feel like we’re in a chaotic storm of every emotion in the book pulling us in a dozen directions at once.
But because of Christ, it doesn’t have to be this way. Paul saw that we have both desires inspired by the Holy Spirit and desires inspired by our old nature, the flesh:
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatian 5:17)
But because of Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin & its desires (Romans 6). When we feel a tugging to leave the presence of God, whether through anger or anxiety or lust or pride, we can tell ourselves that we are children of God and servants of righteousness– we don’t have to follow that emotion, that desire, into sin. We are free to love & follow God. As Paul says in Galatians 5:25,
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
We are no longer a slave to the swirling seas of our old nature. We can stay in the steady, sure current of the Spirit as it carries us ever closer to Christ.
When Paul refers to a Christian as being a doulos (Greek) of Christ, which is usually translated as slave or bondservant, what image springs to mind?
For years I imagined someone passively, reluctantly, in chains. Not very inspiring, from any point of view. But often a doulos in Roman culture was far from that—he could be a man of leadership and responsibility under the authority and ownership of another greater than himself. Doesn’t that fit the relationship the rest of the Bible portrays as our service to God?
Thinking of this image of a doulos, two movie images immediately came to view:
Ben-Hur—seeing Charlton Heston as the rugged devoted slave of the Roman general Quintus Arrius, whose love for this slave leads him to adopt the him as his son. (as God adopts us out of His love)
The other more recent image is Russell Crowe in Gladiator—seeing Maximus as a man of honor, integrity, and power, willingly bowing his knee under the authority and allegiance of his emperor, willing to sacrifice his life for others.
These are images I can fix in my mind as I live as a doulos of my Lord.
No, it’s not the name of a new punk rock band, or even a report about some third world human rights violations, but what I thought while I was looking at Romans 6:16—
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?
It is sin’s very nature, its inevitable consequence, to produce enslavement. It’s not a matter that a sin might enslave me, it does enslave me by the very act when I present myself to do it. Paul reminds us in v.18 that we have been set free from sin through Christ, but it is equally clear in Hebrews 12:1 that sin still “easily ensnares us”.
The point is simply that the “little” occasional sins, gossip, greed, anger, overeating, that we tolerate as “oh well, I’m just human”, enslave us just as surely as a big monster sin like drug addiction or an adulterous affair. When we sin, whether we realize it or not, there is a shackle clamped to our wrist, weighing us down and keeping us away from Christ.
The question, then, is, to look at your wrists. What shackles do you have on today? An extra chocolate brownie? A friend you haven’t forgiven? A secret sin? A little envy? Every one is a brutal iron shackle around your wrist. Christ can unlock them if you but ask. Why not be free?