In 1979, Bob Dylan released his Slow Training Coming album, which included the song, â..Gotta Serve Somebody.â. Do you remember the lyrics?
Hereâ..s the first verse and chorus:
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Slow Train Coming was the product of Bob Dylanâ..s conversion to Christianity. And like most Dylan songs, â..Gotta Serve Somebodyâ. was both simple and insightful. The simplicity of the song is self-evident. It is highly repetitive. But its insight is thoroughly biblical. Whether itâ..s the devil or the Lord, we all have to serve somebody.
Paul makes this point in Romans 6.15-18:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obeyâ..whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Notice the language of slavery that pervades this passage. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ebed denoted both a voluntary servant and an involuntary slave. When the Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek, they used the word pais for a voluntary servant and doulos for an involuntary slave. Paul, who was steeped in the language of the Greek Old Testament, used the word doulos throughout this passage. Whether itâ..s to sin or to righteousness, we are slaves nonetheless.
There are two major differences between slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness. The first is the ultimate outcome. Slavery to sin â..leads to death.â. Slavery to â..obedience,â. on the other hand, â..leads to righteousness.â. Death and righteousness are two ways of describing ultimate outcomes: condemnation or acquittal on the Day of Judgmentâ..hell or heaven.
The other major difference centers on how we act here and now. Sin is disobedience of Godâ..s commandment. Righteousness, on the other hand, is wholehearted obedience of â..the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.â. That obedience begins with faith in the saving power of Christâ..s gracious death and resurrection for you. And it always results in a life of good works.
Thatâ..s why the answer to the question, â..Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?â. is always, â..By no means!â. Grace does not liberate us from doing Godâ..s will. It liberates us from sin precisely so that we can do Godâ..s will. Paradoxically, however, such freedom is possessed only by the slaves of God.
Dylan was right. You gotta serve somebody. Who are you serving today?