But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
– Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody
A very popular but tragic myth many professing Christians believe is that as long as you “ask Jesus in your heart,” walk down an aisle, or make a decision for Christ, you can live however you wish. I see this type of thinking at work when people come through the waters of baptism only to return to unchanged lives where sin and rebellion are willingly and gladly chosen over obedience and holiness time and again. Salvation is only equated with rescue from judgment. But that’s not true. Viewing salvation as only a rescue from sin, death, and hell is to miss the critical other side of the coin.
Take the picture of salvation in the great exodus of Israel. God delivers the Israelites through the Red Sea not so that they might only be free of Pharaoh but that they would serve God. I would argue that the book of Exodus is not about being freed from slavery but about a change of masters. Is this not what Moses told Pharaoh at the beginning in Ex. 9:1, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me.’“? In other words, God’s people had been serving Pharaoh, now they were being called to rightly serve Yahweh, their one, true King. Notice what God told them as they gathered before Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:5, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God expected his people to obey! It was part and parcel of his relationship with them – not something peripheral or optional, but a natural response to the grace of God’s deliverance.
God doesn’t save Israel from slavery in Egypt so they can stand on the other side of the Red Sea, give Yahweh a nice wave, and proceed to live as they personally see fit. He expected them to live lives of obedience. That’s why the exodus isn’t just a from-thing, it is also a to-thing. God saves his people from their enemies so they might be set apart to him and his kingdom. This should help us see that the salvation God brings always has both a from component and a to component. They cannot be separated but are two sides of the same coin. Thus, God sent Jesus to the Cross not just to save you from judgment but also to save you to himself – to serve him and his kingdom. God didn’t provide a better exodus for you in Christ so that you might be your own master (which would only be putting you back into slavery) but to bring you to your right Master.
We need to know that while real grace will meet us where we are, it won’t keep us where we are. Grace doesn’t make obedience optional. It never has. It’s why Jesus can say in Jn. 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” or in Lk. 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” It’s why Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Christ is never loved till sin be loathed.” It’s also why it’s not enough to say we love Jesus with our mouths, or via attendance in a church building once or twice a month, or go through the waters of baptism and not reflect that love through a growing sense of obedience and personal holiness in our lives. We have been saved to God. Our sexual practices have been saved to God. Our conversations have been saved to God. Our resources have been saved to God. You name it, every circle of activity in our life has been saved from judgment to the Lord God.
May those of us who profess Christ as Lord serve him as such. May we not believe the myth that says you can profess Christ with your mouth but not with your life. May we reject the idea of cheap grace and easy believism which says we can be Jesus’ followers without actually having to follow him. Why is that a lie? Because God not only saves from, he also saves to.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
– 1 Peter 1:14-16