So what is it? Are we to live as slaves or as beloved sons and daughters? The answer to this is very, very important and is the difference between cruel religion and tender relationship. At first glance, there seems to be some contradiction in the Bible about this. Consider the following.
John 15:14-15 (NLTse) "You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."
Romans 1:1 (HCSB) Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God's good news...
Romans 8:14-15 (NLTse) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead you received God's Spirit when He adopted you as his own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.”
So...what's the deal here? Are we friends and sons/daughters, or are we slaves? In good Hebraic fashion I would suggest both, but we must always start with sonship. Those who have been deeply impacted--inundated--by God's love for them cannot help but live in loving surrender to God's purposes, not because of fear (which speaks of self-interest: the desire to preserve oneself from harm) but because of deep love and affection. As Paul Young so wonderfully explains in The Shack, true relationship can never form around obligation, duty, expectation or requirement, and God wants relationship with us first and foremost, not our service. There are no requirements for someone to be loved as a son or daughter and to live as a dearly loved child in a healthy family. But a dearly loved son or daughter knows that the best way to live is to follow the guidance of their loving (and wiser) parent.
Jesus modeled this for us perfectly, of course. Before He ever "did" anything, Father God said to Him, "You are my dearly loved Son, and I am (already) pleased with you." (see Mark 1:11, etc.). On the other hand, Jesus so loved His Father that to obey Him and serve Him was the only response He wished to make to such great love. Thus He could be both son and servant. For more comments on this, check out my earlier thoughts on March 7 last year. Click here to go there quickly.
I feel like I am sort of rambling today, but this is so dear to my heart (and God's heart, too) that I get really passionate about this and tend to ramble! Listen, dear ones, lots of people "serve God" but God doesn't desire your service to Him, He wants your heart. He wants you to live loved. Only those who live loved can ever really serve God as He intends: from the overflow of the River of His love powerfully transforming them from within and generously spilling over onto those around them. And far too many people out there are "exhorting" folks to obedience (often rather harshly) instead of inviting them to finally let God love them to wholeness. My concern is that many believers, even those who think they "get it" in terms of intimacy with God, live their lives with a subtle, underlying fear motivating what they do. And the solution to this is not to try harder, become a better servant, it's to allow God to pour His love into you, upon you and through you until you are saturated and secure in Him. When you get to where you live there, let's start talking about "serving"!
Hmmm. Well, maybe this is clearer. Maybe not. But you have felt my passion for sure. And I am sure I will hear from some of you if my words are even less clear than before! :-)
Learning to live loved,
Tom, Abba's little boy