Mastery and Letting Go
That service is not only a kind of freedom, freedom from sin, it is also the freedom of the Spirit, which allows us to be a person who, like the wind, "bloweth where it listeth" (Jn. 3:8). As Augustine says, those with the Spirit can love and do what they will because their love will have been purified:
Love and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good. (Homily on the First Epistle of John)
In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) Hegel argues that giving up the desire for mastery makes the freedom of true human consciousness possible. Hegel's insight is a profound one. It has influenced generations of thinkers and activists after him. And it is borrowed from the New Testament.
However, Paul's teaching about giving up mastery goes further than Hegel's. For Paul teaches that, in a seeming paradox, giving up the desire for mastery will first make us slaves (as we give up our own wills) and then make us members of the family of God (as we acquire his will). Those who give up mastery will receive the same inheritance that Christ the Master receives. We will become the children of God (Rom. 8:16-17).
Our lives will be fuller, happier, and of greater worth if we give up the goals of mastery. If we are servants, we will worry less about what we can control and more about what our service means to our Master. If we are servants, we will be less concerned that this or that work will fail and more concerned that we do what is needed. If we are servants, we will be more interested in the Lord's will and desires than in our own, more interested in the needs and desires of those we encounter than our own. And being servants as he was, we will become the children of God, as he was.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.