Undoubtedly, modern Christians do not understand the true meaning of Christian freedom or, ‘freedom in Christ’. In some countries, freedom is the highest virtue, and it is sought after by all who are, or consider themselves to be, oppressed. But freedom in Christ is not the same as political or economic freedom. In fact, some of the most harshly oppressed people in history have had complete freedom in Christ, just think of the last two weeks of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s life in Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Bible tells us that, spiritually speaking, no one is free. In Romans 6, Paul explains that we are all slaves. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. Those who are slaves to sin cannot free themselves from it, but once we are freed from the penalty and power of sin through the cross, we become a different kind of slave, and in that slavery we find complete peace and true freedom. (Cf. Rom 6:16-18)
As shocking as it is profound, God’s Word teaches that true freedom can only be found through slavery to Christ. Slavery has come to mean degradation, hardship and inequality. But the biblical paradigm is the true freedom of the slave of Christ who experiences joy and peace, the products of the only true freedom we will ever know in this life.
There are 124 occurrences of the word doulos in the New Testament. Doulos means someone who belongs to another or a bond slave with no ownership rights of his own. Unfortunately, most modern Bible versions often translate doulos as “servant” or “bond-servant.” But a servant is one who works for wages and who, by virtue of his work, is owed something from his master. The Christian, on the other hand, has nothing to offer the Lord in payment of his sin, and he is totally owned by the Master who bought him with His blood. Christians are purchased by that blood and are the possession of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are not hired by Him; we belong to Him (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 7:4). So “slave” is really the only proper translation of the word doulos. That is why the Apostle Paul calls himself “a slave of Christ Jesus” in Romans 1:1.
Far from being an oppressive slavery, the slave of Christ is truly free. We have been set free from sin by the Son of God who said: “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Now the Christian can truly say, along with Paul, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set [us] free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). We now know the truth and that truth has set us free (Romans 8:32). Paradoxically, through our bondage to Christ, we have also become sons and heirs of the Most High God (Galatians 4:1-7). As heirs, we are partakers of that inheritance—eternal life—which God confers on all His children. This is a privilege beyond any earthly treasure we could ever inherit, while those in bondage to sin inherit only spiritual death and an eternity in hell.
Why, then, do so many Christians live as though they are still in bondage? For one thing, we often rebel against our Master, refusing to obey Him and clinging to our old lives. We hold on to the sins that once bound us to Satan as our master. Because our new nature still lives in the old fleshly nature, we are still drawn to sin. Paul tells the Ephesians to “put off” the old self with its deceit and corruption and “put on” the new self with its righteousness. Put off lying and put on truthfulness. Put off stealing and put on usefulness and work. Put off bitterness, rage and anger and put on kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Cf. Ephesians 4:22-32). We have been set free from the bondage of sin, but we often put the chains back on because part of us loves the old life.
Sometimes it is so difficult to put away our old self. So following the paths of the Galatians, we are quick at deserting the one who called us to live in the grace of Christ and turn to a different gospel (Cf. Gal 1:6). However, St. Paul warns the Galatians to be true to the Gospel of Christ and not to change it to suit themselves: “As I have said and now say again: if anyone preaches the Gospel in a way other than you received it, may he be cursed! For are we to please humans or obey God? Do you think that I try to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:9-10) “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) This is true only if we allow the Word of God to speak to our hearts and transform us, and not let others throw us into confusion by distorting the Gospel of Christ (Cf. Gal 1:7).
Furthermore, we often don’t realize that we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and that we have been reborn as completely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Christian life is one of death to self and rising to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4), and that new life is characterized by thoughts about Him who saved us, not thoughts about the dead flesh that has been crucified with Christ. When we are continually thinking about ourselves and indulging our flesh in sins we have been freed from, we are essentially carrying around corpses, full of rottenness and death. The only way to bury the corpses fully is by the power of the Holy Spirit within us who is our only source of strength. We strengthen the new nature by continually feeding on the Word of God, and through prayer we obtain the power we need to escape the desire to return to the old life of sin. Then we will realize that our new status as slaves to Christ is the only true freedom and we will call upon His power to “not let sin reign in [our] mortal body so that [we] obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:12).
Let the hymn “Servant Song” by Donna Marie McGargill, OSM remind us how to be true servants of the Lord.