In the prayer for the First Hour (ca. 8 AM in my life), we pray, “Order my steps in Thy Word, and shall no wickedness have dominion over me.” This petition addresses a fundamental condition of fallen man: the capacity we have to become enslaved, that is lose our God-given freedom, and subject to the passions that will degrade and kill us. Anyone who has become addicted to porn has allowed wickedness to have dominion over him. Anyone addicted to constantly judging others and comparing himself to them has allowed sin to have its way in this regard.

I say this possibility of slavery to sin is fundamental; it is spoken of early in Genesis, before the first recorded murder, when the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? … sin is couching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:7) The path away from slavery to mastery is traveled by grace and by faith, but this does not mean that it is a matter of being a more “spiritual” person, whatever that means in today’s vague religious jargon that allows anyone to justify himself and excuse his personal lifestyle choices. No, the path lies along the line of obedience to the Lord’s commandments. The First Hour prayer, having acknowledged “Thy Word,” continues, “Deliver me from the wrongful dealings of men, and so shall I keep They commandments. Show the light of Thy countenance upon Thy servant and teach me your statutes.” And later, “O Christ, the true Light…. guide our footsteps aright in keeping Thy commandments.”

In a culture in which “no one call tell me what to do” is the touchstone, the Lordship of Jesus is often boiled down to a cheap sentiment easily acknowledged and paid off with a few minutes of praise singing every week. But His Lordship is that which rises from His being granted “all authority in heaven and on earth,” from which authority he charges those who wish to say they belong to Him that they make disciples, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The commandments include the Sermon on the Mount.

The only way Christians can possibly live in faith and obedience to such a high calling is to acknowledge and know in their hearts and feel in their bones that the Lord “hast no delight in sacrifice” (which could be my songs or regular prayers) but that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalm 51:16-17) Surely, this contrition should be a daily assessment, at least for me, for a day does not go by in which I do not think a bad thought of someone else or fail to live selflessly, thinking better of others than of myself, and not thanking God always in all things, or loving with patience, kindness, and humility. I pray the regular prayers not to earn the Lord’s favor but as reminders of my state before him and my need for grace. The touchstones of fidelity are the Lord’s commandments and the example of his saints in their faith, hope and love. In this service lies perfect freedom and the chains of slavery are removed far from us.