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Third Sunday After the Epiphany
St. Stephen’s Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, January 26, 2003

You Can Belong to Christ

Text: 1 Corinthians 7:23

There is a verse in our Bible reading today that states in a very few words a deep piece of truth and wisdom from God.

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters.

We were bought with a price. This is an image from the institution of slavery, which was widely practiced in New Testament times. Paul, writing to the people of Corinth, knew that they would understand the image. He is describing the saving work of Jesus on the cross. And to make it come alive, he is alluding to the fact that people who were slaves could be purchased and set free. If a person had become enslaved to another because of a debt he could not pay, someone could come along and pay that debt, and the slave would, by law, have to be released. When Paul says, “You were bought with a price," he is saying that Jesus redeemed us by his death on the cross. Just as you redeemed a slave when you purchased his freedom.You thought “redemption” was a churchy word, didn’t you? Well it is a word from the slave trade. And what Paul is saying is that we were slaves to sin until Jesus paid the price for us and set us free. Or as Paul says in Chapter 2 of Ephesians, “You were dead in your sins, but now you are alive in Christ.

It is that act of redemption that is at the heart of the Christian faith. The fact that Jesus bought our freedom through his blood on the cross is the good news that we are charged to deliver to the world. It is of the utmost importance that we understand that we were dead in our sins until Jesus set us free. If we do not understand that, we do not appreciate the immensity of God’s love for us. And we do not grasp the immensity of the gift God has given us.

At the root of it all is this: it is human nature to be enslaved to something. Whoever we are, we are enslaved to something.For some, the slavery is obvious. Addiction to drugs or alcohol: the person caught up in that addiction is a slave to his drug. He cannot act in freedom. He does things he does not want to do, because the drug controls him. He cannot do things he wants to do, because the drug controls him. That is slavery, pure and simple.

It is not hard to see in the case of drugs. But it is universal, and it is often much more subtle. All of us are slaves to something. Perhaps it is food that enslaves us. Perhaps it is money. Perhaps it is security. Perhaps it is a need to be esteemed by other people. Think about your own life. What is there in your life that makes you do things you do not want to do?  What is there that keeps you from doing things you want to do, or should do or need to do?  The tendency to become enslaved to things that control our actions against our will afflicts every human being. It has afflicted every human being who ever lived. That is what sin is all about. That is why we need a savior.

The Bible is telling us that God has not left us in this mess. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sin, and so we are free to belong to Christ.No longer slaves to sin, we are free to belong to Christ.

Now, you may say that if Christ has bought us and owns us, we have gone from one slavery to another. We are now slaves of Christ. The Bible supports that. Romans 6:22-23 says:

Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to 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.

Christ is God’s perfect will made man. Jesus is God’s truth and wisdom and love. And to be a slave to God’s truth and wisdom and love is a good thing. It is life-giving and liberating. It is freedom. Does that sound like a paradox?

Tony Campolo, the Christian author, tells the story of the days of slavery in America, when slaves would go to church with their masters. White folks sat on the main floor, and black folks sat in the balcony.There was a slave named Frank who had a habit of disrupting the service by shouting “Praise the Lord,” whenever the preacher said something especially exciting about God. Now I want you to know that I would not consider that a disruption if it happened here at St. Stephen’s. But Frank’s white master was embarrassed and irritated by this. And so he told Frank that if he would stop doing that, if he would remain silent through an entire service, the master would buy him a pair of new boots.

Frank was determined to get those boots. The next Sunday, the preacher was especially good. He kept saying wonderful things about what God had accomplished through Jesus. Frank was listening, up in the balcony, and several times, he almost lost himself. But he bit his lip. Finally, the preacher said something so incredibly wonderful about God that Frank jumped to his feet, and he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Boots or no boots—Praise the Lord!”

Frank was a slave to no man. Despite his legal status, he was free, because he belonged to Christ. But because he belonged to Christ, because he was a slave to Christ, he could not hold back his praise—even to get a new pair of boots.

Now, it would be appropriate for you to ask me at this point, “What practical significance is there in this?”  So I belong to Christ, how does that change  my life?

Well, let’s take an example. Suppose you are a parent. You belong to Christ, so you have a duty to bring your children up in the faith. You have a duty to get them to Sunday School. But come Sunday morning, you don’t want to get up. You may belong to Christ, but you are still a slave to the comfort of your warm bed. It may seem that staying home from church is freedom. But that is not the case. Freedom is something else, because you belong to the one who set you free. The free thing to do is to choose that for Jesus that you will get up out of your warm bed and take your children to Sunday School—and yourself to Church. Your freedom is to make the right choice for the right reason, for the one to whom you belong. Your freedom is to do things for the one who loves you, and the one you love.

If we are set free from our bondage to sin, and if we are to live into our freedom to belong to Jesus, then we have to know Jesus better and better every day. It is essential that we find out what God wants for us. How do we do that?

We do it, first, by reading God’s word on a regular basis. Here in the Bible, in the Word of God, we have God’s truth and God’s wisdom. In God tells us how He wants us to live. In here God tells us what He is doing in history. And in here is where we learn who Jesus is. We need to read the Bible on our own, and we need to take every opportunity to study it with others. Reading God’s Word is an indispensable part of our freedom.

Second, we learn what God wants for us by speaking to God on a regular basis. We speak to God in prayer. A constant part of our prayer ought to be to seek God’s guidance. Not just to ask God for blessings, not just to ask God to heal our sick loved ones, but to ask God,

What do you want for me, Lord?

God answers questions like that, if we only will ask. Regular prayer is an indispensable part of our freedom.

A third way we discern what God wants for us is in conversation with our Christian brothers and sisters. Sometimes, God speaks to us through the words of other faithful believers who themselves belong to Jesus. I had a call recently from an Episcopal Church mission organization, SOMA, asking me to pray about having three Anglicans from Uganda come to the Northern Neck on a mission trip. I prayed for a couple of days, and God didn’t say anything obvious to me about it. But I was talking to Joe Murphy about it, and he had just had a conversation with some other folks about missions to in America. And he gave me a vision for how this could work in a way I had never considered. The idea of this mission is much more real to me now. Talking to other faithful believers about what they see God doing is an indispensable part of our freedom.

Once you are regularly finding answers to your questions of God’s will for you, let that inform how you live your life. Like the parents who leave the warmth of their bed to bring the children to Sunday School, do things because you belong to Jesus.

Brother Lawrence, in his book, Practicing the Presence of God, says that when you offer what you do to God, even the most mundane things become holy. Even standing at the sink washing the dishes, even pruning the roses, even hoeing the garden—are holy acts when done for the Lord, to whom you belong. Visiting your lonely neighbor. Giving away your other car. Teaching the faith to children—all become holy acts for the one to whom you belong.

Every person who was ever born has had to face the problem of being enslaved to sin. But God has not left us in this mess. “You were bought with a price;” you belong to Christ. What freedom. What joy.

© 2003 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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