God indeed does not love slavery; he hates it; he will have children, not slaves; but he may keep a slave in his house a long time in the hope of waking up the poor slavish nature to aspire to the sonship which belongs to him, which is his birthright. But the slave is not to be in the house forever. The father is not bound to keep his son a slave because the foolish child prefers it. Whoever will not do what God desires of him, is a slave whom God can compel to do it, however he may bear with him. He who, knowing this, or fearing punishment, obeys God, is still a slave, but a slave who comes within hearing of the voice of his master. There are, however, far higher than he, who yet are but slaves. Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but so long as they serve God, from duty, and do not know him as their father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves. They are by no means so slavish as those that serve from fear, but they are slaves; and because they are but slaves, they can fulfil no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it warily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost. They are slaves indeed, for they would be glad to be adopted by one who is their own father! Where then are the sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their father.
by Dave Roney
There was never a believer who sinned, either on occasion or habitually, who did not know himself to be, in that moment or that state of existence, a slave, who then knew the shackles of a power over himself which is contrary to the good and the truth and to all that which he truly desires for himself if he is but able to be honest; and most of all, he realizes that he is far short of his true sonship, as one trading his birthright for a mess of pottage when he knows he has a seat, reserved especially for him, at his Father's table. What is the soul's, his soul's, cry except “O wretched man that I am!”
A man must begin as a slave before he can be a free man; it is the tax levied upon him for his sins; he cannot be free in any case; “Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves servants [δοῦλος, “slave”], you are slaves to the one you obey?” Physically a man may be captured and made a slave against his will, and be powerless to change his condition; but spiritually a man is slave by his will, and chooses his master. On the slavers' block a man is bought and led away in chains; but Christ has entered the slave market “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” By my will alone I became the slave to sin and death; by my will, surrendering to the will of God I am purchased by our Atoner unto liberty and life; I am His, He owns me, I am therefore His slave, albeit a willing one. And the slavery of a man to Christ is a necessary, in fact essential, and progressive phase of his development along the path to maturity and complete freedom.
The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; and our slavery to Christ is our schoolmaster to bring us to full sonship with our Father, what is called in Scripture our “adoption as sons.” When the Apostle uses the term adoption he does so according to the Roman use, which is entirely different than our present understanding. For, it applied to the child of a Roman citizen who came of age, who had for his young life been under tutors as preparation, but now in a public ceremony was accorded the full rights of his citizenship and declared to be the heir to his father's positions and possessions. Until we have come to the fullness of Christ in our lives, we must be slaves; it is the preparation for our equal heir-ship with the Son of God and our future unveiling as fully mature sons and daughters:
“But the slave is not to be in the house forever. The Father is not bound to keep His son a slave because the foolish child prefers it.”
The foolish child prefers to be a slave? How so? Simply this; that man who by refusal to surrender his will entirely to the Will of God, who makes a little progress over here but continues to cling to his old miserable self over there, who lacks the goal and utter desire to be Christ in his world, allows himself the comfort of a secret sins, struggles to overcome when he ought to practice the surrender of obedience, whose eyes are enamored by the things of the flesh and the world—this man prefers his slavery. God keeps him in His house to be sure, and loves him; but the man may go his entire earthly life as a slave because he is not growing into the likeness of the Son of God. He is not because he will not. He is quite comfortable in the Divine shackles, and knows that were they to drop from his wrists he would turn back to his former, or a worse, life and be lost; therefore, he prefers his slavery. But “The Father is not bound to keep His son a slave,” and will by prods and conviction, circumstances and events, through pain and by torments if necessary, train the child up in the way he should go, hopefully in this life, but if not then in the next—and by discipline, by chastisement, by whatever means is necessary, bring His child to at the last seek his adult sonship and his rightful position; that of heir of God and joint heir of Christ Jesus, to be seated between Father and Son on the throne not as a child but as a ruler, sharing fully the Divine Nature.
“Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but as long as they serve God, from duty, and do not know Him as their Father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves.”
The most slavish of believers are those who serve God from fear; and these are those who think more of and therefore dread His justice and holiness, unable to appreciate His relationship to them, think of Him more as the Old Testament God they wrongly perceive as hostile, angry, and condemning than as the precious and gentle Savior who is exactly like Him. Less slavish are those who serve God from a sense of duty, as under constraint and obligation, yet they also are slaves. And no slave is free, can only be obedient to commands, and therefore is incapable of fulfilling righteousness; for that is the sole domain of the freed man:
“...and because they are slaves, they can fulfill no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it warily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost.”
Now, lest any man think more highly of himself than he ought; “Where are the true sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their Father.”
Even the Apostle called himself to be the bond slave, which is to say the willing slave, of Christ; and he also said “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Phil. 3:12). And if not he, how much less so me? It is evident to me that we shall not reach our full maturity until we are face to Face, and in that moment when we see Him “we shall be like Him;” our childhood and slavery shall vanish as we enter into our adoption as adult sons and daughters. But in the meanwhile, throughout this life and in spite of our failures and shortcomings, let us galvanize ourselves both with the hope of that future Day and also with the unquenchable desire to grow to maturity, into the likeness of Christ, pressing on always and ever toward our rightful portion which is the relationship of true and full sonship to our Father.
A newly hatched bird, quite helpless and dependent but also safe in its nest, may be likened to a new or immature believer, but also for the sake of our study today, such a hatchling is similar to a slave in relationship to its mother. In such state, the hatchling cannot exercise its will to fly (“can fulfill no righteousness”) because it is not ready; the mother will allow, in fact insist, that her brood remain in the nest until it is sufficiently mature (“He may keep a slave in His house a long time”), but will then begin to prompt it to move onto a limb and finally to take flight (“But the slave is not to be in the house forever”); and at the right time the fledgling will also begin to desire to leave the nest (“be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves”). For, the mother bird desires her young to be like her and take its flight as an adult (“in the hope of waking up the poor slavish nature to aspire to the sonship which belongs to him, which is his birthright”).
The parable needs one final consideration for completion: When the former hatchling then fledgling has matured to full adulthood and takes flight, it is like unto the “adoption” of which the Apostle speaks; the bird, as the believer, was always the child of its parent but was heretofore not ready for the ceremony. And though the beginning flight be wobbly, still the believer will cry “Abba! Father!” as it rises up. It is now the fullness of the Lord's pronouncement: “You are free indeed!”