When I was a teenager, some of the kids in school used to make fun of me. They would tease me about my weight. Looking back, I don’t recall those comments being particularly hurtful; nonetheless, I believed them, and at a deeper level, they affected my self-perception. I began to think of myself as overweight.
Years ago, I heard my children giggling in another part of the house. My wife remarked, “Boaz, you have got to see these photographs!” They had found a snapshot of me from my senior year in high school. I was so skinny that it was scary—and to my children, it was downright funny. How small I looked! Back then, I was already 6’1” but only weighed about 185 pounds. (According to weight charts, that’s just right for a 6’1” male.) I looked like a totally normal human being. I didn’t even look pudgy. I wasn’t at all overweight back then.  I was not what the kids in school said I was. Unfortunately, with the help of their rude remarks, I developed a false identity about my weight. Most of us have similar stories. One way or another, our flesh tends to negatively affect our perception of who we really are.
This is true in a psychological sense and even truer in a spiritual sense. As believers, we often suffer from false identities. The reality God has created in us is different from our perception of it. We have new identities in the Messiah, but we often fail to see ourselves rightly.
Let’s take a few minutes to look at our identities from God’s viewpoint. One term the Scriptures use for “those who are in the Messiah” is “slaves to righteousness.” Prior to faith in the Master, we were “slaves to sin”—but not any longer.
Free from Egypt
I know the idea of being “a slave to righteousness” is hard to relate to and comprehend. That’s why the Torah gives us the story of Israel’s flight from Egypt to help us understand the transformation we have undergone.
Our salvation is comparable to the exodus. Just like the Israelites in Egypt, we were once slaves. The adversary was our Pharaoh; sin was our brick making; and death was our Egypt. But then God sent His redeemer. Like Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, the Messiah leads us out of bondage to sin. He does it by the blood of the Lamb and great deliverance. He leads us from bondage to freedom. But Israel’s freedom was not a freedom unto anarchy. Had they simply scattered in the wilderness, they would have perished.
Instead, they were set free that they might serve God. He said, “For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:42). In the same way, our freedom in Messiah is not a freedom from God and His righteous laws:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! (Romans 6:1-2)
Continuing in our lives of sin after salvation would be like volunteering to go back to Egypt to make more bricks for Pharaoh.
We Were That Way—But We’ve Been Changed!
The Apostle Paul can help us understand this from a slightly different perspective:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Yeshua the Messiah, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Just as Israel did not free themselves, we have been changed, and we did not do it ourselves. We now have a relationship with God as a result of His grace and love toward us. Our relationship to God and His Torah has permanently changed . We have been reconciled to God. There is no more enmity between us and God. The Torah no longer condemns us, rather it instructs us.
However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing left for us to do. In Romans 6, Paul shows his readers that sanctification is not optional. It is the necessary process that follows justification. He teaches that, “the life promised for the man who is righteous by faith is a life characterized by sanctification.” This involves an ongoing process of effort and obedience on our parts, as well as the ongoing work of the Spirit in our hearts.
Look at it this way. I often say that the Messiah “transformed” me, and He did, dramatically. He regenerated the very core of who I am. He transformed my DNA, so to speak. But the Torah “changed” me. There were many years when I had the Messiah living in me but continued to live life in the flesh. It wasn’t until I began to submit myself to the Torah that I really began to change in more visible ways. My character changed. The ideas I thought and the way I spoke began to change. As a result, Yeshua has transformed me both internally and externally as I have submitted to Him, the Living Torah, and as I have submitted to His Word, the written Torah.
In Romans 6, Paul says, “that we should no longer be slaves to sin” and that we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. He then challenges us by saying that we should not offer the parts of our bodies to sin. Finally, he concludes by reminding us all that we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
We Are No Longer Sinners
This powerful passage contrasts our old man to our new nature. Too often, we continue to allow ourselves to remain slaves to sin. We do this, in part, because of a faulty sense of our true identity. We believe that the pull of sin is natural and that it’s virtually unavoidable.
This concept goes against biblical teachings. Our new reality is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death (not the law of Torah, as some wrongly suppose). Romans 8:1-2 states it clearly:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Yeshua, because through the Messiah Yeshua the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
It is the law of sin and death, the law of the flesh, that has separated us from God. Through the Messiah, that separation is eliminated and we are reconciled to God. The law of sin and death, which once bound us and forced us to sin, has been eliminated from our lives. Sin is now optional for us; it is not part of our new nature or our new identity.
Paul states in Romans 6:20 that we were (past tense) slaves to sin, and at that time, we were free from the control of righteousness. Before our life in the Messiah, before being set free from the law of sin and death, righteousness (the call to holiness) had no influence over us. It had no appeal to us. However, the text indicates that now the opposite is true; now we are righteous and we are free from the control of sin.
He Makes Us Righteous
Admittedly, it is hard to consider ourselves as “slaves to righteousness.” Most of us struggle day after day to submit to our new nature. Paul offers us a word of comfort regarding this struggle:
Thanks be to God —through Yeshua our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)
Paul has full assurance in the work of the Messiah. Not only is he growing in righteousness, but he has complete confidence that he will fully put off the flesh with all of its inherent shortcomings.
Scripture says that as believers, we are slaves to righteousness. This is both a spiritual and a physical reality. Our newly created selves (with the Messiah’s life in us) must bear forth the fruit of the Spirit. We must demonstrate genuine biblical righteousness. We must submit our lives to the will and wisdom of God, found in His just commands.
As slaves to righteousness, we realize that our lives are no longer our own. Rather, we are vessels and instruments through which God’s love, mercy, and grace are displayed. Through the Messiah we have become the servants of a new Master. Unlike Pharaoh, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. To labor for Him in the fields of righteousness is pure joy. We are bound to Him with fetters of love.
Our Master calls us to holiness, and He has fully equipped us to accomplish His purpose. We struggle for our true identity to shine forth. We must let God’s mercy and love be displayed in and through our lives. May we all be faithful servants of our King!
- Hey, things have changed a little from the time I was in high school… and I am working on it!
- James 1:22-25.