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Romans 6:15-23



What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

(verse 15-18)

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When I think of slavery, I think of shackles and chains and enforced servitude and humiliation and inhumane treatment. This perception was vividly reinforced the other night as we watched a movie graphically portraying the horrors of slavery in the southern United States a century and a half ago. The life of a slave was horrific. Similar abuse was experienced by Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, and later by the whole nation of Israel itself, enduring bondage in Egypt.


But in ancient Israel there was also another side to slavery. Slaves, as part of a household, could be treated so well they might actually choose to remain in servitude even when given the opportunity to be set free. That opportunity came after six years of service. If treated well, and especially if they had acquired a wife, they might choose, out of love for their master, to remain in his service. In that case, the slave would go with his master to the judges who would pierce his earlobe with an awl at the doorpost, a mark indicating he belonged to his master in perpetuity. It was an act of voluntary devotion.


Slavery, in the ancient world, could be either bad or good, horrific or benevolent. The experience was completely dependent on the character of one’s master.

That’s what Paul says here. In line with Jesus’ own teaching (“everyone who sins is a slave to sin” John 8:34), Paul tells us: “you are slaves to the one whom you obey … whether to sin … or to obedience” (verse 16). We will indeed have a master, but who will it be? Bob Dylan chimed in with his own lyric, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody … it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”


The amazing thing for the follower of Jesus is that we have the new opportunity to actually be set free from the old bondage of sin. That slave master was unyielding. Bondage was continual, constricted, constraining. There was no hope of freedom. But, now all things are new. There is indeed freedom in Jesus. He tells us, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Yes, release from the bondage of sin! Freedom to engage with a new Master. Freedom, allowing us to become “slaves to righteousness” (verse 18), which is to say, we have freedom to embrace the Lord himself as Master. Yes, freedom indeed!


Frederick Buechner put it this way: “The old prayer speaks of God ‘in whose service is perfect freedom.’ The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love itself, which above all else wishes us well, leaves the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become.”


So, embrace the devotion of those Old Testament slaves who joyously had their ear pierced, signing on for a lifetime of service to the master they loved. Do likewise. Unshackled from sin’s bondage, embrace service to the Lord. Serve as his devoted slave.

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Lord Jesus, praise you for deliverance - you are the only one who was able. You have set me free. Sin is no longer my master. Strengthen me with power by your Spirit to live in this reality. I willingly submit to you again as my Master. Let me live for righteousness - your life itself living in me.

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Reflect:

Pause to focus your attention on the Lord, “in whose service is perfect freedom.” What will that look like today? Pause often to refocus on the Master.

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Photo by James on Unsplash


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