Romans 6:16 (all verses KJV)
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves as doulos, to obey, his doulos ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
The solution is to not read “free will” so heavily into the Bible, and to not believe in free will as an ultimate good per se, or maybe even not believe it is ever the actual case, or for that matter even metaphysically coherent.
There’s no effective way to argue the existence and value of free will within the framework of a religion where the founding disciples and apostles self-identified as slaves, and where they, and even the incarnate God, joyously celebrated their obedience and claimed to be nothing by their own will. Where being bound to God, Christ, and the Spirit is the salvation sought.
The freedom mentioned in the Bible is simply salvation, freedom from the prison of sin, from being a slave to the earthly or evil. It does not refer to autonomy or free will.
Finally, this concept then transcends itself, transcends free vs bound, and transcends all concepts.
Lord Christ Himself in John 12:49
For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak
And this is by no means unique. He repeated over and over that He was not doing His will.
The point of the Bible is freedom from sin, the freedom of being saved by Christ, which literally means becoming a slave of Christ. The word translated as “servant” does not mean servant. In the New Testament it is Doulos (Greek: δούλος), the Greek masculine noun meaning "slave". Timothy Schmidt recently noted that there were many other available words, sometimes even used elsewhere, that the Spirit could have chosen if He did not mean slave exactly. The reason it is translated as servant is that translators don’t think modern people can comprehend the often happy, legally protected, often initially voluntary, often dignified positions of some slaves in the distant past. Slaves of influential or wealthy people were free from starvation, and depending on the owner, free to be part of something and live lives of meaning and purpose. To date, 4,000 tombstones have been found where it is believed the deceased chose the epitaph, which says proudly “A Slave of Caesar”. And it is not accurate to say that they were simply bond servants who always had the chance to enter in voluntarily and negotiate and renegotiate. People were owned outright, sometimes for years, and sometimes for life. However the vast majority of slaves were war prisoners. They had no judiciary rights (considered litteral property in the roman law), no identity, and were therefore entirely at the mercy of their owners which were not always nice. Cases of rape and murder were common. Slaves revolts ending in a bloodshed were the consequence. The point is more that, despite the potential for immense suffering, “slavery” in and of itself doesn’t have as much positive or negative implication as we tend to think. The same applies to being a tool, instrument, or to a lesser degree a servant. Most of us are happy to be a body part or tool or instrument (literally an object, zero rights, clearly even more owned, less independent than a slave) but not slave.
One possible take on the Christian life is that there is nothing more dignified, meaningful, safe, and valuable in this universe for man than being a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, declaring Christ as our Lord is declaring our slavery. Free people don’t have a Master. As is often noted, we will serve something. The only question is what that is.
John Calvin wrote in On God’s Sovereignty:
This “liberty” is compatible with our being depraved, the servants of sin, able to do nothing but sin. In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title [as “free will”]?
In addition to being slaves, we also have the repeated claim in the Bible that faith causes obedience, and the saving value of it is due to obedience.
At this point one might agree this is almost entirely true, but we each have the free choice of which master to serve. I do indeed hope we can pick the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but on our own this is impossible. It takes some grace. The best one can do is claim that each can reject or not, and electionists would not even say that.
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
1 Corinthians 14:34
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
But I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Good News, Loving Master
1 Paul, a [slave] of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned
For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
“[Jesus] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a [slave], and was made in the likeness of men”
In other words taking human form is equivalent to taking the form of a slave of the Divine.
Great News: Sons and Unity
Obedience eventually transcends itself, and transcends the human will, in unity. This, in my opinion, is beyond all concepts of free or slave (and maybe beyond all concepts period). When the heart loves the master, it isn’t exactly slavery. Is a child a slave of his parent?
Love, and do what you will... the soul who lives God will do nought to offend the One beloved
Augustine (354-430 AD)
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
This unity, sons of God, united in Spirit, part of the Body, shows up this bondage to be beyond a free or imprisoned individual, as Paul can write from inside a Roman prison that he is not actually a captive of Rome:
4 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;