Romans 6:17 caught my eye this evening, I've read this chapter many, many times, but its as if I'd never saw this verse before:
"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." (TNIV)
The last phrase is fascinating: "...the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance."
Paul goes on to write in 6v18: "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
Apparently humanity, all individuals, have some kind of master over them. This, if it is a fact, means that we are not free people. In fact, we have very little freedom. Our behavior is dictated to us, we must conform in order to keep a job, keep a spouse, keep out of prison. But there is one thing that no master can take away from us: our ability to choose. We can choose to conform or rebel; we can choose to listen or ignore. There is always some kind of choice that gets made - one act of freedom that then leads us to living under the rule of something/somebody.
Nobody is as free as they think they are, especially in America. We are actually one of the least free people in the world. We have so many laws, so many legislators, so many oversight committees, so many oversight organizations, we are so dependent on China for imports, on the Middle East for oil, and on Canada for Coffee Crisp. We are not as free as we think we are.
Paul is arguing that in relation to our soul/life and God, we have two basic options: we are slaves to God or slaves to Evil, we get to choose where we put our allegiance. Interestingly, the only way that the Evil One could get Adam and Eve to place their allegiance to him was by deceiving them, and deceived people are rarely free people. Thus, the "pattern of teaching" that Paul is refering to must have a quality to it, a content to it that is liberating. Jesus instructs us that the truth will set us free. Free from what? Free from the tyranny of sin, from the cycle of wrongdoing and folly. And free of the deception that blinds us to truth, so that we can make a choice to come under the rule of a different master: the original Creator and Father.
To be in community, to be a citizen in a country, to pledge allegiance to an entity means I give up some rights and freedoms so that we might have greater prosperity, security, and happiness. But if we give up our rights and freedoms to the wrong person/entity, we'll not ever really find what we are looking for. And Jesus offers us a way of life, a pattern of teaching for us to follow with our heart, head, knees and feet which results in a certain kind of freedom to live by truth, delight in God and love like we've always wanted to.
As you have already figured out, to love someone is to give up your freedoms. You can't be free and also have love. And it may be that for many of our fellow citizens, in our efforts to protect freedom, we lose our capacity to really love our neighbors.
Thanks be to God that I'm not as free as I think I am, that I am more loved than I think I am.