I’m still not completely comfortable with the idea of being bought. It’s hard on the pride. I live in a country where freedom virtually links up to what it means to be human. Nobody brags about being someone else’s property. Yet the apostles boasted in being slaves of Christ. They didn’t feel dehumanized by the redemption of Jesus. Being bought with cash is one thing. Being bought with blood is another. I need to keep that fact front and center in my extremely American mindset. If someone gave His life for me, that doesn’t suggest I’m worth less!
Secondly, it’s not just the fact that I am owned, but who owns me that becomes important here. “Well, I’m my own person!” cries the dude with too many bumper stickers. “I own myself!” But allow me to quote from pop scriptures the gospel of Dylan: “You gotta serve somebody.” A folk singer can see it. The freedom of a world where only me, myself and I exists, is an illusion. Something always ends up running you. For your own sake, you might want to find out what that thing is.
At the end of the nineties, I did a whirlwind tour of the Far East. One thing I noticed was the wild dog population. Some of these animals ran the streets completely free, without human owners. Only their hunger and sex drives controlled them. They were filthy, wormy, disease-ridden, and wandering. In senses not too far removed, that’s exactly what happens when a mortal life decides not to belong to the divine.
If you wander around without Christ—the rightful owner of your life—a whole world of influences stand ready to pocket you. You’ll still get owned. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12), indicating that apart from Christ there are plenty of things with coercive muscle. In the beginning, some of these make fine goals, like getting promoted out of that cubicle and into an office. Aiming for that better school. Driving a car that’s not older than you are. But take a simple desire and feed it with the steroids of time and money and attention and focus and the hope that it will give ultimate satisfaction, and that thing will transform into a fake messiah.
Paul Tripp, Christian counselor and author, says, “A desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing.” Although they start off harmless and good, desires make lousy lords. And it’s not long before those lords start to lead us into lousy directions, bringing out the worst in us. Consider the Texas mom who wanted her daughter to be a cheerleader. She wanted it so badly, she hired a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s rival. It all started with a desire for something cool—a spot on the squad with pom-poms. No problem. Then the aspiration grew bigger than God, sprouting anger, jealousy, murder, deceit, and a willingness to jeopardize everything to get it. Call the whole thing crazy if you want, but that is a possible template for anybody belonging to anything other than Christ.
This whole problem can become intensely personal. Some Christians had gotten so far away from the concept of belonging to Christ that Paul wrote, “their god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). Food ruled them. Others visited prostitutes (1 Cor. 6). Sex ruled them and lead them into a life of increasing perversion and addiction. The Bible speaks of the sluggard (a lazy person) always in bed (Prov. 6:9). Sleep rules them, eventually blunting their personal productivity as they hunt for a life mainly lived after 11:00 a.m.
All of these—food and drink, sex, and sleep—are personal, legitimate parts of the human experience, but they inflict damage when they become ruling principles in your life. Over time they give less and take more. Creaturely things aren’t supposed to control you because by themselves and in themselves they are void of meaning. They can’t take you anywhere except momentary gratification. “If a blind man leads a blind man, will they not both end up in a ditch?” (Luke 6:39).
Amidst the gaggle of would-be gods and lords, only the real, rightful Master is “bringing many sons into glory” (Heb 2:10).
I’m feeling better already about being bought.