As human beings, it is normal to crave that sense of belonging. We feel comfort in the knowledge that there are people with whom we identify that will claim us as their own and who will not leave us utterly alone. Of course, on the most basic level, this ought to be found in one’s family, though with so many dysfunctional and broken families in our world, people often have to look elsewhere. In principle, too, this ought to be found in the church, but again, churches are made up of fallen and sinful people who sometimes fall into a group of cliques. For much of my adolescence and into my adult years, belonging was found in a small group of friends. Yet, for many youth in America, this need for belonging finds its expression in destructive and violent forms like gangs, secret societies, and the like. This drive to belong to a group is so profound and cross-cultural that the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, referred to mankind as “the political animal” (people deriving their identity from life in the city).
The Heidelberg Catechism, question 1, presents another response to the matter of belonging. It asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” — in other words, if we draw comfort from our sense of belonging…to whom do we belong? The first part of the answer is, “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In other words, while your friends will fail you and your church will fail you, while even your friends will fail you, there is one who will never fail you. And the one who will never fail or abandon you is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are believers, we belong to him body and soul, in life and in death.
With this, though, comes an important reality. You see, belonging to Christ is not quite the same as belonging to a group of friends or to a civic organization. With a civic organization, one picks and chooses in what they will participate; with a group of friends, sometimes the bond of friendship is conditional or just for a season. When it comes to belonging to Christ, it is permanent and Christ has the right and power to make demands on your life. It is not a voluntary association, but it is a bondage akin to slavery. In fact, that is what the Apostle Paul calls his relationship with Christ (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22-23; Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:6).
Many people struggle with the idea that the Christian is a slave to Christ, but as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians (above), we were bought at a price. But think about it this way, we never were truly free in an autonomous sort of way. We were born as slaves to sin (John 8:34). Paul goes further than that and says that you are slaves to the one whom you obey (Romans 6:16) and the author of Hebrews makes it very clear that Jesus delivered us from our lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:15). So, we can think of it this way…we were born into this world as slaves to sin but Christ bought his elect, making us slaves to himself. Absolute and autonomous freedom is a myth. The real question is not whether you are a slave, but “to whom do you submit your obedience?”
The irony of it all is that if you submit your obedience to Christ, you will find true freedom — not autonomous freedom, but freedom to a God who will lead you down a path that will offer true and eternal satisfaction and joy. In the Old Testament, slaves who had served a truly benevolent master could choose to remain his slave rather than to be set free (see Exodus 21:1-6). This is the kind of relationship we have with Christ as our benevolent master. Yes, that means he can make demands on our lives. Yes, that means he will command us to do things and go places that will stretch us out of our comfort zones. Yes, that means sometimes he will call us to sacrifice our earthly lives for the building of His kingdom. And yes, that also means there will be times when the cost of being Christ’s disciple will be greater than you can dream. Nevertheless, across the scope of eternity, despite the costs that might be experienced on earth, in Christ there is eternal joy…and in that, Heidelberg reminds us, we will find our true comfort.
And by the way, in light of this and what Paul is discussing in Romans 6, if you are not sacrificing to live for Christ, if you are living for yourself, or just playing lip-service to Jesus and then no being intentionally obedient to his Word…then you are still a slave and you are a slave to sin…repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ.