I still remember vividly and fondly the sermon preached at my Ordination Service in 1999. We sat in Green Lake, WI and listened as Rev. Willie Jemison, one of the first black pastors in the Covenant, told us what it was like to be a slave. Having someone who felt that experience as part of their heritage rather than just a historical fact made it more poignant for our class. And his point was this: slaves have no rights, no choice, and no options. They obey their master, whomever that master may be. And every time I read the word “slave” in scripture, I think of this moment.
Today, Paul calls us “slaves to sin”. We have no rights to tell sin we won’t obey. As slaves to sin, we do what our master – sin- tells us to do. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” Paul says in description of a life lived as a slave to sin. And if ever there were a description of the culture around us, this is it. We are a culture of slaves to sin. We cannot avoid sin even if we want to – this is called addiction. And it’s gotten so bad, we do not even want to avoid most sins anymore. We lie, we gossip, we exclude, we live for our own pleasure and comfort and safety, and we seldom stop to realize that our very lifestyle is proof that we are slaves to sin.
But God bought us back from our slave lord Sin. God bought us with the blood of His son Jesus Christ. That payment, the life of His son paid on a cross, was enough to buy us back. But not to buy us into another level of sin, and not enough to buy us our freedom. Instead, He bought us as His slaves, and so we have a new master, Jesus Christ. And once again Willie’s message comes home – as slaves to Christ, we have no rights to say no when He requires things of us. We have no choice but to obey His command. This is the Christian life. This is true life, and abundant life (Jn. 10:10)