Lately I feel like I’ve been camping out in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’ve spent some time pondering the opening verse, and then my daily bible reading app gave me Romans 6 two days in a row last week.
The way Paul talks about his position in relation to God strikes me: a bond-servant, in some versions it is translated as slave.
A child or friend has much more freedom in how they act in relation to their parent/friend, but a bond-servant, a slave? They have no say, no rights. Their will is subservient to that of their master. A child or friend has a will of their own. They can freely disagree and then act in opposition. In fact, we often value our friend’s disagreements because they gift us with new perspectives. Even if a slave disagrees they must obey. They must put their own desires, beliefs, will aside and take their master’s on, trust in their master’s way and choices. And not every master stops and explains the why.
The Amplified version of Romans 6 puts it this way:
“yielding and being subject to” – verse 12
“offering and yielding your bodily members and faculties” – verse 13 and 19
“continually surrender yourselves to do His will” – verse 16
“obedient with all your heart” – verse 17
Or: “Being dead to other wills and desires, but alive to God.” (see Romans 6:11)
You are a slave to the one you continually obey (Romans 6:16). It is an on-going, continuous choice. Or is it?
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)
That sounds more like choosing once and then living by that choice.
I was recently summoned to jury service, and although I did not have to serve this time, I watched as twelve others swore an oath of service. It got me thinking.
About a month ago we had some testimonies in place of the usual sermon at church. One young man was wearing a t-shirt printed “Under oath”. It might be a band somewhere, I don’t know, but it got me thinking.
If you are under oath, some choices are already made for you. If you are under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the question of lying or telling partial truths is already at rest. If you swear to be an impartial juror, the choice of which side you should favour is moot, you have already sworn not to favour either. If you are a bond-servant you are bound to carry out your master’s wishes, the choice of whether or not to obey has already been made.
Then God pointed out Galatians 1:10 to me:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.“
Again, that bond-servant.
Paul isn’t talking about only being a bond-servant when it fits around other parts of life, like only doing the housework when you have time in your busy schedule, only making your kids’ school lunches if you had time around your own breakfast that morning, it is all and everything. It is putting your serving above your own needs and desires. It is being under oath all the time, not just in a court of law.
Being under oath requires us to act a certain way, to speak in a certain fashion (e.g. truthfully and completely in court), being a bond-servant requires much the same in our actions, we must act for the good of our master, in our master’s interests, not our own.
Being a Christian, it seems like the decision to obey God, to follow God’s ways, has already been decided. Being baptized, I have died with Christ and the bondage to sin has been broken, allowing me freedom to choose to obey God (see Romans 6:1-14, also Galatians 2:20). So why is there still a struggle?
Last year I read Come Be My Light, a collection and discussion of some of Mother Teresa’s letters.
As a nun she had made a vow, committing herself, life and works, to God. Later on she chose an additional vow for herself; so moved was she by God, so strongly did she trust, that she vowed to never deny Jesus anything. Anything Jesus asked of her she would do or give. Anything. Nothing held back, no exceptions. All was God’s if He asked.
This vow was tested a few times, but each time, because she had made that vow, the decision had already been made, and so she gave. And gave. All for Jesus, she held nothing back that was asked of her, even when she couldn’t yet understand.
I don’t think I’m sure enough of myself to commit like that. Or is it that I’m not sure enough of God?
Over the last few years God has been clouding things, making every step needing to be directed because I cannot see where to go. Lately this cloud has been getting thicker, so every direction is clouded over, now I can’t even see where possible steps lie. I know God is working on growing my trust, but some days I feel like it isn’t a choice anymore whether I trust God or not, the only option with things this cloudy is to trust, to wait in obedience and then obey, knowing that even if the step is not here, the cloud-which-is-God will catch me. (See my recent post for some thoughts on the cloud.)
I’ve been putting off writing this properly for weeks. It’s been an idea that every time I’ve come face to face with it, I shy away, not yet ready to admit that my trust is so small, even after what feels like huge growth over the last few years.
Over the last week, God has been reminding me that if I am faithful in my little, small obediences, God will bring forth the fruit. I don’t need to worry about that, it’s not my responsibility. The only things I can control are my acts of obedience, my keeping faithful to what God has asked me to do, my choice to obey.
Am I confident enough to swear an oath, to make a vow?
Not yet, not for life.
But for today I will bow my knee as a slave to my master and surrender my will. And I’m pretty sure I’ll do the same tomorrow. After all, He is my Beloved, and I am His. Into whose arms would I rather fall?