I was a slave and didn't know it.
After years of being brought up in the church, I believed I knew who God was. I even had the Bible verses to prove it. And I was quick to share my knowledge with those around me: God is holy and righteous, so people who sin incur his wrath and judgment. Since I was his child, it was only natural that I extended my judgment on others.
I didn't recognize my critical spirit for what it was. I just thought I was taking a stand for God's holiness—an obedient child expecting obedience from others. I was a slave to my limited view of God.
When the Israelites were in Egyptian bondage, God revealed himself as a God of freedom. He liberated them from 400 years of slavery and taught them the freedom of belonging to the one, true, living God. He also gave them his Law to free them from the sinful lifestyles of the surrounding nations.
Yet 1,500 years later, the Pharisees developed a legalistic society in which they had once again become slaves. They'd laced the spiritual life of the nation with bondage to both the Law and what they thought the Law should be. This self-imposed slavery grew into a barrier between God and his people.
The apostle Paul, trained by a Pharisee (Acts 22:3), had also become a slave to the Law. Then he met Jesus and exchanged his bondage to the Law for bondage to Christ. In his letters, Paul identified himself as a servant or slave of Christ (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1). He traded unintended slavery for a slavery that leads to ultimate freedom.
Unintended slavery is still a problem among Christians today. Although we may consider ourselves servants of Christ, in reality many of us are slaves to who we think he is or how we think he should behave.
One of Jesus' most familiar parables addresses this issue, though we don't usually study it in this context. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus recounted the parable of the prodigal son, a story of two sons, one obedient and responsible, the other a wastrel who squandered his father's resources.
As we read the parable, however, we learn both sons had problems, but only one of them recognized it. The younger son was a slave to his impulses, while his older brother was a slave to how he thought his father should have behaved. In biblical times, fathers were leaders in the family, held in high esteem, and commanded respect. The older son didn't expect his father to extend mercy and forgiveness.
Slaves to the Wrong Master
How often do we become bitter because God doesn't "behave" in a manner consistent with our expectations? Or how often do we become angry when others don't hold the same narrow view of God that we do? We become slaves to our limited view of God—a slavery that shapes how we approach life.
Consider the following examples:
If our view of God is limited to him as Creator, we will be slaves to the view that God is an impersonal force who set the world in motion and then stepped back. We'll never experience the intimacy of relationship with a personal God.
If our understanding of God is solely as the Sovereign Lord, we'll be slaves to fatalism, convinced that prayer is useless because everything that happens has already been determined.
If we view God only as Provider, we'll be trapped in slavery to laziness as we wait for him to provide for our needs rather than being diligent in what God has called us to do.
If our view of God is limited to that of Healer, we will become slaves to bitterness when we lose a loved one to a terminal illness.
If we view God only as Holy, we will be trapped in slavery to a life of legalism, seeking to impose that same legalism on others.
If we know God solely as a stern Judge, we'll live as slaves to fear, governed by a critical spirit in our relationships.
Paul wrote in Romans 6:16, "Don't you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living." Each time we limit our view of God, we obey a god of our own making—and lose the very freedom Christ came to give us.
True freedom comes from knowing God in all his fullness. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, "Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law." While Paul was referring to the slavery of living under the Law, we can also apply the principle here.
Consider how the facets of a diamond combine to reflect its brilliance. In a similar way, all of God's attributes combine to reveal his transcendent nature and glorious ways. God is a God of freedom when we understand him for all he is and when we relate to him through all of his characteristics.
So the next time we're tempted to focus on one attribute of God to the exclusion of all others, let's ask ourselves:
Are my thoughts governed by who I think God is, or by the full picture of who the Bible says he is?
Do my words reflect one attribute of God at the expense of his other attributes?
Will my understanding of God encourage others to be all they can be in Christ, or will it discourage them from spiritual growth and maturity?
I don't want to serve a god of my own creation any longer. Yes, God is the righteous Judge, but he is also the Merciful One. He is the Creator of the universe, but he is also our intimate Father. He is the Healer, but he is also our Comforter. He is the Most High God, yet nothing is too small to escape the God Who Sees. He is truly, ultimately, our God of Freedom.