Friday

20 April 2018

Romans 6:15-23 (Slavery or freedom?)

“The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23)

Psalm: Psalm 43


Background

Freedom is surely all about having choices. Slavery means that many choices are not available. Few people would give up the opportunity to make their own choices in life, or voluntarily hand over to someone else the right to make choices on their behalf. It would be very unusual for someone of sound mind and body to enter willingly into a state of slavery.

Yet there are stories in the media, surprisingly often, that reveal slavery exists in the 21st century. It is often linked to human trafficking, to prostitution and to drug rings, or even in relationships of unequal power, people are groomed or tricked into a life of dependency and exploitation. Given a different set of life circumstances, would such people have willingly surrendered their freedom to be totally under the control of someone else? Religious fanaticism of all persuasions can also lead to cults, often resulting in the subtle crossover from willing obedience to being totally dominated by cult leaders.

The Christian faith is all about freedom; the freedom to choose life in all its fullness (John 10:10). Acknowledging the ‘fallenness’ of the world, Christians have the freedom to choose a way of life that involves compassion, mercy, love, grace. However, when Paul in today’s passage writes about “slaves of righteousness”, it might seem as though his readers have no choice and that this conflicts with any ideas about freedom. It can sound contradictory, but in the context of a theological letter to Christians in Rome, using the example of slavery that would have been familiar to 1st-century Romans. Paul is actually writing about a voluntary surrender ( “… if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves …” (v. 16)).

In the words of Frances Ridley Havergal’s hymn, we sing voluntarily: “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee … Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee” (Singing the Faith 566).

This week’s passages have centred around God’s extraordinary free grace. Why would anyone not want to surrender voluntarily to such divine love, knowing that everything God has already done and will do with us, is simply for our own good, in this world and the next? “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). Paradoxically, in making the choice to surrender all to God, life becomes totally freed up.


To Ponder

  • Do you know of people who feel ‘enslaved’ in relationships or lifestyle or work situations? How might you be able to help?
  • Read the whole of Take my life. You might say it as a prayer. Reflect on the words and it may perhaps prompt you, freely and graciously, to be alongside someone today who you struggle to love.

Bible notes author

Michael King

Michael King is a Methodist local preacher. From 2000-2011, he was leader of the Methodist Church's World Church Relationships team, and was the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference in 2012/2013.