“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:15-17
At the beginning of Romans, Paul introduces himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” Most translations change that to “servant” or “bond-servant,” for various reasons, not least of all being our appropriate cultural aversion to slavery. Nonetheless, Paul sets apart followers of The Way as being bound to Christ.
Everything about our culture tells us to cringe at those words. But Paul, in this passage, gives us the right way to view this issue of servanthood, or (cringe) slavery. It all has to do with what makes up our bonds. In first century Rome, where roughly one third of the population were slaves, bonds were formed in fear. But, our bondage to Christ, brought by the Holy Spirit and accepted in baptism, is infinitely stronger than fear — it is formed of God’s grace and love.
These bonds do not degrade us or divide us. Rather, they elevate us as children of God, who we approach not as a distant deity but as “Abba,” our dear and loving father. These bonds call us to fully submit ourselves, to God and to each other, not because we’re forced to, but because the Spirit sets us afire with longing to share in Christ’s suffering and glory, to be co-heirs with Christ and to pour out ourselves for God and our neighbor, just as Christ poured out Himself for us.
The same spirit of submission that led Jesus at Gethsemane to proclaim “not my will, but yours, be done,” leads us to take up our cross and follow Him, not because we suffer fear, but because we are emboldened in the knowledge that victory comes through surrendering ourselves to God’s loving grace.
Abba, our Heavenly Father, give us the courage today to surrender — to submit ourselves fully to your will, and to our eternal victory over evil and death. Amen.