20 June, 2024

You Are Not Your Own


by | 14 August, 2005 | 0 comments

By C. Robert Wetzel

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).

The Vernon Newland family spent the duration of World War II in a Japanese concentration camp in the Philippines. They had planned to serve in China when the war broke out. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1942 they, along with many foreign nationals, were interred in cruel and miserable conditions. Many people did not survive these camps.

When the American forces invaded the Philippines in 1944 they were aware that the Japanese planned to kill the people in the camp rather than allow them to be liberated by advancing American troops. Thus the American army sent 900 Marines to drive through the enemy lines toward the camp in order to prevent the massacre. They arrived in time, and after a fierce battle liberated the camp.

I sat on the edge of my bleacher seat at the Ashland Christian Service Camp in 1948 listening to Vernon Newland”s account of his family”s suffering and the faith that sustained them during the miserable years of their captivity. He concluded the account by telling about the great joy they had when the American troops liberated the camp. He walked through the camp shouting in celebration, but as he turned a corner of an out-of-the way building, there he saw laying on the ground the bodies of several American soldiers who had died in the fighting.

He was overcome by grief and gratitude. He said, “These men died for me.” Vernon concluded his message by saying, “Now I know in a much deeper way what it means to say, “˜Christ died for me.””

When the invitation hymn was sung a crowd of us went forward to dedicate ourselves to full-time Christian service. I do not know what happened to the other young people who made that commitment that night, but here I am, 56 years hence and almost 50 years since ordination.

But it hasn”t been a straight ascending line. I say this, because I know you can tell your story of commitment, even though followed by times of uncertainty and perhaps many falls along the way. There seems to be a constant struggle as we try to discern between personal ego and submission to the will of Christ, between what I regard as “my ministry” as opposed to the ministry to which the Holy Spirit is leading me.

My Way?

Under the best of circumstances we human beings are innately egotistical. Our American culture tends to reinforce egotism. For those of you who can remember him, we can hear Frank Sinatra singing, “I Did It My Way.” It is ironic that shortly before his death he offered the Catholic Church several million dollars to guarantee him a place in Heaven.

Egotism is certainly Satan”s most powerful weapon over humanity. If there is a point at which we as Christians must be counter culture, it is when we challenge this kind of egotism with Paul”s reminder, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” With his death, Christ has redeemed us. He bought us back from the captivity of self-destructive egotism.

What are the implications of this for those of us involved in Christian service today? It means that all I am and all I do must be weighed against what it means to be the servant of Christ. Many students at Emmanuel School of Religion are working on the master of divinity degree. But it is a wholesome reminder that we never master divinity; rather the Divine must master us. There must be a golden mean, a via media between the pharisaism of looking better than we are and the egotism of simply “being myself.”

If we are called to be servants of the church, we must ask what that servanthood requires of us. For example there is far less need for us to shock people with what we suppose to be our worldly-wise behavior or speech than there is to show the love of Christ in our concern for the faith and conscience of others. Those people in your congregation you suppose are stuffy old traditionalists are probably just people like you trying to understand God”s will in their lives.

His Way!

Furthermore we bear an obligation to conduct ourselves in a way that will maximize the effectiveness of the service we give to the church. It certainly means being entirely discreet in our language and behavior to members of the opposite sex. This is the context of Paul”s reminder, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”

Verse 18 begins “Flee from sexual immorality.” Don”t just avoid it. Flee from it! Flee as did Joseph from the house of Potiphar. Your fleeing may not be from the house of a seductive woman or man. It will more likely be fleeing from the tsunami of pornography that floods the Internet. But whatever the sin and whatever the source, flee from it.

But if we are to be servants of the church, it is more than simply avoiding the most obvious sins. Rather we are called to become “all things to all people so that we might win some.” If this means that your calling is to witness to bikers then you are going to have to look like the bikers. But if you are going to serve an ordinary congregation you can”t look like a biker or worse. The person you are trying to nurture in the faith ought not to have to get through your idiosyncrasies in order to see the Christ.

It seems obvious enough that if you are going to work in a cross-cultural mission you had better adapt to that culture. But it is also necessary to do some cultural adaptation to any group of people to whom you will be ministering. For example, our work is too important to be compromised by bad manners and social ineptness. The truth of the gospel will disturb enough people without our having to upset them with our thoughtlessness or ineptness.

We can multiply the implications and applications of what it means to belong to Christ, to have been bought with a price. We spend a lifetime doing it. But the more we deal with this while we are younger, the less grief we and those we serve will have later on.

You have turned your life over to God, and you are seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you look to the future. True, there is a sense in which we must always be open to the unexpected leading of the Holy Spirit. But there is also a sense in which we must make choices and stick with them until the Holy Spirit tells us otherwise.

I close with the admonition of the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (12:1, 2).

Robert Wetzel is president of Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee, and a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor. This essay is adapted from a sermon he preached in chapel at Emmanuel.


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