Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed…” John 8:34-36
Last Sunday, Trinity had the opportunity to host Pastor Jerry Collell, whose call is to the Free Indeed Congregation of the Anamosa State Penitentiary. If you didn’t get to hear from him, I recommend checking out his sermon here.
As I introduced Pastor Jerry to our adult Sunday School class, I said, “He serves at Free Indeed in the State Penitentiary.” Pastor Jerry laughed and said, “At the prison, ‘serving’ means something a little different.” He went on to relate the story of Free Indeed’s name: that although the men serving time at Anamosa are in prison, their participation in faith-filled worship sets them free as God’s children, if only for a few hours a week. This name comes from the words of Jesus: “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin…If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
I was reminded of how strange it seems to our ears to hear that every sinner is a slave to sin. We don’t usually think of ourselves as slaves to anything, but to the people listening to Jesus, it would have made complete sense. In the time of Jesus and the Roman Empire, every relationship was firmly based in a shared social hierarchy. Slaves answered to their masters, occupied Israel answered to the Roman governor, and Roman citizens answered to the Emperor. Everyone was under someone else’s authority. Even free people were firmly under the authority of systems based on family, government, and social status. The only one who answered to no one was the Emperor himself.
Paul understood this system when he wrote to the Roman Christians, “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? But thanks be to God that you, … having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18) We, then, like the first Christians, are slaves of righteousness.
Now, this was a risky and radical statement! No one can serve two rulers. After all, if we serve God in righteousness, it means that we are not primarily servants of family, government, or social systems. Of course, being a slave to righteousness means that we do have obligations to family and country, for instance, but they don’t rule over us. Only God rules over us.
So, then, since we are slaves of righteousness, should we act like slaves to sin? No! We should follow the laws of God that call us to love one another, love ourselves, and love God. We should serve, not out of obligation or guilt, but out of love and righteousness.
Being a slave to God’s righteousness is, after all, a life sentence. It is a sentence from God that gives us life. It is a sentence that makes us serve… Serve God and our neighbors, that is. It is a sentence that insists that we belong to God.
Dear God, I thank you for setting me free from sin and making me a slave of your righteousness. Teach me to serve you and your people in everything I do. Amen.