In my younger years, I was known to be a cartoon enthusiast. My wife would argue that I’ve never changed, and so would my DVD collection! Most of us loved cartoons as a child. When I say the words “Looney Tunes” I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you could access those memories for a moment, I want you to recall the stories of the “wascally wabbit,” Bugs Bunny, and his pompous predator, Elmer Fudd.
Elmer’s main purpose in existence was to catch him a rabbit; namely, Bugs. But the intelligent rabbit was far too keen for him. At the end of each cartoon, Elmer was empty handed. In some occasions, Elmer would create these entrapments to lure Bugs. They would have a tempting set of carrots that when grabbed would drop a husky cage. It was his fool proof plan. But Bugs was no fool. He always figured out an escape route.
In like manner, there are things on this earth that tempt us. Though they might seem innocent and pleasurable, they drop a heavy cage. The enticements come in many forms. To some, they come in the form of alcohol and nicotine. To others, they are sleep and food. And still yet others are entrapped by tattoos and parties. All of these things can become very addictive. They can easily be our cage of enslavement.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 has some great insight for us on how we should not be enslaved to things that we are at liberty to do:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Yet again we return to this misused phrase. Paul states that although some things may be permitted we should not be gripped by their clutches. The phrase “brought under power” literally means “mastered.” In fact, some translations render this text to read “I will not be mastered by any.” The idea comes from slavery. A slave was actual property of his master. Thus, he did exactly as his master wanted. Ultimately, he was controlled by his owner.
You might remember the verse that records Jesus’ teaching about money. He states, “No man can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13). He was communicating that no one can be a slave to Christ and to money at the same time. One either seeks to gain and have money or seeks to serve God at the expense of money. Elsewhere in Mark 10:23-25, Jesus is approached by a rich man who was seeking salvation. To his disappointment, Christ told the Rich man to give all of his riches to the poor and then to follow Him – a life where money is not needed. The rich man was in the grip of greed and chose to keep his wealth instead of attaining salvation. The meaning behind it all is that we must be totally mastered by God and nothing else.
The word power is particularly interesting. It denotes ability. However, Paul attributes the word to “things” and not beings. Why would he do so? The principle here is not that things can conquer and master us, but that we bow our knee to them as if they could. Alcohol has no power in and of itself. It is not living nor thinking. It does what we make it do. However, Paul writes that things like alcohol can master us in that we create a dependency on it. The alcoholic is not an alcoholic because alcohol has overpowered and forced him to drink. He is an alcoholic because he depends on it.
Rather than having a dependency on something of earth, God calls His children to have a dependency on Him and only Him. We are to be mastered by God. Romans 6:5-14 explains why:
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Sin is our master since birth. We sin because we love it and enjoy it. We sin because we are bent on sinning. However, once God regenerates our hearts and breaks the mastering of sin, we no longer have such a bent. We now are capable (powered) to do right. We are now mastered (or to be mastered) by God instead of sin. We is our master. Sin is not.
The sacrament of Baptism serves as an outward symbol that we have buried our life of sin and have been raised in newness of life in Christ. The Bible calls us dead in sin. It means that without Christ we are utterly unable to respond to God, just as a corpse is totally oblivious to the living. We are also oblivious to the Lord unless we are first born again. Now in Christ, we are alive and able to commune with God through prayer.
Paul parallels this with the illustration of being masters and slaves. While dead to God and alive to sin, we are slaves to sin. In contrast, while alive to God and dead to sin, we are slaves to God. What has awakened you ultimately masters you. Once we are mastered by God, we are literally freed from the “power of sin” (v7).
Since we are in Christ we no longer are slaves to sin. We should not then enslave ourselves to things of this world – good or bad. Paul says that we are to be “instruments of righteousness.” In other words, all people are instruments being played by a musician who we call master. We either play music which is full of sin or we play music sweet to the ears of the Lord. Before Christ we were the former. In Christ we are the latter. So if we are not careful, we will jump from the hands of God and into the hands of living and sin and will then be played for unrighteous purposes.
Sin has power. It has power to enslave. Later in Romans it reads, “For the wages of sin is death.” In the end, sin’s entrapment holds us for that reason. But enslavement doesn’t always mean bad things have you in their grip, good things can also keep you from God’s best. So before making any quick decisions, ask yourself this question, “Will it bring me into bondage?”