4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
– Romans 6: 4-11
It’s easy to take our lives for granted. I know all too well that I am certainly prone to forgetting exactly how comfortable my life is, too caught up in enjoying those comforts to give myself time to reflect or give thanks. But for the Israelites, that was never true; they did not live in a world of comfort, of immediate gratification, and like so many others who have lived or live in poverty even today, they found themselves enslaved time and time again. There’s the obvious physical slavery at the hands of the pharaoh, of course, but what about their subjugation at the hands of Babylon or Rome, or even Germany? It’s so easy to talk about slavery as something long since passed, but the truth of the matter is that there is a great deal of physical subjugation and oppression that still exists, whether within systems that imprison you for sleeping on a bench or that sell you to the highest bidder.
The issue of slavery is one that brings a certain heaviness to my heart and really draws attention to the fallen nature of our world, and it’s one with which Christianity has a conflicted past (compare the many abolitionist denominations to the statements of the Southern Baptist Church or the Methodist Episcopal Church South), yet it is something that so many Westerners don’t ever devote time or mental power to considering.
As such, verses like this often fall flat to us. Paul paints for us a picture of ourselves and what lies just below the surface: slavery. Even in our free land, even with all our rights and indulgence, even with our education and potential career paths and everything else we could want, we are slaves. But he’s clear, it isn’t a physical slavery. There will be no chains to bind us, no rules to restrict our movement. No, instead of physical bindings, these limitations exist on our minds, our very souls, even. We play the game of life, but the boundaries to the field are set by sinful desires that we have no power against! We don’t see that we live in sin because we have nothing to compare it too, we’ve never seen anything else.
And that, Paul says, is one of the beautiful things about the gospel. It isn’t just a tearing down of those sinful boundaries, it’s not just being allowed to see outside our confines; we’re on a completely new playing field! Our citizenship is with Heaven, we see through new eyes, and our motives are no longer held by sin. Instead, we should be remade in Christ, considering Him in everything we do. He alone should be our motivation, replacing shame, pride, or greed.
This isn’t about following rules. This is about being transformed!