What does it mean to be a servant of God and a slave to righteousness? The idea sounds conflicting in nature to our understanding of freedom. Scripture tells us that we have been set free in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6). Yet Romans continues on in verse 18-22 to say that we are slaves to righteousness and willing slaves or servants to God.
So what does it mean? Have we been set free or are we servants?
Let’s look at Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – who took on the title of servant.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45
In Exodus 21, the ordinances for servants are laid out:
Now, these are the ordinances (laws) which you shall set before the Israelites: “If you purchase a Hebrew servant [because of his debt or poverty], he shall serve six years, and in the seventh [year] he shall leave as a free man, paying nothing. If he came [to you] alone, he shall leave alone; if he came married, then his wife shall leave with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she gives birth to sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall leave [your service] alone. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not leave as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God [that is, to the judges who act in God’s name], then he shall bring him to the door or doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him for life. – Exodus 21:2-6
After a servant had served six years, he was free to leave on the seventh (the number of completion). However, if the master had given him a wife, the servant could plainly say, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not leave as a free man.” If that happened, the servant was pierced on a doorpost and would serve his master forever.
Note that the master is listed first: “I love my master, my wife, and my children.” This might seem like an odd order—What slave would love his master more than his wife?—until we look at it as a picture of Jesus and the Father. When Jesus chose to say that He loved His Master (God) and the bride He had been given (the Church) more than his freedom, he was pierced on the doorpost (the cross) as a sign that he would serve His Master forever. Jesus relinquished his freedom. In order to redeem us, he descended in a human form and suffered a sinner’s death on the cross. He emptied Himself to serve the Father’s purpose.
Romans 6:16 says that we are the slaves of the one whom we obey. Paul is telling us that we all serve something, whether it’s sin or Savior. To serve sin is to be bound in death and condemnation. To serve God is to be bound in Christ so that we can bear fruit (Romans 7:4). Christ set us free from sin so that we could serve in love.
So, to be a slave to righteousness means to choose God’s purpose over your own. One thing I know to be true is that God’s plans for us are far greater than the world’s plans for us, and only one master has promised everlasting life.
For you were called to freedom; only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the sinful nature (worldliness, selfishness), but through love serve and seek the best for one another. – Galatians 5:13