While preparing for this month’s reflection, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.  For a large part of Western Christian history, people have equated that all people are ‘dead in the sins’ ‘separated from God’ and, therefore, ‘enemies of God’ and destined for ‘hell’ (see various Christian thinkers on this, including, but not limited to, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and most likely your local pastor and probably yourself).  Furthermore, St Paul states the same thing (Romans 6.13; Ephesians 2.1, etc.).

But, ‘death’ isn’t the only metaphor that Paul uses for the human condition.  In fact, it’s not even close to the one he uses most of the time.  The problem comes when we try to fit all of Paul’s metaphors under one umbrella.  He uses many - lost, blind, slave, dead, etc.  It does us no good to just pick one.  The situation is much more complex than that.  Saying everyone is ‘dead’ (while neither Paul nor Jesus limited it to just that one image) is to misunderstand what is trying to be communicated.  Each ‘condition’ requires different ‘fixes’.   A blind person needs her sight restored.  A lost person needs to find his way again.  And, yes, a dead person needs to live again.  However, the metaphor that Paul uses most of the time to explain the human condition is ‘slavery’ (Romans 6.17ff; Galatians 4.3ff, etc.).

Slavery indicates one of two things from a biblical standpoint.  First, someone was forced to be a slave against her will (whether through enemy capture and/or being sold into slavery or through owing a debt).  Second, one could be a ‘love’ slave (one who stays with the master either because he loves the master or because he would have to leave his family).  Either way, the person is a slave not of her choosing.  That is, she is being, acting, or doing something she would rather not.  She is being held against her will.  If all things were equal, she would not be a slave.  She would be free.

As I stated above, St Paul taught that people are enslaved to sin.  That is, that is who they have become.  People are not truly, deeply sinners!  If a ‘sinner’ is what a person is at the deepest level, if that is who he truly is, then he can not be enslaved to sin.  He is just being who he is.  But Paul doesn’t tell us that.  Again, his most used image for the human condition was people are ‘slaves to sin’.  Perhaps my phrase of ‘sin addicts’ would help.  We understand addicts.  They have lost who they truly are and are addicted (enslaved) to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or whatever.  They are truly enslaved to their drug of choice.  And, certainly, some (most) are addicts of their own choosing.  But that is not who they truly are.  They are people who have become addicts.  They have become enslaved.

It is the same with all ‘sinners’.  We find the road wide and more traveled.  Therefore it is easier.  It takes little effort.  For example, if we had a meeting on the 30th floor of an office building and could choose between either the elevator or the stairs, most (all!) of us would take the elevator.  In the same way, it is much easier to be selfish and violent.  It is far easier to be concerned with my own wants and desires than those of others.  If I do that long enough, I will lose all concern for others.  I will become a jerk (or worse).  I will become enslaved to myself.

And just like other addicts, the more one uses, the more one gets lost as to who one really is.  It may look like there is no difference between the ‘junkie’ and the person.  And some would have us believe that there really isn’t.  But there is.  In the Celtic Christian world, Jesus was known as ‘the Great Remembrance’.  That is, when the ancient Celts looked at Jesus, they remembered what humanity really was like.  They remembered what they really were at the deepest level.  Without Christ, they, like all people, are addicted, enslaved to sin.   But a slave can’t free herself.  She needs someone to set her free.

And thank God that Christ didn’t only come to remind us of our true selves.  Christ came to set us free!  He has broken the chains that held us captive to sin.  And if Christ has set us free, then we are truly free.

In the Love of the Three in One,



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