The Right Kind of Slavery

A couple weeks ago I posted my thoughts about the question of whether or not living a life of holiness was necessarily opposed to living a life of pleasure.  I argued that contrary to common thought, the life of holiness will yield the life of greatest pleasure.  A closely related issue is the question of freedom.  What does it mean to be free?  Does living for God mean giving up your freedom?  These are important questions and I’d like to share what I’ve been mulling over lately.

First, we must examine what we think freedom is.  Then, we must determine if our view of freedom coheres with the reality of human nature and also whether, such freedom is possible or even desirable.

Freedom According to the World

America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  We prize autonomy above all else.  The human right to liberty is the primary ideal on which the country was founded.  The founding fathers believed that humans had an inherent dignity which gave them certain rights and freedom which should never be violated.

However, I would say that freedom has come to mean something more today than it did then.  Personal liberty was never meant to be absolute.  The right notion of human dignity and liberty has been twisted into something it did not used to be, a bloated and irrational conception of freedom.

Today, our understanding of freedom has become the idea that we, as self-governing, rational individuals should have the right to do whatever we please, with whomever we please without any regard for consequences or accountability to an authority imposed on us against our will.  This kind of thinking has infiltrated our music, our media, basically ever aspect of our society.  The individual has been exalted to god-like status.   This is nothing new.  It is merely selfish arrogance masked as something noble, the age-old rebellion of man against God masquerading as “enlightenment” and “progress.”

Besides the fact that it is very hard to see how a society who has discarded the Creator who endowed them with such inalienable rights, can still maintain that they have such rights, there are other problems with this view.  It is not really possible nor, if we think about it for any length, is it really even desirable.

It would be very hard to maintain a society where people were actually free to do whatever they wanted.  There could be no laws.  There could be no protests against the behavior of others.  Chaos would reign.

Even if it was possible, would such a world even be one we would want to live in?  Of course not.  Our beliefs are inconsistent.  None of us really want a world of complete freedom.  We want the bad guys in prison.  We want those who have wronged us punished.  Our tolerance and subjectivity shatter in the face of evil.  Deep down, we do not want a world where there is absolute freedom and no final justice because we know that such a world would render our lives meaningless and neutralize our sufferings.  The real and ugly truth is that we do not want everyone to escape the consequences of their actions.  Just ourselves.

Moreover, I would argue doing as we please does not really bring freedom at all.  Those who seem the least concerned with following God’s law or any sense of moral obligation other than their own desires and whims usually end up in the greatest bondage to addictions and destructive lifestyles.

Freedom According to the Bible

So if doing as we please without regard for consequences is not true freedom, then what is?  The Bible takes a very different stance.  Its notion of human freedom is both less and more than ours for it exalts God rather than man. Man is not his own absolute authority.  His actions do have consequences and he will be held accountable, not to the moral code he creates for himself, but to the laws of an eternal, holy, just God.  None of us are free from God, but if we submit ourselves to God, we can be free from the destruction of own foolish ways.

Yes, we all have free will in the sense that we make our own choices and these choices come from our own hearts. Each human life is sacred and therefore should always be treated as an end and never merely as a means. However, our human dignity does not mean we are our own masters, exempt from God’s law and immune to His judgments.  We were simply not designed to be our own master and therefore any attempt to be will end in disaster and frustration. It goes against our nature.  The truth is that we are all slaves to something.  We were created to worship and whatever we worship, we serve. Whatever bewitches our hearts will own our souls.  We are in bondage to whatever we love most.

This is startling and offensive to our American sensibilities, but if we survey even a little of human history or look into our own hearts, we cannot deny it.  Yes, we are free to make our own choices in this life, but the sum of our choices is merely the choice of what we will be slaves to, what master we will serve.  In fact, the Bible only gives us two options.  We can either be slaves to sin or we can be slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18-23).

To be a slave to sin is to live without reference to God.  It is to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things, rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).  The problem with this kind of slavery is that it is in direct opposition with reality and in total opposition to our built-in purpose to be God-worshipers and God-reflectors.  In essence, to reject God’s law in order to live a life of licentious freedom is to live a lie. Absolute freedom without the guide of absolute truth is a dangerous thing.  To freely follow our own passions and desires is not freedom from God but voluntary bondage to the objects of our own misplaced love and worship.  Many who live for such “freedom” ultimately find it to be a cruel master.

If being a slave to sin is to live a lie, then being a slave to righteousness is to live in the light of the truth of God. It is to make our choices in accordance with the reality of God’s existence, the truth about who He is as the Creator, and the subsequent truth about who we are as the created.  As Tim Keller put it, freedom “is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” -Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Freedom then, on the Biblical account, is nothing more than choosing the right kind of slavery.  Now to us, slavery has major negative connotations which we need to check at the door.  Choosing the right kind of slavery merely means to serve the God we were made to serve and worship the God we were created to worship.  It means exalting God rather than ourselves.  In so doing, we find that, paradoxically, such slavery leads to freedom because it releases us to fulfill the purpose for which we were designed and thus, to attain the abundant life which God always intended for us.

No, we are not “free” to do whatever we like.  We are still bound to the authority of God, but we are no longer bound to sin and therefore, death (Romans 6:21).  We are now bound to Christ and therefore, life (Romans 6:22). We are bound to a God of infinite love and wisdom “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31) and “who works all things for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  What better Master to serve?  Who could be more worthy of our utmost love and devotion?

Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  The precondition for freedom is truth and the precondition for truth is holding to His teaching and thus, being His disciples.  The life of true freedom then is not the life of freedom from the authority of God, but the life submitted to the authority of God.  Christ is the only One we were meant to worship and the only Master who will free us from death unto life eternal.

Praise for the God of Isaiah 40

This morning in my devotions I read Isaiah 40.  Isaiah has always been one of my favorite books and I think Isaiah 40 has to be one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  It is a wonderful and striking picture of a God who is both mighty and gentle. That is why I love this chapter. It illustrates both the transcendence and immanence of our God.  Both of these attributes are worthy of praise, but it is the combination of the two that is really amazing.

Isaiah 40 tells us of the might and power of a God who is sovereign over His creation.  “See the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him” (Isaiah 40:10).  We are given pictures of Him measuring the waters in His hand and weighing the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12).  We are told that “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isaiah 40:22)

These pictures of God certainly put me in awe of Him.  I stand amazed at a God who is so beyond me.  However, I think if all we knew of God was the He was mighty, sovereign, and transcendent, we would no doubt fear Him and honor Him, but I am not sure we would love Him or trust Him.  A God who is merely transcendent is great, but He is not personal.  He may have no reason to care for the worries and woes of the weak and finite creatures of the earth.

Yet Isaiah 40 tells us that our God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both far beyond us and yet ever near us.  With the same arm that rules with power, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).  The God who sits enthroned over all the earth, who does not grow tired or weary, comes near to us in our weakness so that He may “give strength to the weary and increase the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).  Just as He calls out the starry host by name (Isaiah 40:26) , so He also calls out His children by name and reminds them that He will be with them and protect them through every trial and struggle (Isaiah 43:1).

I treasure the truth of my God’s transcendence and His immanence.  If He were only transcendent, I would fear Him, but not know Him.  If he were only immanent and not transcendent, He would care for me, but not be able to work good for me through His sovereign power.  Yet He is both, both sovereign over all and yet a very present help in times of trouble.  He is both full of might and power and also full of love and gentleness toward the sheep of His pasture.  What a glorious God we serve, who is both able and willing to meet us and provide for us in our weakness and need.

In Christ, we see find the greatest portrayal of this wondrous truth.  It is simply astounding that the transcendent God who knows nothing of weakness or need should condescend so far as to come down to be Immanuel, God With Us, with us in our frailty, our weakness, and our desperate need for salvation.  Could we ask for a greater Shepherd than the One who, in love, came to dwell among us and lay down His life for us and who, in sovereignty and power, rose to life in defeat over death and sin?  Surely this God who is beyond us in wisdom and strength is to be ever praised and surely this God who is for us and near us with love and grace is to be ever trusted.

Reasonable Faith

     To say that we have a reasonable faith might seem strange.  I think when we hear the word “faith,” we think of blind belief, high hopes without much grounding. Whatever faith is, it is certainly not based on reason.  This is true to an extent.  We are saved through faith and this faith is based on the revelation of God.  None of us could arrive at belief in God through reason because apart from God’s work and revelation of truth, our thinking is futile and our hearts are darkened.  However, I would argue that once God has revealed Himself to us, the playing out of our faith, that is faith for every day life, is really very reasonable.

     What I have come to love and appreciate about Scripture is that it is full of valid and sound deductive arguments.  The writers of Scripture reasoned out their faith.  

“The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1.

      King David knew that if God was His stronghold, he had nothing to fear.  Man could certainly do nothing to him.  

“And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”  Matthew 6:28-30

     Matthew posed this deductive argument that if we believe that God provides for insignificant things such as flowers, we must also surely believe He will provide for us, His children.  If God knows our needs and is able and faithful to provide, then worry is nonsensical.  To use terms of logic, worry “does not follow” from what we know to be true about God.  Faith in God is actually the logical choice.  

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:31-32  

     Paul eloquently and persuasively reasoned that if God is with us, no one could possibly stand against us.  If God loved us enough to die for us, then there is nothing good which He would withhold from us.  If the magnitude of our sin could not separate us from His love, then nothing else possibly could.  It is simple logic.  

    These are just a few examples of this kind of deductive reasoning in Scripture. They all have something in common.  In logic, it’s called a conditional statement.  It’s quite simple.  If A, then B.  If A obtains, then it follows that B will necessarily obtain.  I would suggest that Scripture is in a way, one big conditional statement beginning with the clause “If God, then…” with all manner of things logically following from that.  

     I have found that when I lack faith in God, I am actually being incredibly unreasonable.  I am not believing God is who He says He is despite manifold evidence to the contrary. God has revealed Himself to me.  He has shown me that He is sovereign and omnipotent, that He is good and faithful.  On the cross, He demonstrated the depth of His love for me, His unshakeable commitment to always do me good.  In His Word, He promises to provide for me, sustain me, protect me, refine me, empower me and so much more.  And because I am in Christ, all these promises to me are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen.’ (2 Corinthians 1:20).  

     So if I worry, if I doubt God, it is not so much that I lack faith, but that I have foolishly put my faith in the wrong things.  It is a question of what I really believe to be true about God.  Do I believe more in the power of my circumstances than in the power of my God?  Do I have more faith in my paycheck than the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hillsides?  Do I put greater stock in the lies of the world and the deceitful whispers of the enemy than the words and promises of the God who laid down His very life for me?  

     If God….If GOD, in all His sovereignty, wisdom, power, love and grace, if He is real then how can I worry?  How can I doubt?  How can I not believe that He can do amazing, miraculous things?  If I don’t, I have not followed my faith in God to its logical conclusions.  For we who walk by faith are not those who defy reason.  We embrace it to its fullest, putting all of our hope, all of our trust into this one rock-solid, infinitely powerful belief, “If God, then….”  We know by faith that God exists, that He is all good and He is all powerful.  From this we must now deduce all the wonderful things that follow.  If we need, He will provide.  If He has said it, He will do it.  If God is all that He has shown Himself to be, then there is nothing good which shall be withheld from us, nothing which we shall fear, and nothing which shall be impossible.  This is our faith and it is reasonable.