I’ve served in youth ministry since I was a practically a youth myself. For decades I had front row seats to the dynamics of kids inside Christianity. During junior high school, fresh-faced Chip got baptized, much to the joy of his parents. He took vows of purity, attended youth events, and tossed his heavy metal music tapes onto a burn pile (Yes, at one point we put music on plastic tape—you should have seen the giant black Frisbees we used before that). Anyway, Chip worked the religious angle of life and everybody appreciated his sincerity. He was the real deal.
But then something else began to come along in measured doses—freedom. Chip got a driver’s license. He could go places mom and dad and their Jesus weren’t hanging around. It was his first chance to escape the tractor pull of Christian living, even if only for a few hours at a time. High School boys have plenty of places to explore that usually don’t include the library. Chip started having to make decisions. But first he had to come to terms with whether Jesus was real. If so, did He even know Chip’s name?
Years later, Chip left for college where he vanished off the radar of Mom and Dad and the hometown Jesus, for months at a time. This incredible freedom brought even more decisions. Campus was the perfect place to hatch a completely different lifestyle and grow it into a full-sized Brontosaurus. The question on the table suddenly became whether the Lord was still worth following.
Years later Chip got married, which required a new level of emotional energy and busyness. The couch and the television started wanting his free time. The question once again: What about Jesus? Where did He stand in the pecking order of comforts and demands? Then a baby came along…several of them. Each time Chip had to determine if the lordship of Christ deserved time slots in between diaper changes and bottle feedings.
Then Chip landed his first executive level job. Travel perks took him out of sight of his wife and kids and church. He had to decide whether Jesus was also Lord of the after-hour corporate activities. And so the door swung open again and again. If he ever had the feeling Jesus was a jail, he could have escaped dozens of times. With every change of life, there was a new opportunity to bail out. If you’re wondering, Chip has made it into his forties as a follower of Christ. He’ll no doubt receive many more chances to escape every time there is a life change of some type.
According to Exodus 21:2, a master must at some point give a slave a chance to escape, free and clear. The slave can then decide whether he wants to stay or go. Like this picture, the Lord wants us to choose His Lordship willingly. Yes, He could invoke His right of ownership over your life. He could arrange circumstances to trap you. But He would rather have choices made repeatedly unto His glory. Without an open door, Satan could always say to God, “Of course he follows you! You’ve built a hedge around him!” ( c.f. Job 1:10).
The law of God provides for a slave’s one-time escape from his master. Our experience seems to provide us dozens of opportunities. The first time the door cracked open and we saw a sliver of freedom, we curiously tried it. I had a cat that did this. Oscar lived most of his life indoors. Anytime he got a whiff of outdoor oxygen he attempted to squeeze his entire bulk through that crack. Sometimes he’d succeed in getting out but a few hours later, he’d return, begging to get back in again. The great outdoors weren’t so wonderful for him after all. Eventually if a door would open he’d just sit there and look at it like, “Nah.”
For a while, every vacation was a door like that for me. I would fall under the spell of a charming place and want the life of a poet-sportsman, not some meat-and-potatoes minister. My pre-Jesus days could exert a strong tug on my young, idealistic heart. I’ve gotten older, but now and then that door will still open again to the idea of life without the Lord, of calling my own shots, setting my own course. Yes, I’m still tempted, but by and large I’m more like Oscar now—“Nah.”
Jesus even asked His disciples if they’d like to leave. When the tide of public opinion turned against His teachings, a number of disciples packed up and went home. Jesus asked Peter and the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67). That time Peter said no. But later he got another opportunity—to deny Jesus. And he took it. Peter found that outdoors was not what it was cracked up to be. Nothing was out there except regret. Jesus nicely offered him a way to come back, which he gladly took.
And yet if there is anything to the apocryphal traditions, Peter’s “opportunities” weren’t over. It is said that much later he was fleeing Rome to avoid persecution, when he asked the Lord in a vision, “Where are you going?” The Lord said, “I’m going back to Rome to be crucified again!” Peter turned around and went back, submitting himself to death at the decree of Nero. Even if the details of the story aren’t true, we know for sure Peter was martyred. And almost every martyr receives a way or ways to escape the lordship of Jesus.
What would ever keep a slave in his master’s house? It must be more than fear or duty…