You can learn a lot when visiting a cemetery. One thing you take in is how quiet the grounds are—after all, the residents are not saying much. There’s also the realization that death does not pick and choose those who join its ranks. It simply swallows up all humanity.
Many of those buried under the manicured lawns were perhaps acquainted with portions of Ben Franklin’s quip that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Perhaps they had nonetheless pushed that out of mind, some even with no sense of accountability. Yet still their lives all ended—and rarely in a time of their choosing.
Recently I learned more about life in paying respects at my parents’ resting spot. On leaving, I stumbled on an amazing tombstone. Like all markers it had a name and dates of birth and death divided by a dash, but it was the epitaph below that grabbed my attention. It proclaimed all I needed to know about the quietness of the dash above. It read “The Property of God.”
That was it—and it was everything. Four simple words defined this individual’s focus in life. And they expressed a great truth we all need to understand about God’s calling. Here before me was a gift bequeathed to me in the moment, a powerful reminder of what we become in responding to Jesus Christ’s welcoming invitation of “Follow Me.”
What does “The Property of God” mean?
The word “property,” which first caught my attention here, demands careful unpacking. The clear sense was that of ownership—being owned by God and belonging to Him as a possession. Many would be hesitant to use such terminology or to accept it. Property? Really? In our current society, why would someone desire to tell all who pass by that he or she was owned?
Humanly it might seem repugnant. On the surface it seems to have echoes of human bondage. But what did it mean to the deceased individual? And what may we, the living, derive from Scripture regarding the life and times of Jesus and His early followers?
Rome ruled the Western world in the first century A.D. Historians estimate that the Italian peninsula’s population was 40 to 50 percent slaves, and in the remainder of the empire perhaps 10 percent were slaves. Slavery was part and parcel of the times.
Slaves were stationed among all levels of society. Whether secretaries in the imperial household, teachers, artists, field hands, miners or galley rowers, they all had one thing in common—they belonged to someone else. They were property to carry out someone else’s bidding and not their own.
This was the world of the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament, written in the Greek language. They refer often to slaves. But subsequent Bible translations have softened the reality of the times and the fullness of the intent by using more neutral-sounding English words such as “servant,” “bondservant,” “bondman” and “bondmaid.”
Consider how Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words breaks down the original Greek word translated into these terms: “doulos . . . from deo, ‘to bind,’ ‘a slave,’ originally the lowest term in the scale of servitude, came also to mean ‘one who gives himself up to the will of another’” (1985, p. 73).
This is the sense of being the property of another—even the property of God. Of course God sees us as more than property, for we belong to Him as His very own children. But that does not change the fact that we are still His property, He being our Owner and Master—albeit a Master who loves us completely.
Jesus did the unthinkable
What can we learn from the greatest Teacher of all time regarding not only who He was and what He said, but what He practiced throughout His human existence? Knowing Him and becoming like Him as we accept His invitation of “Follow Me” are two different levels of experience, and we must understand both.
Growing up, Jesus would have been familiar with Psalms 24:1 Psalms 24:1The earth is the LORD's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
American King James Version×: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” He fully understood the reality of God as Creator so that all that exists, whether animate or inanimate, belongs to Him. Simply put: It is all God’s property.
But there is more to glean. In Jesus’ uncreated preexistence as God, the Word who was God with the Father, all things were created through Him (John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 The same was in the beginning with God.
 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×, 14). “For by Him [Jesus] all things were created that are on earth, visible and invisible . . . All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
American King James Version×). As God the Creator along with the Father, Jesus owned everything along with the Father. Heaven and earth were Their shared property!
And then the divine Word performed the humanly unthinkable—He became one of us. For “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 Philippians 2:6-8  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
This passage encapsulates where He came from, the state in which He arrived, the way in which He existed as the Son of Man—taking on the role of a humble, obedient slave—and how He departed the human experience. He became all of us and displayed firsthand how we can become more than we could ever be on our own—in submitting our life as the property of God.
Christ’s life was purposeful and not accidental. He lived every moment by divine design and obedience. His purpose and calling to be our Savior owned Him and filled Him up. As the Son of Man in this human existence, He belonged to God the Father and in His own words proclaimed, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34 John 4:34Jesus said to them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
American King James Version×). Even in the most challenging moments of His life, with death just around the corner, He remained steadfastly obedient when He told our Heavenly Father, “I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36 Mark 14:36And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what you will.
American King James Version×, NLT).
His purpose was eternal in scope. He came and died “that they [you and I] may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×). His belonging to His and our Heavenly Father and belonging to Their joint purpose broke our bondage to Satan, our bondage to sin and our bondage to self-aggrandizement that lurks within us. Peter plainly tells us that “you were not redeemed [ransomed beyond our capabilities to do so] with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19  For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
American King James Version×).
“You were bought at a price”
Building on this purchase from death to life, the apostle Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 1 Corinthians 6:19-20  What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?
 For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
American King James Version×, reminding all who would heed the invitation of “Follow Me”: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [which] is in you . . . and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s”—that is, which belong to God.
All the early purveyors of the gospel came to understand and accept this God-given role when they accepted the invitation of “Follow Me.” Scriptures such as Romans 1:1 Romans 1:1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God,
American King James Version×, 2 Peter 1:1 2 Peter 1:1Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×and James 1:1 James 1:1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
American King James Version×plainly show that Paul, Peter and James (Jesus’ half-brother) viewed themselves as Christ’s slaves (doulos in Greek, meaning a slave belonging to someone else and not just a servant, as often assumed). This is how they introduced themselves as they introduced their messages. And all of us are to likewise be slaves to God and His righteousness for our ultimate good (Romans 6:16-23 Romans 6:16-23  Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?  But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness to holiness.  For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.  What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×).
As we understand and hopefully embrace what it means to be “The Property of God,” we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What part of our lives have we not yet given over to God?
Jesus Christ presents us this non-flexible equation: “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24 Matthew 6:24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
American King James Version×). Again, the call of “Follow Me” is more than simply who you know or answering the question of “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 Matthew 16:15He said to them, But whom say you that I am?
American King James Version×). It is becoming like the Master Teacher—the same One who proclaimed in words and by example: “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30 John 5:30I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me.
American King James Version×).
Jesus “belonged” to His Father in every way and placed His life in His care to the very end when He prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46 Luke 23:46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
American King James Version×). As you walk away from reading these words, think on this question: How will your living legacy read? Will it reflect that you are “The Property of God”?