Last week I asked the women in our Bible class the biblical difference between a servant and a slave. Some thought it had to do with willingness, but that doesn’t fit all the passages about these ‘occupations.’ After some discussion, we settled on the definition that ‘servant’ is more about the relationship between the doer and the work, and ‘slave’ is more about the relationship between the doer and his or her master.
In other words, when the Bible talks about Christians as slaves or bond-slaves to Christ, it means we are utterly dedicated to doing His will. When it talks about us as His servants, it is referring to the work we do or actions we take to accomplish His will.
Even though I’m a ‘word’ person and a stickler for accurate definitions, I wondered for awhile if we were splitting hairs. What does this matter anyway?
This morning’s verse brings clarity. It is Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether to sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”
This offers a choice: People can present themselves to sin, which is ever present and always shouting orders, but this master will kill you, or to obedience to God, who whispers and is sometimes difficult to hear amid the shouting, but this Master promises eternal life.
Romans 6 is all about the reality of redemption and being set free from sin. It challenges readers to make a clear distinction about who is their master, and how they will live under that master. It says that Christians are no longer slaves to sin. We belong to Christ, and this is a legal and spiritual truth.
However, sometimes I serve sin. But Romans 6 and the New Testament make it clear that my relationship is with Jesus Christ, not sin, and that I am a bond slave of Jesus. I’m supposed to serve Him, so what’s with the sin stuff? Why am I doing things that make me look like I’ve changed allegiance and picked a new master?
It’s in that definition. My master is Christ; that cannot change, but sometimes my actions are about stuff that a sinner does. I’ve been set free from sin, but like Romans says, I’m doing the foolish thing of presenting myself to serve it, which makes no sense since I’m a slave to Christ.
Of course when I’m in the muddle of disobeying God and doing something that is sinful, none of this enters my head. My enemy (and also my flesh or old sinful nature) yell at me: You have been defeated! Sin rule you! You have lost your security with God, blah, blah blah!
But the Holy Spirit speaks too. Instead of pulling me away with temporary ‘I wants,’ He reminds me of eternal realities and that I am more than a conqueror through Christ. He points me to the fact that my sin was nailed to the cross and paid for at that horrible place, and that I belong to Jesus, both now and forever.
This distinction between ownership and how I behave is of huge importance. If I take my eyes off the reality of who I belong to and focus on some of the dumb things that I do, I forget that through Christ I have another option — because He is my actual Master, I can forget the nonsense of sin; I don’t have to serve anyone or anything else.