Born To Be Slaves

    

Talk given by Walt Henrichsen
Hong Kong, March 23, 2009

It is truly a privilege and a delight to be with you tonight. For a number of years I represented the Navigators, and my first trip to Hong Kong was in 1972. A lot has changed since then…especially I have changed. As you know, my topic for this evening is Born to be Slaves. If you have your Bibles I would ask that you turn to Psalm 2 and listen to the Word of God, verses 1 through 5:

Psalm 2:1-5 (KJV): (1) Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? (2) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, saying, (3) Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. (4) He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (5) Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure.

As you note from verse 2, this is a messianic psalm. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is messiah. In Greek, it is Christ. So the the psalmist asks, "Why do the heathen rage and rebel against God’s anointed?"  Verse three tells us that they are in bondage and want to be set free. Notice how God laughs at them and holds them in derision. They were born slaves and they will be slaves throughout eternity. Now that’s an extraordinary statement, so we ask ourselves, in what way, or in what sense are people slaves? And the obvious answer is that they are not in control of their own lives. None of us decided what our sex is, or our parents, or the country of our birth or the era of our living. And most disturbing of all, we don’t get to control the circumstances that come though our lives. An individual visits the doctor and discovers that he’s got cancer, and no one asked him permission to get cancer.

Now most people perceive that their wealth gives them the authority to control their lives. And then when they obtain their wealth, they become angry, because it does not meet their expectations. All of us can control how we respond to circumstances, but we cannot control the circumstances. This of course was the issue in the Garden of Eden. Who gets to decide good and evil? Who gets to decide what I think are good circumstances and bad circumstances? And Satan said, “If you eat of this tree, you'll get to make that decision.” Note that God never made this promise that if they eat of the tree they’ll be able to do it. It did not happen after they ate of the fruit, and it will never happen as long as eternity exists.

Now note with me that all cultures and religions acknowledge predeterminism. The Hindus call it Karma. The Muslims call it the will of Allah. The ancient Greeks called it fate. None of us are more insecure than when we are out of control, and know it…especially when there’s nothing we can do to gain control. So that brings us to the word “slave.” If I counted correctly, that word “slave” exists in the New Testament over 150 times.

Now, in the book of Acts, Peter is preaching the gospel. Because of his preaching the gospel, they arrested him and brought him before the religious leaders. After examining him, they let him go. And notice how the people comment on this quoting from Psalm 2. If you have your Bibles, Acts chapter 4, verses 22 through 28.

Acts 4:22-28 (NASB): (22) for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. (23) And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. (24) And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and all that is in them, (25) who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? (26) ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ (27) “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, (28) to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.”

You'll note with me that in verses 27 and 28 when they plotted together to kill our Lord Jesus, they simply were fulfilling God’s predetermined plan. I call to your attention that God created every individual a slave. Now, knowing that man would rebel against his slavery, God sent His Son Jesus Christ. And notice that the verses say that God predetermined that Israel, Herod, Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles would kill Him. So, the death of our Lord Jesus was the perfect will of God.

I want to shift here and talk about the “rest” of God. The Bible tells us about this important concept and introduces us to it in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. In this passage he says that for the Christian to enter into rest, he enters into fellowship with God. And to obtain this rest we must believe God…what we must believe is that He is in control of our lives and our destiny, and He knows what is best. Now, this passage discusses three kinds of rest. The first is God resting after He created. The second rest is that which Joshua gave the children of Israel at the end of the Exodus. And the third one, which applies to us, is the rest that Jesus Christ provides. Now with that in mind, listen to what the author says in Hebrews 4, verses 1 through 4:

Hebrews 4:1-4 (NASB): (1) Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. (2) For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word that they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (3) For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. (4) For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.”

Now, notice why the author comments on the creation rest of God. God created in six days and He rested the seventh. And he says here in verse 3 that the works of God were finished from before the foundation of the world. The Bible tells us that history is nothing more than the unfolding of what God had decided before He ever began to create. Now, the reason the author talks about this is in order for you to enter into Christ’s rest, you have to believe the creation rest. You rest in Christ because you know that God completed the acts of history before history ever began. The issue is that Christ is in control and in Christ you can rest regarding your destiny. But notice in Hebrews 4:3 it tells us that we are not in control. God is in control, and He will never relinquish that control. Now, the Christian calls that “Providence.” You may call it “predeterminism.” Call it whatever you want, but God, not you, determines your destiny. In that important sense you are slaves. You are born slaves, and you will be slaves forever and ever.

Now, the Bible identifies two different kinds of slaves. First are those who are enslaved by their circumstances over which they have no control. Man is frustrated, and he is angry because he can’t gain control of his destiny. Circumstances come on him, and he cannot control it. So the psalmist says we get angry, and we try to set ourselves free. And the Psalmist says God laughs at us in our endeavor to be free. You and I are like birds in a cage. We can try to get out as much as we want, but it'll never happen. So Psalm 2 says that God laughs at us in our endeavor to try. It’s interesting to note that there are only two passages in the scripture where it tells us that God laughs, and that is in the book of Psalms and Proverbs, and in each case, God laughs in the sense of mocking us.

Now, the second kind of slave is the slave of Jesus Christ. Now bear with me, not everybody are slaves of Christ. You only become a slave of Jesus Christ if you really want to be His slave. So, to illustrate the point, he talks about the slave in the Old Testament. When an individual Hebrew fell on hard times, he could sell himself into slavery to a wealthy man. But God said you could only hold him a slave for seven years. Now, if at the end of the seven years when you are set free, if you think living with your master is better than living on your own, then you can become his slave. If you make that decision, then the Bible says that they take and punch a hole in your ear, and you become that man’s property, that man’s slave, for the rest of your life. So, slavery to Jesus Christ is voluntary. It is your decision: you can be the slave of circumstances, or you can be the slave of Jesus Christ. You enter into rest when you surrender to the mastery of Jesus Christ and become His slave. Notice how Jesus says that only willing slaves can become restful or enter into His rest. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 11, verses 28 through 30.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB); (28) “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (30) For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

Now let me remind you, you are born wearing a yoke. You were taken where you did not want to go. When you were young people, it was your parents that decided what you would and would not do. And when you became adults you said, "At last I am now free!" But you discover that the government starts telling you what you can and cannot do. And not only that, but as we discussed before, circumstances control your life. Nobody is as smart as they want to be or clever as they want to be. Nobody is as strong as they want to be. Nobody can control their own finances. You wear a yoke and you wear it into eternity whether you want it or not. “Ah,” but says Jesus, “If you take My yoke, it'll be different!" You’ll still be a slave wearing a yoke, but Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The yoke is easy, because Jesus shares it with you. And the burden is light, because He insures that it never become too great.

Now, most people who are slaves wish to be free. If this is true, then you don’t need to be a slave of Jesus Christ, and in all probability you will live unhappily not only in this life but in eternity. Now there are some people, not many, but some who don’t want to be free. Having met Jesus Christ, they would rather be His slave than anything else in life. Now remember, the choice is not between being free and being a slave. The only question is whose slave do you want to be? So, you can insist on being free and trying to have autonomy, but it will never work. But if you really want to be the slave of Jesus Christ, then like in the Old Testament, you can volunteer and ask for the privilege. Now for the people who make this choice, there is nothing in existence that is as important or exciting to them as becoming the slave of Jesus Christ. Every one of you tonight knows deep inside of you whose slave you want to be. God Almighty knows every thought and imagination of your heart, and He knows what you truly want. He’s not looking for slaves who resign themselves to slavery and say, "OK, if I have to be Your slave, I’ll do it." The only people who become the slaves of Jesus [are those] who say like that Old Testament slave, “I would rather be Yours than be free.” So note what the Bible says on this: freedom, autonomy, independence - they're all a myth. You’ll not exit slavery in this life or in the life to come. Being a slave of Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that can be given to a human. But a slave you will be! And what that means in this life is willingness to live in perpetual brokenness, repentance and dependence upon God. Anything less than this calls into question your true willingness to be His slave. And when that happens, you put your soul in peril. Amen.

Q & A

Q: In the book of Galatians, and also in Romans, we are called sons of God, so how can we apply these two ideas? How can we be sons of God and also slaves of Christ?

A: Yes. In the same sense that a child is both a slave and the child of the parents. See, when we think of a child of God, we think of an individual who’s moving toward adulthood and that somehow when that takes place, we will at last be free. That may be true of your earthly father, but it will never be true of your heavenly Father. You will abide under His authority forever and ever and ever.

Q: In Galatians 5:1, it says that we should not be overladen by the yoke of slavery. Does this mean the yoke is the yoke of law?

A: Yes.

Q: In John 8:33, it says the truth can make you free. So, how can we combine these two ideas?

A: Jesus said, “I am truth.” And in what sense can you ever be free? In Jesus Christ, I became free from my slavery to my sin. That’s why I was so overjoyed when I first learned that it was possible to become the slave of Christ. I may be different from you, but I get very, very tired of sinning. And in Christ I find the truth, and that truth sets me free. So Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father but by Me."

Q: The master on earth will exploit and abuse. How about the Master in heaven?

A: Most of the anger that I have in life - not all but most - is but directed toward God in how He controls my circumstances. It is in the nature of being a slave that there are times when we disagree with our Master. That will be true now, and I suspect for ever and ever in eternity. So, by way of illustration, let’s look very briefly at the life of Job. Now, God and Satan both agreed that Job would not like what was about to happen to him. The only question was, how would Job respond? And it’s true for every one of us sitting here tonight.

Q: Is there a difference between being an obedient servant and being a slave?

A: Everybody enjoys being obedient when they are in agreement. The only time we have difficulty with it is when we are in disagreement. It’s at that moment when we should submit to the authority of our Master.

Q: In John 15:15 Jesus said, "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." Can you please explain this?

A: Interesting [how] Jesus says, “I no longer call you my slaves; I call you my friends." But it’s interesting that when Paul writes his letters, he says, “Paul, the slave of Jesus Christ.” So "friend" is something the master calls the slave, but the slave never deceives himself into believing he is anything other than a slave. Two hundred years ago in the United States we had slavery. It was not uncommon for a slave to be the closest friend of the master. But it did not matter how close they were, he was still the slave. The apostle understood that, and so should we.

Q: How can we handle our anger against God?

A: Well first and foremost, acknowledge that you are angry with God. Biblically, there is no such thing as having a problem with another person. When you get angry at people, you’re getting angry at the wrong person. Your problem is always with God. So, at that moment, God says to you, “Do you really want to be my slave? You don’t have to. You can go your own way.” Those are the moments when I say, “No, that’s not what I want at all.” What I say is, “I hate pain, and God, sometimes You hurt me, and you hurt me very badly. But that is Your decision. I belong to You. I would have it no other way."

Q: You talk about being a slave of Christ as being a prerequisite of entering Christ’s rest.

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell me what is the importance of getting rest from Christ?

A: One of the most fundamental questions that every person asks is, "Why am I here?" Am I just simply an accident of history, or is there purpose to my life? And nobody can be at rest until they satisfactorily answer that question.

Q: I still can't get your answer. Can you explain it more?

A: Why do people get angry? And the answer is, because they are out of control. Things come into their lives, and they’re angry, because they didn’t get to decide whether they should happen to them. You may or may not like your parents, but you had no decision. Unless you plan on suicide, you will not answer the question of when you will die. Nobody answers the question, when will I die? Life does not make sense. Solomon said that if you take God out of the equation, life is nonsensical. So, a relationship with Jesus Christ gives you rest from the turmoil that these kinds of questions generate in our hearts. But the price you pay is being His slave.

Q: We tend to compare [ourselves] with other people around us, so as being the slave of Christ, how can we handle this sense of making comparisons?

A: I believe it is 2 Corinthians 10:12 that says, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”  Comparison almost always is a form of idolatry.

Q: We tend to want to control people when we share a bond. Didn't God create in us a desire to control our environment?

A: And the answer is yes. That's how God made you. The heart of every significant relationship is surrender. After all these years of marriage, I still cannot get used to the fact that my wife agreed to be my wife. I did not want to marry a robot. I wanted to marry somebody who wanted me. That is true in every significant relationship, and it is true in our relationship with God.

Q: The Bible tells us we have to submit to God all the time, and you said that we are slaves of Christ. Are these two [ideas] equal or something different?

A: Exactly the same!

Q: We are either the slave of circumstances or the slave of Christ. Then does it mean that we reluctantly choose to be the slave of Christ?

A: No! He will never accept you as His slave if you are reluctant, only if you’re eager. Now this may surprise you, but I would not have wanted to marry my wife if she said to me, “OK, if I have to.”

Q: Can we be the slave of more than one master?

A: We try, but God says He will not accept that. Matthew 6:24: “Nobody can serve two masters.”

Q: [Unclear] How do I know if I am doing the right thing - if I'm really serving the right master?

A: I can give you a lot of different answers, but in the final analysis, you don’t know. Nobody knows the future in the sense of being certain. That’s why making the that decision becomes so critically important. It’s not until after you die that you realize that you made the right or the wrong decision.

Q: How can you memorize all the New Testament Bible verses? Can you share your method or exercise with us?

A: I only know a very few number of verses. So far this evening I’ve been lucky that you’ve asked me verses that I know.

Q: You're too humble.  Again, I want to ask, can you share with us how you memorize all these Bible verses?

A: The few verses that I know, by hard work. Those of you who know me well know that I am not all that bright, but knowing the Bible is important to me. These medical doctors, they've got many books they've got to understand. I’ve only got one.

Q: Why did God create us to be slaves? Why would God want us to be slaves?

A: Everything God does is for the purposes of serving Him in His purposes. People have always had problems with God, because God got there first. They resent the fact that they’re not God.

Q: As human beings, we are given the freedom to choose whether to follow God or follow the world, so why does God want us to be slaves when giving this freedom?

A: That is because it is His pleasure. That is the only reason.

Q: But why would He give us freedom and yet want us to be slaves?

A: My understanding of the Bible is that with God, as in every relationship, He wants it to be an expression of our desire, our will. He didn’t make us as robots. We can ask ourselves why, but in truth, no answer will ever satisfy us. He has made you the way He has made you, because it was His good pleasure. All you get to do is respond.

Q: Is being converted [to faith in Christ] equal to becoming the slave of Christ?

A: If you’re genuinely converted, yes. John asks the question, how do we know that we know God? And the answer is by keeping His commandments. [1 Jn. 2:3] “He that says I know God and keeps not His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” [1 Jn. 2:4] In the English language a liar is somebody different from someone who is mistaken. A liar is somebody who tries to deceive. If you say you know God and you do not obey Him, John says you’re trying to deceive.

Q: If I become the slave of Christ, is it true that I will not be the slave of circumstances again?

A: You never were the slave of circumstances. The Bible says that there are no accidents and there are no victims. The Bible says that what we call circumstances, He calls Providence. As we have already noted, history is simply an unfolding of what God has already decided.

Q: In Romans 8:15 we are told, "For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."  When we trust in Jesus, if we have this identity [as the children of God and] if this is already sufficient, why must we also be the Lord's slaves?

A: Yes, we talked about that before. I do not suggest to you that you are not His son or daughter. All I suggest is you’ll be under His authority to do what He asks for ever and ever. Most children, as they are growing up think that they are slaves of their parents. Then when they get older and have their own children, they realize that their children feel the same way about them.

Q: If we have the concept of being the sons of God [as in Rom. 8:15], why then do we still have to have the concept of being the slaves of Christ?  How important is the concept of being the slave of Christ?

A: [That’s] not necessary at all if you live in perpetual obedience. Now brothers and sisters, from Genesis to Revelation, holiness is always defined exclusively by obedience.

Q: I want to ask about the concept of eternal rewards. Is it related to the concept of being a slave of Christ?

A: Yes. If there is no difference in eternity between those who go to heaven, then obedience simply is a question of how willful I can be and get away with it and still get to heaven. Never forget that authority and fear go together. In no sphere of influence can authority exist without fear. If you don’t fear God, you will not obey Him.

Q: You mentioned that you would not want your wife to marry you unless she wanted to. She had a choice either to marry you or not marry you, but don't we have a different choice? We will serve God either one way or another - willingly or reluctantly. Can you please comment on this?

A: That’s a good question.  That's why I said that God knows our hearts. Although what you say is true, men do not believe that it is true. That’s why [in Ps. 2:1] the psalmist says the heathen rage. They believe it is possible to be free, but God will not accept us as His slaves because we’re resigned to it … only if we eagerly want it. And only He knows the difference.

Q: I heard testimonies about people forced into submission to God by circumstances, sometimes which are quite painful.  Under what kind of circumstances will God do this?

A: I cannot answer the question other than to say you are correct. I sense the same thing. Hebrews 12 says, “Whom the Father loves, He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives.” And if God does not discipline you, it’s because you’re illegitimate. [Heb. 12:6,8]

MP3 audio of this talk and Q&A (72 min., English with Cantonese interpretations, 9MB)

 


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