From the beginning of creation, God has given humankind a choice between mutually exclusive styles of life. Paul reminds us of that choice in Romans 6.19-23.
Back in the 1990s, I read Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance. I wasn’t impressed then, and I sincerely doubt that I’ll be impressed with his newly released An Inconvenient Truth, that is, if I ever get around to reading it. In today’s National Review Online, Iain Murray offers 25 reasons for my skepticism.
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?
Bob Dylan was right. You gotta serve somebody. According to Rpomans 6.15-18, you’re either a slave of sin or righteousness. So, who are you serving today?
From Best of the Web Today comes this post, with which I agree:Â Â
Horrific news out of Iraq, where two U.S. soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, were either killed or captured and later killed in an enemy attack Friday. Their bodies were found Monday, CNN reports, “mutilated and booby-trapped”:
The bodies also had been desecrated and a visual identification was impossible–part of the reason DNA testing was being conducted to verify their identities, the sources said.Â .Â .Â .Â Not only were the bodies booby-trapped, but homemade bombs also lined the road leading to the victims, an apparent effort to complicate recovery efforts and target recovery teams, the sources said.
To most of us, this is a reminder of the depravity of our enemies. But blogress Jeralyn Merritt sees it as a reminder of America‘s sins:Â
Violence begets violence. Inhumanity and cruelty bring more of the same. The whole world is watching and we don’t have the right to claim the moral high ground so long as those responsible for the abuses at Guantanamo and detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan go unpunished, the policies stand uncorrected and the Pentagon continues to prevent the media from learning the facts first-hand.
The always excitable Andrew Sullivan similarly laments “the cycle of depravity and defeat.”Â This rhetoric about “cycles” appears to reflect a theory of moral equivalence, but in fact it is something else. After all, if the two sides were morally equivalent, one could apply this reasoning in reverse–excusing, for example, the alleged massacre at Haditha on the ground that it was “provoked” by a bombing that killed a U.S. serviceman–and hey, violence begets violence.Â Â
But America’s critics never make this argument, and its defenders seldom do. That is because it is understood that America knows better. If it is true that U.S. Marines murdered civilians in cold blood at Haditha, the other side’s brutality does not excuse it. Only the enemy’s evil acts are thought to be explained away by ours.Â Â Â Â
Implicit in the “cycle” theory, then, is the premise that the enemy is innocent–not in the sense of having done nothing wrong, but in the sense of not knowing any better. The enemy lacks the knowledge of good and evil–or, to put it in theological terms, he is free of original sin.Â Â
America ought to hold itself to a high moral standard, of course, but blaming the other side’s depraved acts on our own (real and imagined) moral imperfections is a dangerous form of vanity.
One of the most important imperatives in Christian ethics is this: Become who you are!
At first glance, this imperative might seem like a piece of goofy New Age blatherskite, but it isn’t. It is firmly rooted in the logic of the gospel. Consider, in this regard, what Paul writes in Romans 6.11-14:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
The words, “in the same way,” let us know that this paragraph is logically connected to the paragraphs that precede it. In those paragraphs, we read several statements about ourselves, all of them written in the indicative mood. For example:
- “We died to sin” (verse 2)
- “our old self was crucified with [Christ]” (verse 6)
- “we will also live with Christ” (verse 8)
A little grammar might be helpful at this point. In English, a verb can express an indicative or an imperative mood. (There’s also subjunctive and optative moods, but we don’t need to discuss them right now.) The indicative mood expresses facts about what was, what is, or what will be. The imperative mood, by contrast, expresses a command: Do this! Do that!
Now, as I mentioned, the verbs in verses 1-10 are written in the indicative mood. They tell us who we are in Christ. We are dead to sin but alive with Christ.
By contrast, the verbs in verses 11-14 are written in the imperative mood. They tell us what to do:
- “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”
- “do not let sin reign in your mortal body”
- “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin”
- “offer yourselves to God”
- “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness”
The indicatives of verses 1-10 logically precede the imperatives of verses 11-14. We died to sin; therefore, we should count ourselves dead to sin. Our old self was crucified with Christ; therefore, we should not let sin reign in us or offer parts of our bodies to sin. We live with Christ; therefore, we should offer ourselves to God and the parts of our bodies to him. In other words, because of what Christ did in you, do this in response! The indicative and the imperative express the logic of the gospel. First, God saves us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Then and only then do we begin to produce Christ-like good works.
Who are you? A man or woman in Christ. Now act like it! Become who you are!
One of the most important imperatives in Christian ethics is this: Become who you are! This imperative finds expression in Romans 6.11-14.