Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm free to decide

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 – Romans 6:12-23

At first this passage may seem like a scary bit of Orwellian doublethink: slavery is freedom. But consider that Paul is constrasting two different types of slavery: slavery to that which is not God, and slavery to God. Slavery to the other is true slavery: we are controlled by our moment-to-moment urges regardless of the consequences. We might score a victory of willpower here or there, but ultimately, we can’t escape human nature. We will screw up again.

What Paul calls being “enslaved to God,” he’s not talking about slavery at all, but rather, freely chosen obligation. Am I enslaved to my family? Only if I view my lifelong commitments to them as a loathsome burden—which I may do in a moment of weakness, but certainly not over the long haul.

It’s the same with God. If I understand myself to have been forgiven for everything I’ve ever done wrong and ever will do wrong, I have a choice. I can take advantage of God’s generosity by doing whatever I feel like, regardless of how it may hurt others. But if I do, this will enslave me and strain my relationship with the all-forgiving God. On the other hand, I can do my best, knowing that my best is never perfect, and be in relationship with God and the people in my life day by day. Either way, I’m forgiven. But this way leads to happiness. What good is forgiveness without happiness?

Many Christians concern a lot of their time with how these dynamics play out in an “afterlife.” I don’t know about an afterlife, but I am counting on some sort of “outside life,” not chronologically later than my time on earth, but at a remove from it in both space and time. If we can indeed meet God face to face, I want to have been communicating with God during my time on earth. I figure I’ll find it easier to recognize and understand God when the time—er, when the not-time—comes. But in the meantime, I’m “Free to Decide.” Here are the Cranberries.

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