I’ve been going on a bit of a journey, discovering who I am, and especially who I am in Christ. I found a couple of websites that listed phrases from Scripture, so I’ve been working my way down those phrases, looking them up and digging a little deeper.
So this week the phrase was “Slave to Righteousness.”
Now I am aware this is not a phrase that rings popular, especially in today’s climate. But it’s there in the Bible. And I’ve never regretted digging into anything that’s in the Bible. So I dug.
I found that the phrase comes from Romans 6. It’s used a few times, but the most succinct usage is verses 17-19:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.” Rom 6:17-19 ESV
So first of all, the last sentence points out that this is a metaphor the apostle Paul is using to get his point across, not a solid point of doctrine. So the idea of slavery is not the point. And we have to be careful not to stretch that metaphor and build doctrine upon it. Because that was not Paul’s point.
He only said that we are slaves of righteousness as a comparison to being set free from being slaves of sin. Sin, which the writer of the book of Hebrews refers to as something that “so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1), can easily take someone captive.
But we have been freed from that by the power of Christ. We can be “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
So it’s not so much that I’m a slave. It’s that once I have accepted God’s forgiveness, I should consider myself free to be compelled by righteousness rather than sin.
So that’s a thought. Just as I can cave to sinful thoughts and actions, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I can’t help it, that’s one of my weaknesses,” can I not instead now “cave” to righteous thoughts and actions? Can I not instead say, “I want to live this way, because acting differently would be inconsistent with who I am in Christ?”
I mean, think about it. Brownies used to be my “one weakness” (said in my best Dorcas Lane voice). But then I found out I was gluten intolerant, so a plate of non-gluten-free brownies changed from a “can’t resist” to a “dang, I don’t want to go through abject pain in an hour or two.” It wasn’t hard to refuse a brownie because I had accepted the fact that I’m just not the kind of person who can eat wheat.
I think that was the point Paul was trying to make in Romans 6. Not that we are slaves to some kind of righteousness code and that dictates we are to have no fun and be perfect. Because that smacks of the worst kind of legalism that the Church serves up when it’s not being careful to stick to Scripture.
The point here is just that we have, so to speak, outgrown sin. We don’t HAVE to give in to it. It’s okay to NOT to just throw up my hands and say, “Oh, I’m weak.” I mean, sure, we’re human. We still sin. But the point here is that we don’t HAVE to. It’s okay to not accept sin and failure as a foregone conclusion.
It’s okay to instead be strong.
Because I’m a new creation. And I’m running the race that is set before me with endurance, setting my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. (Heb 12:1-2 NIV)
So just as I don’t HAVE to accept that luscious wheat-filled brownie I’m offered, I also don’t HAVE to fly off the handle when triggered, or be rude to that person who was rude to me, or harbor a grudge against someone who really, really deserves it. I’m free to let all that go. I’m free to choose Christ’s way, to be kind, to love, to set boundaries and show mercy.
Because, as Paul says, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” (Rom. 6:21 NIV)
It’s time to just let that stuff go. It’s time to be free. Because the truth about being a “slave” to righteousness is that righteousness leads to flourishing, (Ps. 92:12), deliverance (Ps. 11:21 and 34:17), answered prayer (1 Peter 3:12), blessing and protection (Ps. 5:12), and provision (Ps. 37:25).
So it’s not that righteousness makes me some kind of a slave. Just that it’s such a better way, who in their right mind would choose to enslave themselves to sin instead of accepting the righteousness Christ has imparted to us?
Sin lies. Sin promises and doesn’t deliver. Sin deceives and covers up and leaves us hungry and thirsty, with a bad taste in our mouth.
So it’s okay to recognize that, in Christ, we can shake that stuff off and be free to do the right thing. We can grow and become strong in good things. We are not doomed to always be weak in the areas in which we have been weak in the past.
We won’t do it perfectly. But isn’t it high time we started celebrating the good and right things we manage to do, sometimes in spite of ourselves, instead of throwing up our hands and claiming some kind of intrinsic weakness over which we have no control?
Because we are overcomers. We are more than conquerors.
And that’s a blog for another day.