Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—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 have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It can be very difficult for us to mentally detach ourselves from the negative connotation so deeply entrenched in our understanding of slavery. So let’s try to think about it from another angle. In photography, there are off-camera lights that can be used in what is known as ”slave mode.” When a light is in slave mode, it detects the flash of the camera and responds to the light put off by the on-camera flash with its own flash of light. That off-camera light is “enslaved” to the on-camera light. When the on-camera flash does something, that light is wired to respond.
This is very similar to how we are wired to respond to God. God created us to respond to His Marvelous Light by reflecting His light. When He formed us from the dust, He instilled a “slave mode” in each of us that was meant to respond only to His light. But with the Fall, our slave mode was corrupted and while we still had the instinct to respond to something, our slave mode was no longer limited to Christ and we will now respond to anything that we have allowed ourselves to become wrongfully enslaved to.
Paul is reminding us of the consequences of enslaving ourselves to gods other than Christ. There is no alternative to Him that doesn’t end in death and destruction. Idols will always fail us and they will always kill us. When we are enslaved to something that gives us nothing in return, we are pouring ourselves out and getting nothing in return. Idols will suck us dry and leave us starved and weak.
Christ is the only one who serves those who are enslaved to Him. He is the only God who will wash our feet, work miracles to feed us until we are full and turn our water into the choicest wine. All other idols take, but our God gives. He gives eternal life instead death. He gives glory instead of shame. He gives joy instead of depression. He gives immeasurable worth instead of self-hatred.
Our rebel hearts retract at the idea of being enslaved, but when we face up to the reality that if we are not enslaved to the Author of Life, we will be enslaved to death, we can relax in the knowledge that this is not a mortal, fallible form of enslavement. We serve a loving, gentle King who calls His servants children and gives His very self to make them whole. We get to be enslaved to Marvelous Light, echoing His glory by reflecting it on and on for eternity.