Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan got it right in more ways than one when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Professionally, it garnered him the Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) in 1980, the second of 11 career Grammy awards. But more importantly this song, on his first album (Slow Train Coming) after his conversion to Christianity, confronted the reality that everyone serves one of two masters:  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

While the song reached the 24th spot in Billboard’s Top 40, not all appreciated Dylan’s new found faith. Because of his refusal to sing his old, secular songs in concert, he was heckled by disappointed fans.  John Lennon, who had recanted his own conversion experience, responded to “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a profane song, “Serve Yourself,” arguing against the claims of salvation through Christ alone. “He was kind of upset [about Dylan’s song] and it was a dialogue,” said Yoko in 1998. “He showed his anger but also … his sense of humour [sic].” [1]  Ironically, it was one of the last four demos he recorded at his home on November 14, before Lennon was shot to death outside that apartment on December 8, 1980.

Last Sunday, we saw in Romans 6:14-18 that the Apostle Paul (like Dylan) puts every man in one of two camps: we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience that leads to righteousness. Likewise, Jesus spoke of this kind of bondage. While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day touted their own righteousness, Jesus regularly pointed out their hypocrisy. The religious leaders challenged him one day when he implied that they were enslaved to sin. Believing they were free because of their physical heritage, Jesus made it clear that they were instead “slaves to sin” and that their father was the devil (John 8:31-47)

Obedience is the hallmark of slavery. So, slavery to sin means that there is an ever increasing obedience to it. C.S. Lewis well captures the progressive nature of sin in The Screwtape Letters, in which he depicts a senior demon offering this advice to his nephew: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” [2] The next high is never like the first and yet there is a craving to experience it again. There is truth to the oft repeated quote by an anonymous source:

“Sin will take you further than you ever intended to stray.

Sin will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay.

Sin will cost you more than you ever intended to pay.”

Just as the combative Jews in John 8 claimed their freedom, the most enslaved argue that they are the most free. John Calvin said, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will.” [3]  This has been exemplified in the “free love” movement of the 60’s that rejected traditional marriage, citing it as a form of social bondage. Where has that “freedom” taken us?  Abortion on demand, legalized same-sex marriage, and AIDS to mention just a few. And, yet, we see those, who advocate for these positions and causes, fighting vehemently even though these causes promote a sin that leads to death.

Conversely, Paul said that there is another slavery of obedience that leads to righteousness. This is slavery to Christ. This transference of ownership results in a freedom from sin and its tyrannical and devastating reign. And while we are yet slaves, this slavery to Christ brings eternal life and freedom to live in the righteous way to which God intended.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36, NIV).

So, you “gotta serve somebody!” There is no middle ground. Who will it be… sin, leading to death… or obedience to Christ, leading to eternal righteousness?

Your Response:

  • Just as religious leaders were deceived by slavery to sin…how has the Church of this generation been molded by the world/culture around it?
  • Closer to home, in what areas of your life are there evidences of slavery to sin? In what areas of your life is culture pressing you into its mold (entertainment, recreation, fashion, sports, speech, lusts [not just sexual], etc)?
  • What are you doing daily to ensure obedience to Christ? The Psalmist said “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, NIV). John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote in the cover of his Bible, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” In the battle against sin, the Word of God is the weapon you simply cannot neglect.

For Fun:

  • John Piper wrote some updated lyrics to the tune of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” [4]

[1] This article, John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase, from Christianity Today is an excerpt from The Gospel According to the Beatles by Steve Turner:

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, 2002, Harper Collins, New York, NY., 210.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 406.



3 thoughts on “Gotta Serve Somebody

  1. Brother, That’ll preach! Your peroration is the message that has been given to our Junior/Senior High class. The life of righteousness does not come from a list of “do nots,” instead, it comes from aiming towards, or pursuing righteousness, in and through Christ.


  2. I really like this because it helps me “ponder” what was taught on Sunday. Pursuing obedience to Christ on a daily basis is my goal. To be free in Him is the greatest blessing!


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