I went missing for a grand total of twenty-five minutes before my dad found me. But even if he hadn’t, even if I had been found instead by a rich family and taken in and offered all the freedoms of wealth and pleasure (and not have to shop for school clothes), I wouldn’t have wanted it. I would have cried at the prospect of having a whole basement full of electric trains, and refused with tears the chance to eat cookies and corn chips whenever I wanted. Not to mention, the numbness I would have felt toward an Ivy League education, of becoming a prominent socialite, of having everything. An invisible bond tethered me to my little family no personal fortune real or imagined could break. I was never so glad to go home.
Why on earth would anybody reject freedom—especially the kind that opens up into millions of possibilities? Duty and commitment come to mind. Ignorance, fear, and personal incompetence also are great reasons to choose “incarceration” over freedom.
And yet the slave of Exodus 21 rejects the opportunity of freedom, citing something more powerful than chains or threats or shame. He isn’t coerced for economic reasons. He isn’t institutionally handicapped. The reason is simple—“I love my master” (Ex. 21:5).
Love is powerful. It’s the tether. Once it gets going, it can’t be reasoned away. People can call it deluded. They can insult it. They might even succeed in embarrassing us over it, but we’ll still love in secret. Love resists logic. Sometimes it doesn’t even care about the facts.
Jesus Christ has loved us like this for a long time. He wants us to love Him back. That will be the day we stay with Him, not because we’re scared of divine retribution like getting cancer or being hit by a truck. Not because of the junkets and blessings that come from being by His side. Only, “I love my Master.”
Think about marriage. A man has his vows and a ring on his finger. Even if he’s not in the mood to be married, he ethically and morally belongs to someone. For better or worse. Till death do you part. A court license says so as well. This bedrock understanding keeps you from marrying someone new every other year.
But who wants a marriage only based on legal contract? If a union continues to run only on an official basis, it will become miserable. Something had better be going on at the heart level, with the fuel of affection, devotion, and desire.
The Bible says we’ve been “espoused” to Christ—engaged to Him for marriage (2 Cor. 11:2). We’re the bride of Christ, and the wife of the lamb (Eph. 5:24-25, 2 Cor. 11:2, Rev. 19:7). That’s an intensely deep relationship, as the verse says, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). Scripture probably contains five hundred ways of seeing how Jesus died for us and now legally, morally, ethically, spiritually, righteously, reasonably He owns our souls. That’s bedrock. You have to see that fact, otherwise, you’ll have a new god every other year.
But if you want a flourishing relationship with Christ, you’re going to need more than the should’s and ought’s of religious duty. Besides, He doesn’t show us His love so we’ll feel pressured or shamed into belonging to Him, anyway. He does it to stimulate us to want to belong to Him.
All the special stuff of the Christian life happens in the crosshairs of love for Christ. Paul wrote, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:24). He will always love us, even when we don’t love Him. That’s good news. But I’d rather love Him back. I want to be aware of grace—that freely favorable intent, attitude, and action of God. I want to revel in it.
Grace isn’t a one-time thing we got on the day we believed. It flows like a river, making the relationship better all the time. I’m floating somewhere out there in that big crystalline river—in water way over my head. I’m hoping you are, too. It’s bringing us to the place where we say, “I love my Master…I will not go out free” (Ex. 21:5).
I suppose the folks on the bank think we’re crazy.