So That We Might Belong to Him
1 Corinthians 6:19-
We all value our freedoms and in the 21 st century we hear so much about our rights and our freedoms that we can easily overestimate their range and extent.
Freedom is a great theme and it has long moved inspired men and women. In 1963 Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech and in it he looked forward to a time in the future when social and political freedoms would be secured for all the inhabitants of the USA regardless of race. The language he used was full of biblical imagery and he ended his speech with the words of an old Negro spiritual:
Free at last,
Free at last
Great God A-
We are free at last
The day before he was assassinated he was still looking confidently for the establishment of this "promised land" even though he was well aware of the personal danger he was in due to various death threats that had been made against him.
Languishing in a tiny prison cell on Robben Island in South Africa a certain Nelson Mandela was inspired by the poem Invictus. The poem’s theme was of the freedom of an individual to determine his destiny and its words encouraged Mandela not to pity himself as a helpless victim of circumstance. The poem ends with these stirring words:
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
And then again at the last night of the Proms an enthusiastic crowd sings with gusto one of our own well-
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves
Britons never, never, never will be slaves.
How keen we are to be free! And how we like to imagine that we really are free!
But, according to Jesus, the reality is quite different.
In a Fallen World there is no such Independency
However much we might like to imagine we are totally free Jesus teaches otherwise.
Speaking to some of the folk who were apparently sympathetic towards him Jesus declared:
Now when they heard that they didn’t like it one little bit. They didn’t want to think of themselves as ever having been enslaved and so they found what he had to say about being set free offensive.
And little has changed – we still don’t like it and will try in one way or another to wriggle out of it. In one of his songs Bob Dylan showed that he had at least for a time understood this. In a long song, he wrote that it simply didn’t matter who you were:
You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
In this Dylan was simply following the fundamental teaching that Jesus outlined to his increasingly hostile hearers. He had told them then (and us today) that we can either come to know God as our Father or we can simply go on living with our father being the devil because of our sin.
Elsewhere Jesus confirmed this solemn teaching. Having already referred to the devil as the father of lies, Jesus went on to refer to him as "the ruler of this world":
Jn.12:31 "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out."
Jn.14:30 "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,"
Jn.16:11 "concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."
In other places the inspired writers of the NT, following Jesus’ lead, spoke of mankind being held in the grip of Satan who was the evil one or the deceiver, the prince of the power of the air, the god of this world.
The genuine disciple of Jesus might have to live in the world but he no longer belongs to the world, its values are no longer his and he is no longer at home here. On the other hand the person who still loves the world – this god-
Jam.4:4 "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
The problem for us is that in this world the person or the thing that we serve becomes our master and we are no longer free but rather slaves. And we enter this fallen world not with some kind of blank slate meaning that we live in a state of neutrality but we are born directly into the enemy camp. Every sin, be that sin big or small, simply adds another link to the chain that binds us to our old master.
The Freedoms we do enjoy and the Freedom we don’t
Much of the time men and women are so happy and content with the life they are leading that they don’t even realise what their true condition really is. After all most of the time they feel free to do just what they want to do. The downside is that while we might be free to do what we want we are not free to want what we should!
For there to be any substantial change in a person’s life and orientation something considerably more important is needed than a fresh set of New Year’s Resolutions. All our attempts at "turning over a new leaf" are quite simply inadequate to bring about the complete overhaul of which we stand in need.
We are held in bondage by our sin and our master is not ready to relinquish his control of us. Being thus held captive we belong to our old master whether we like it or not.
If our situation is to be transformed then we stand in need of new power, of divine power breaking in to our lives from the outside. And the gospel tells us that just this very thing is possible:
Do you see? Paul here is using very human language to teach spiritual realities. The radical change that has been brought about in a believer’s life – from being "a slave of sin" to being a "slave to righteousness" is a reason for giving thanks to God. Now you don’t normally thank someone for something they haven’t done. What Paul is saying is that this transformation is entirely due to God’s gracious intervention.
The apostle taught the same truth in his first letter to his young friend Timothy explaining how Timothy was to deal with those who opposed him. He was not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, he was to teach patiently and gently. At the same time he was to look to God to act.
The power then is God’s but it comes only at great cost. The price that has been paid to release this power into our lives is the death of the Lord Jesus Christ:
The price Jesus paid so that we might belong to a new master was his own blood: he died so that we might belong to another. When giving a final set of instructions to the elders of the church of Ephesus Paul explained why they had to take good care of the church, it was precious to God because of how it had been acquired:
Acts 20:28 "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."
A New Belonging with New Freedoms
Having been set freed from the old master and the old bondage to sin and Satan the believer is not suddenly turned into an autonomous individual he has simply exchanged masters. Whereas in the past he served the worst of masters whose wages were eternal death and separation from the One True Living God now the believer belongs to that One True Living God – the best of Masters!!
He is now free, not to act independently and selfishly in the pursuit of whatever ends he might set himself (that would be licence and not liberty) but he is now free to choose what is right and good; he is free to bear fruit. The ransom price has been paid that not only delivers the believer from the futile ways he had inherited but it means that he is now about to lead a fruitful life in by virtue of his union with Christ.
We have a fulfilment of a familiar Bible promise:
"I will be their God"
Jesus’ death has delivered us from Satan’s usurped ownership and God can now fulfil this lovely promise which was often conjoined with the corresponding truth "they shall be my people".
See for example:
Jer.24:7 "I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart."
Jer.31:33 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Jer.32:38 "And they shall be my people, and I will be their God."
Eze.11:20 "that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Eze37:23 "They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God."
Eze.37:27 "My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Zec.8:8 "And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness."
The OT contained the oft repeated promise without going into detail as to just how it would be brought about. It is the NT that explains to us that it is brought about as Jesus binds the strong man, plunders his house by meeting all the cost that was involved through his sacrificial death on our behalf.
If then you are a believer remember that you are not your own, you have been bought with a price, you now belong to God!
If men and women in war-
May the Spirit of God fill us daily so that we may do so as we abide in Christ and in his teachings.