When Israrel out of Egypt went, God took a people that had been oppressed by generations of cruel slavery and told them that they were to be a special people that would model His ways for the entire world. Their specialness had nothing to do with their own personal righteousness but because of the faithfulness of the Eternal to the covenants and promises He had made with their godly ancestors. As a result of the calling that God had given to Israel, shown by His redemptive acts of freeing them from the cruelty of slavery, Israel was called to be holy and obedient to His laws that He gave them through Moses. Likewise, we have been set free from slavery to sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and God has called us to be a chosen nation and a holy priesthood as well.
Let us understand at first that we begin as slaves of sin, a point the scriptures make plain. In Romans 6:15-23, Paul speaks quite plainly about the contrast between being the servants of God and the slaves of sin: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you beacame slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regrad to righteousness. What fruit id you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Slavery to sin is immensely common in this world. Many of these forms of slavery are addictions to behaviors or substances that people know to be harmful and destructive but are unable to break free from. Such slavery is real in this world. Other people feel trapped in situations that they feel unable to escape from because of their debts and burdens and responsibilities that keep them from doing what they would wish. That is a slavery as well that is particularly common in this present evil age. There are still others who feel oppressed and burdened by the wickedness that surrounds us that demands to be respected and honored and has no regard for the standards of God by which nations and societies are judged. Our slavery to sin is not merely individual but also collective and societal in nature. To the extent that our societies are gripped by wickedness and under the sway of the evil one, we too are slaves of sin leading to death.
Israel’s freedom from slavery was not a freedom to sin, but rather it was a call to be responsible and self-disciplined people who could set an example of godliness to a world that was and remains largely in darkness. As God said to Israel in Exodus 19:5-6: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure above all people; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God makes this same precise promise to his Church, the Israel of God, in 1 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people but now are the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Whenever God frees people from the grips of slavery, however literal or metaphorical that slavery may be, that freedom is not so that we may become slaves of our own lusts and apetites, but so that we may be servants to obedience and models of the workings of God’s grace through our lives leading to holiness and righteousness through obedience to God’s ways. To the extent that we remain rebellious against God’s ways, we remain slaves to sin and wickedness and are not free.
Throughout the long history of Israel, they failed as a model of obedience to the world, and from the first generation of Israelites freed from the cruelty of slavery in Egypt, of infanticide and coerced labor and other evils, they remained slaves to evil and did not enter into the promised rest because of their disobedience. Their example of immorality and rebellion against God’s commandments remains as an example for us to avoid. All too often, though, people who claim to be followers of Christ who are freed through grace often show themselves to be slaves of sin through their rebellious disobeidence, bringing dishonor upon the name that is to be most praised, by which every knee will bow in obedience and worship. Before we can be a people that serves as a light to the world, we must be guided in our own conduct by the light of the world, rather than the darkness and wickedness that envelops us.