Friday, September 13, 2013

Between Slaveries

We are all slaves.  I'm not talking about physical slaves, though sometimes our hearts turn us into physical slaves, but we are slaves nonetheless.  According to Romans 6, we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.  This affects all of us.  Every single man woman and child.  No matter their condition.  We have trouble getting our minds around that fact.  Everyone is a sinner, even babies.  Here is a conversation from M*A*S*H that I find interesting and frustrating:

I know Hollywood has trouble writing priests, because overall they don't understand the gospel and how to defend it real life, much less on paper.  But here are the changes I would make to the above conversation.  Instead of "Sinners, I believe," I would have the priest say what every priest SHOULD say, "EVERYONE is going to Hell: women, children, old ladies, the handicapped, EVERYONE not saved by Jesus.  If "wise" Hawkeye continues, I would, after the last panel, have the priest say, "there are no innocent bystanders on Earth, either."  Everyone is a sinner.  Everyone deserves Hell unless Jesus saves him or her.

No one is untouched by this slavery.  We are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.  There is no middle ground.  Everyone is a slave to sin, unless Jesus saves him or her, and then that person is a slave to righteousness.  You can't go back and forth between the two.  You can't dabble in either or be neither.  You are a slave.  Listen to the whole passage from Romans 6:16-23:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 

18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 

19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 

21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 

22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Examples of these two slaveries abound in the Bible.  The Prodigal Son is a good example: he is a slave to every kind of sin, but then he comes to his senses and returns to his father, willing to become a hired hand.  The father accepts him, slays the fetted calf, has a party, but the Prodigal Son is not going to run off again.  He is going to serve the father for the rest of his life.

Saul of Tarsus was a slave to the worst kind of sin.  He was a scoffer, someone who not only sinned but encouraged others to sin.  He watched Stephen get stoned by others, and he encouraged them.  He is on his way to persecute some Christians in Damascus, when the Lord "knocks him off his horse."  From that point on he becomes a slave to righteousness.

What is the transition?  What is that place in-between the slaveries?  Obviously this is the place where Jesus meets us, but what is the instance?  What does it look like on the surface?  I think this verse in Romans 6 tells us:

17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 

There is a point where the gospel, as a form of teaching, hits you on an intellectual level, which informs your emotions, your heart and mind being affected, your soul being affected.  This moment of transition is the moment you hear the gospel and understand it.  The moment when you suddenly have ears to hear and eyes to see.  The Prodigal Son only "comes to his senses," but it is a parable.  Saul loses his sight, goes into Damascus, and prays.  After his sight returns, he meets with the disciples and then proclaims Jesus in the synagogues.  Immediately he is informed of the truth; he is entrusted with the right form of teaching, and can preach it immediately.

When Charles Simeon became a Christian, he did it alone, without another human being.  He read the scriptures and convinced himself of their truth. Obviously Christ opened his heart to the truth, but there was no other human being there to share his conversion with.  Indeed, the whole campus of King's College was filled with non-Christians, and he had no one to even share his excitement with.  It was over a year before he found others who had also been entrusted with the same form of teaching.  But the key is, he eventually found them.  What happens when we become Christians is that we seek out a community of like-minded believers.

This is the Church, and it is the body that has been entrusted with the teaching of Jesus.  We cannot be Christians in a vacuum.  There is always a community that we must seek.  The Prodigal Son returns to his father.  When Ananias lays hands on Saul, he calls him "brother" even though he knew Saul as a persecutor of Christians.  Saul then spent time with the disciples in Damascus, his new family.

Onesimus, an actual slave in the book of Philemon, runs away from his master, finds Paul, becomes a Christian, and the relationship with Paul is described as that of a father to a son.  Paul sends him back to Philemon, this time not as a slave but MORE than a slave, as a brother in Christ.  Because, you see, no matter what Onesimus does, he is still a slave, and so is Paul, and so is Philemon.  This time it is to righteousness.

With us today, as slaves, we are to be in community, because this church is the place where the true form of teaching is kept.  We have the gospel.  God doesn't just give it to individuals, he gives it to the body of believers, the church.  We need to be in community, to encourage each other, to learn from each other, and to be a family.

They will know we are Christians by our Love, the hymn says.  Only as a true family, a family entrusted with the gospel, a family of slaves, servants to each other and to righteousness, will we be able to show the love of Christ to the world.