…Teach older women to be holy in their behavior, not…enslaved to too much wine… (Titus 2:3, NCV)
The Christian life is filled with competing desires. We have 2 natures within us, fighting for control: the Spirit-filled nature and the sinful nature. The fight is evident in how we pursue pleasure and minimize pain.
When we find something that brings us pleasure or decreases our pain, we want more of it. What starts as an indulgence — something rare and special — can easily become an over-indulgence. We are hard-wired to create habits — and the habits we form often bring us pleasure or relieve pain. But how do we know when we have crossed the line from healthy to enslavement?
When we cannot be happy, satisfied, or functional without something or someone (besides God), we are wise to ask ourselves if we have become enslaved. Another warning sign is if our thinking changes from “I like this” or “I want this” to “I NEED this”. Christians are not exempt from enslavement, but far more life helps us recognize and overcome it.
We are tempted to think that faith in Christ is all we need to drive away sinful habits and compulsions. So when we struggle with or give in to sin, we may be tempted to think it is because we lack faith. And plenty of people with bad doctrine will confirm that false belief. So we do more of all the things we think will increase our faith: we go to church more; we study the Bible more, maybe even memorize parts of it; we pray more; we try harder to be good people. But working hard to grow your faith usually does not overcome an over-indulgence that has enslaved you. Why? Because lack of faith is not the problem. Even the Apostle Paul, a man of great faith, wrestled with this:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21, NIV)
It would be great if a switch was flipped when we accepted Christ. That switch would turn off the pleasure we receive from sin, impure thoughts, anger, anxiety, fear, and pain. It would turn on peace, patience, and a desire for only pure hobbies, entertainment, and fun. But that is not what God chose for us.
…It is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose. (Philippians 2:12, PHILLIPS)
Accepting Christ delivers us from the penalty of sin; we will never be punished for our wrongdoing (Romans 8:1). And it delivers us from the power of sin; we now have a clearer understanding of right and wrong and His Spirit living within us gives us power to choose what is right (2 Peter 1:3). But it also increases our awareness of sin; we realize things we thought were okay are actually displeasing to God, and some are actually enslaving us (John 9:39-41). We will spend the rest of our lives becoming aware of actions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we have embraced that are contrary to righteousness. There is no need to feel shameful about this; it is God’s plan for us. Far more life is being alert, honest, and humble about these areas.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin…having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)
We live as spiritual slaves, either to sin or righteousness. The Greek word translated slave, doúlos, means “someone who belongs to another”. So plugging that definition into the above verse reads, “…You who once belonged to sin…now belong to righteousness.” We want to be independent, self-determined, our own masters. But spiritually speaking that is simply not possible:
…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. (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)
God, our Creator, owns us. Although we originally rejected Him and chose sin, He paid a high price for a restored relationship with us: the blood of His Son. God is our rightful master. And once we become His through Christ, nothing can separate us from Him; we belong to Him for all eternity (Romans 8:38-39). We have security as a slave to the righteousness of our perfect, loving Heavenly Father. This is hard to grasp, but there are benefits of being a slave to righteousness:
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. (Romans 6:22, NIV)
As slaves of God, we become a new creation. Our new nature desires to please God. We want to do what He says is right, to be holy like He is holy. We want to live in awe and reverence to Him. As new Christians, we see some changes right away and eagerly pursue more! We experience unconditional love and want to share it with others. We find purpose and meaning that satisfies us. We gain true pain relief through embracing His truth. We get a taste of far more life!
Think about what brings you pleasure; are you walking in the Spirit-filled nature or the sinful nature when you pursue it?
What do you do to avoid (emotional) pain? Which nature does that reinforce?
What do you NEED to be happy, satisfied, or functional? Is this healthy or could it indicate enslavement?
How do you feel about being a slave to righteousness? Does that feel different from “belonging to” God? If so, why?
Thank God for the benefits of being a slave to righteousness. Far more life is one of them!
Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso