In our last study, we saw the necessity of acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as the only begotten Son of God. We saw how we receive freedom from sin because Christ, the Son of God, has set us free. This month we consider how we can enjoy that freedom that the Son of God has granted us because He is also our Lord.
There are some Christian churches that do not want to stress the Lordship role of Jesus Christ. They focus on Jesus as Savior and how you must have Jesus as your Savior. That certainly is true. I certainly do not want to diminish that in any way. But did you ever notice that in those churches you can do pretty much anything you want to do on the Lord’s Day; their schools have dances where the music is sexually charged; and their focus is more on sports than Scripture.
A reformed worldview must not only stress Jesus as Savior but also acknowledges Christ as Lord. Ultimately, it is the Father who, as our Creator, is our Owner and our Lord. He is the Sovereign Ruler over all things. We, however, in our sin rebelled against Him. One might well say that we ran away from our Lord and subjected ourselves to another lord. We became slaves to sin - slaves to whatever addiction controls us; slaves to whatever besetting sin we find ourself yielding to again and again. In our imperfect state we cannot come before the Most Holy God. We will forever be slaves, imprisoned by our own evil desires and held captive by Satan.
Delivered From Satan
Christ, the Son of God, liberated us from our slavery in order to give us back into the hands of the Father. Because Christ has done so, the Father entrusted Him with sovereign control over all things, including us.
Although the devil is a defeated enemy, he still has great power to tempt us and seduce us. He constantly approaches us with ways for us to betray God and to return to the devil as our master. He uses every possible means he can think of to make us unfaithful to the God whom us confess to serve. He wants us to serve him, not God, and he will work to sway us away from God. And we would fall away, too, if it were possible for the elect to do so - that is, if Jesus as our Lord did not have such a tight grasp upon our souls.
In Jesus Christ we have a Lord in whose strength we can resist temptation and overcome the devil. In Him we are more than conquerors. He owns us and He will take care of us. We are safe in His hands. That is what the catechism teaches us when it says that Jesus, as Lord, “has delivered us from all the power of the devil.”
Possessed By Christ
But the name “Lord” includes more than that, and the Heidelberg Catechism does not stop with those words. It also teaches us that Jesus Christ, as Lord, has made us His own possession. Jesus has a claim on our lives. He is our owner and we are His servants.
The apostles used even stronger language than that. They often would introduce their epistles by claiming themselves to be slaves of Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:1, for example, Paul writes: “Paul … a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…”, that is, a slave of Christ. Paul begins Philippians and Titus that same way. James begins his epistle with those same words, as does Peter in his second epistle and Jude in his brief letter to the church. John begins the book of Revelation with these words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants…” That is, to show to His slaves!
SLAVES!! Now, that is not a very pleasant sounding word. So unpleasant that translators avoid it like the plague and use the word “bondservant” instead. It is not as harsh, not as abrasive as the word “slave.” And we have to wonder if there is no better way to express the freedom that we may enjoy after our liberation. After all, using the word “slave,” even using the word “bond-servant,” makes it look as if there is only an exchange of masters for us. Instead of being slaves to the devil, now we are slaves to Christ.
There are many people who feel that way. They are offended by that idea that we would be slaves to Christ. In fact, they will go on to say that Christ is much more demanding, and therefore, a much heavier taskmaster than the devil. After all, the devil lets you do all kinds of things. He has all kinds of alluring promises and entices you with all kinds of worldly goods. He promises the satisfaction of all kinds of human desires. And, let’s face it, he can deliver.
If you make yourself a slave to Satan and not be wishy-washy about it, really seeking to follow him, living a hedonistic, self-centered, self-gratifying life; the devil will give you what you want. For a time the devil will deliver and you will think you are on top of the world.
Having Jesus as your Master is not at all like that. He wants us to obey many strict rules and ordinances. He wants us to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Look at all the things the devil will let us do that Christ will not let us do. Because of this, many people think that the Christian life is a dull life where all the real pleasures are denied us. Moreover, Christ wants us to walk the narrow path. He speaks about oppression in the world, self-denial, sacrifices, bearing the cross, facing persecution, and so on. No wonder so many people prefer the devil as their taskmaster to Christ as their Lord.
In spite of all these apparent disadvantages, there is a huge difference between true freedom and miserable slavery. Serving the devil may look enjoyable; the aftermath, however, is self-reproach, remorse, unhappiness, and death. The devil can make sin look very delightful and enjoyable before we fall into it. However, as soon as we have committed the sinful act he drags us into, the miserable consequences of our sin will attack us without any mercy. For example, the devil will give you all the drugs you want until you are hooked on them and have to trade your body for another dose. You will get all the smut and filth your eyes can take in until you have ruined your marriage, your career, and your life.
And it is not just those obvious, big sins, either. There is not one homeless person at the mission who, when he went out drinking with his buddies in high school, said: “I really want to grow up an alcoholic on skid row.” There’s not one person who visited the casino for the first time and won some big bucks who said: “I want to lose my car, my house, and everything I own in bankruptcy.” There’s not one bride who walked down the aisle who said “I do” who thought, “In ten years I’m going to leave you.” or groom who said, “One day, I’m going to beat this woman to a pulp.” But serving the devil will bring you there.
Serving Christ, on the other hand, fills a person’s life with lasting joy, and it most certainly is always rewarding. It is an act of liberty and love. In Exodus 21 you can read that according to Mosaic law, slaves in Israel were to be freed after six years. There were, however, times when the slaves knew they had it pretty good. They had clothes on their backs, food on the table, and a place to call home where they could raise a family.
When their term expired, suddenly all those things would disappear. If you had no marketable skills, what were you to do? You would sell yourself as a slave to someone else. What if you happened to like the master you were now serving? Your present master did not beat you or overwork you. Instead, he treated you rather well. He was a better master than maybe the next master might be. Or, maybe there was another master out there who knew you were a hard worker and could not wait for your time with your current Master to be over. But you did not want to go there. You knew he was mean. You knew he would beat you if you did not get the work done on time.
If that were the case, the slave could volunteer to stay with his master. If the master agreed, then the master of the slave would pierce the slave’s ear-lobe. Either the piercing would leave a permanent scar or some type of earring would be placed in the ear. Either way, it was a mark that would indicate that this former slave wanted to belong to this particular master for his whole life.
We have to understand that we are slaves. You may like the word “servant” better, but the simple truth is that whatever word you want to put there, you either serve the devil or you serve Jesus Christ. One or the other. Those are the two Masters. There are no other plantation owners. Heaven or hell. Where do you want to work?
Made Free to Serve
If you read through the Gospels at all, you will notice that Jesus knew how to draw a crowd. Multitudes would gather to hear Him speak. Sometimes the streets would be so crowded that people would climb the trees to be able to see Him. Sometimes the crowds were so big that the disciples of Jesus thought He was asking an absurd question when He asked: “Who touched Me?”
Not only could Jesus draw huge crowds, but He would often preach the crowd away. They did not like what He was saying. They did not like what He was demanding of them so they would leave. In John 6 we read of one of those occasions. The people leave as a result of Christ teaching them that He is the bread of life. Afterwards Jesus turns to His disciples and says: “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter saw the difference: one master - the devil leads to eternal death; the other Master - Jesus - leads to eternal life. Peter realized that because of sin he was a slave to the devil, the Master that leads to eternal death.
That taskmaster brings guilt, terror, sickness, pain, and guilt. He is our master. And what does he do with us? Basically he keeps us in his dungeon chained to the wall where we can never escape. Through God’s grace, the Son of God came into this world and broke those shackles that bound us to Satan. We have been set free!
Paul asked the Galatians church: “But now that you have come to know God or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Galatians 4:9). In other words: Were you set free that you might be slaves again?
No! You have been made free. Jesus has taken you out of the bondage that you were in and released you. Where will you go? Will you return to the hard taskmaster who promises you nothing but pain and suffering or will you go to the one who has the way to eternal life? Will you return to the one who wants nothing more than for you to destroy your life or to the One who cares for you and gives you every blessing?
How we need to run as a people freed by Christ to Christ to have Him pierce our ears. How our longing must be to have Him freely place His mark upon us so that our desire is to serve Him, not because we are slaves, but because we are now free to serve him in love; free to live in thanksgiving to Him for the love that He has shown us. This is true freedom. It is the realization of the words Jesus spoke in John 8:36: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He also is the Editor of The Outlook.