“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” – Romans 6:16
Diets – they’re everywhere. Zone, Paleo, Low Carb, No Carb, Gluten-free, South Beach, Atkins, Mediterranean, Dash, 3-Day, Shred, Flat Belly … if you can think of it, there’s a diet for it. Once-famous celebrities gain newfound notoriety through endless commercials discussing how much weight they lost on their highly-lucrative endorsements for this or that meal plan.
Today’s culture seems slavishly obsessed with weight, even as a recent article in the New York Post indicates that while Americans are consuming supposedly healthier foods, the percentage of American adults who are considered obese stands at a whopping 36.5%. Ironically, being slaves to the scale actually makes us slaves to weight.
Slavery is a thread as interwoven into humankind as our DNA. Sadly, there is nothing so abhorrent in man’s experience as one human enslaving another. Throughout our history, from the earliest settlements of hunters and gatherers into local concentrations of shared protection to our relatively post-modern societies of this very day, humans have continuously found ways to prey on the weakest and force the less fortunate into bondage. Today, this bondage can take many forms: physical slavery, while relatively rare, still exists in modern Africa; sexual slavery, is a burgeoning trade in certain parts of the world; financial bondage, a highly refined form of slavery, flourishes nearly everywhere.
No, this isn’t a post about man’s inhumanity to man. We’ll save that for another time. Rather, it’s about the fire burning inside each of us, and how that fire can ignite the ember of unrest into a flame of action.
John Wesley, the celebrated preacher and founder of the Methodist Church, was a man in whom this flame burned bright and fierce. A life-long opponent of slavery, Wesley remained an outspoken advocate until his death. He not only fought against the scourge of slavery, but as a leader of the emergent Methodist movement he practiced throughout his life a regimen of personal discipline and ordered living.
As horrendous as human slavery can be, there is another, even more insidious form of enslavement many of us fall into every day. That slavery is self-imposed. It burrows into the crevasses of our hearts and our minds because we allow it to thrive there. It’s the slavery of the soul.
Paul writes about this in the passage above from Romans 6, comparing enslavement to sin with the ubiquitous practice of slavery across Palestine in his day. Paul is argues that if we give ourselves over to slavery, we will follow whatever master controls us. As slaves to sin, we are free to righteousness, he writes, yet our reward is death. But now that we have been set free from sin through the atonement and reconciliation of Christ, we are slaves to God, having as our reward sanctification and its end, eternal life.
It can be a difficult concept: trading one form of slavery for another, or that slavery in some sense equals freedom. Yet that is just what Paul is telling us; and where our friend John Wesley re-enters the conversation. Wesley’s commitment to disciplined living, that same discipline that bolstered his fight against slavery – imposed by others as well as self-imposed – offers us a path to follow in our daily struggle against slavish devotion to the things of this world vs. the will of God.
Lewis Allen, Pastor of Hope Church in Huddersfield, UK, is a well-respected follower of Wesley’s teachings. A few years ago he created a list of questions we should ask ourselves regarding our own spiritual discipline based on the teachings of John Wesley. I share that list here for your consideration. I’m fairly sure you’ll find something of value in one or more of these questions as part of your daily spiritual diet!
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
- Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Did the Bible live in me today?
- Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
- Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life?
- Am I jealous, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- Am I proud?
- Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
- Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
- Do I grumble and complain constantly?
- Is Christ real in me?