Everyone seeks freedom. Especially in the West, freedom is the highest virtue, and it is sought after by all who are, or consider themselves to be, oppressed. But freedom in Christ is not the same as political or economic freedom. In fact, some of the most harshly oppressed people in history have had complete freedom in Christ. The Bible tells us that, spiritually speaking, no one is free. In Romans 6, Paul explains that we are all slaves. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. Those who are slaves to sin cannot free themselves from it, but once we are freed from the penalty and power of sin through the cross, we become a different kind of slave, and in that slavery we find complete peace and true freedom.
Although it seems like a contradiction, the only true freedom in Christ comes to those who are His slaves. Slavery has come to mean degradation, hardship, and inequality. But the biblical paradigm is the true freedom of the slave of Christ who experiences joy and peace, the products of the only true freedom we will ever know in this life. There are 124 occurrences in the New Testament of the word doulos, which means “someone who belongs to another” or “bondslave with no ownership rights of his own.” Unfortunately, most modern Bible versions, as well as the King James Version, most often translate doulos as “servant” or “bond-servant.” But a servant is one who works for wages, and who, by virtue of his work, is owed something from his master. The Christian, on the other hand, has nothing to offer the Lord in payment for his forgiveness, and he is totally owned by the Master who bought him with His shed blood on the cross. Christians are purchased by that blood and are the possession of their Lord and Savior. We are not hired by Him; we belong to Him (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 7:4). So “slave” is really the only proper translation of the word doulos.
Far from being oppressed, the slave of Christ is truly free. We have been set free from sin by the Son of God who said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Now the Christian can truly say, along with Paul, “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). We now know the truth and that truth has set us free (John 8:32). Paradoxically, through our bondage to Christ, we have also become sons and heirs of the Most High God (Galatians 4:1–7). As heirs, we are partakers of that inheritance—eternal life—which God confers on all His children. This is a privilege beyond any earthly treasure we could ever inherit, while those in bondage to sin inherit only spiritual death and an eternity in hell.
Why, then, do so many Christians live as though they are still in bondage? For one thing, we often rebel against our Master, refusing to obey Him and clinging to our old lives. We hold on to the sins that once bound us to Satan as our master. Because our new nature still lives in the old fleshly nature, we are still drawn to sin. Paul tells the Ephesians to “put off” the old self with its deceit and corruption and “put on” the new self with its righteousness. Put off lying, and put on truthfulness. Put off stealing, and put on usefulness and work. Put off bitterness, rage, and anger, and put on kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:22–32). We have been set free from the bondage of sin, but we often put the chains back on because part of us loves the old life.
Furthermore, often we don’t realize that we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and that we have been reborn as completely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Christian life is one of death to self and rising to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4), and that new life is characterized by thoughts about Him who saved us, not thoughts about the dead flesh that has been crucified with Christ. When we are continually thinking about ourselves and indulging the flesh in sins we have been freed from, we are essentially carrying around a corpse, full of rottenness and death. The only way to bury it fully is by the power of the Spirit who is the only source of strength. We strengthen the new nature by continually feeding on the Word of God, and through prayer we obtain the power we need to escape the desire to return to the old life of sin. Then we will realize that our new status as slaves to Christ is the only true freedom, and we will call upon His power to “not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:12).