The Joy of Slavery


Saint Peter has some startling counsel for the Christian faithful, he tells them, “Live as God’s slaves”[1].

No doubt this was a radical and shocking idea at the time, a time when slavery was a reality of social and economic life. How much more for us as 21st century Western individualists, who rarely think in other terms than of self-interest.

But St Peter’s teaching is only stating in a somewhat striking way, the underlying reality of existence.

Freedom does not exist.

We are created by God, brought into being by His creative word, held in existence by His sustaining word. Every breath, every heartbeat, comes to us from God’s hand. We have nothing we did not receive from God. We are nothing other than God’s property.

Therefore the only genuine choice open to human beings is to choose between two different kinds of slavery; or rather between rebellion against our Master, or obedience to Him. For slavery to sin is really only rebellion against God.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6:16-18 NIVUK)

Spiritual maturity is the process of comprehending this reality and responding to it.

Spiritual maturity means realising that it matters whose slave you are.

For one kind of slavery leads to spiritual death and destruction, the other kind to spiritual life and flourishing.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” ( 1 Peter 2:11-17 NIVUK)

St Peter notes here that slavery to sin causes us to war, to act violently, against our own souls – you can actually use the analogy of cancer, a malignant growth that ultimately kills its host and itself.

In contrast, slavery to righteousness, to God, brings into our lives holiness and this leads us to eternal life.

 “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23 NIVUK)

The results of these two forms of slavery are different because the masters they serve are very different. When we serve Sin or Satan, we are serving that which only desires our spiritual destruction. When we serve God we are serving someone who loves us and only wants the best for us.

Bob Dylan nicely summed this up when he sang, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”.

Of course all this is turned on its head when we understand that slavery to God is, in fact, not slavery at all but rather true freedom. It is not slavery to serve the One who is worthy of our service and in Whose service we fuflfill our greatest potential.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIVUK)

It is not slavery to be freed from that which will ultimately destroy you.

It is not slavery to be joined to Him in a relationship that brings you life in all its fullness.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NIVUK)

Interestingly from a contemporary perspective with the furore surrounding the Church’s response to the cultural re-evaluation of human sexuality, gay marriage etc., is that it is in the arena of our bodies that this choice of slavery has its most powerful expression.

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NIVUK)

[1] 1 Peter 2 :16