Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Slaves of Righteousness

Part 19 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:15-23

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (v. 22). 

Oh Really?

What is freedom? Some people think that being free is to be autonomous (i.e., free to make one’s own decisions). Maybe you’ve heard someone brag, “Nobody tells me what to do! I do whatever I want to do!”

“Non-Christians often pride themselves on being free, in contrast to Christians, who in their estimation have lost their human autonomy by bowing the knee to Christ.” [1] But this “freedom” is an illusion. No one is really autonomous—even the person who says, “Nobody tells me what to do!” According to the apostle Paul, everyone is a slave. 

Are We Free to Sin?

In verse 15 Paul brings up a question similar to the question found in verse 1: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” [2] “In both vv. 1 and 15 Paul asks whether the grace of God should lead to sin. However, in 6:1 it is a question of sinning in order to gain more grace, while in 6:15 it is a question of sinning because of grace.” [3]

Paul’s answer to both questions is the same: “By no means!” We have been given freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. God’s grace has changed our hearts. We don’t want to be free to sin; we want to be free to obey God’s commands.

Whose Slave Are You?

Paul writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (v. 16). “Either people are under the power of sin, or they are under the power of God. The question is not, then, whether one will have a master, but which master one will serve.” [4]  Everyone is a slave—either a slave of sin or a slave of God. 

What does it mean to be a slave of sin? Sin is described in the Bible as missing the target (like missing the target on a dart board). The target is God’s will for our lives. Sin is not only doing things we should do (i.e., sins of commission); it’s also not doing things we should do (i.e., sins of omission). Two commands sum up what we should and shouldn’t do (i.e., God’s will): (1) love God with all your heart and (2) love your neighbour as yourself. To love someone, there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do.

When we fail to love, what’s the reason? We have a default setting (like a computer); it’s self-centeredness, which is the essence of sin. A me-centered life (i.e., serving yourself) might seem free (i.e., autonomous), but it’s actually slavery to sin (i.e., missing the target—the way God intends for us to live, true freedom).

Paul goes on to say, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (vv. 17-18).

A Slave of Righteousness Is Not Really a Slave

Paul says, “I am speaking in human terms, because of you natural limitations” (v. 19a). “The illustration from slavery is inadequate because the relationship believers have with God is shorn of all the negative elements present in slavery.” [5]

Paul continues, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification [i.e., holiness]” (v. 19b). Part of becoming a Christian is making Jesus the Lord of our lives.

A slave or righteousness is not really a slave. Notice the word “present” (i.e., offer). It’s a choice. It’s something we want to do. When we remember God’s grace, we want to please him.

The End

In verses 21-23, Paul contrasts slavery to sin and slavery to God. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (vv. 21-22).

“When” the Roman believers were “slaves of sin” their lives produced “fruit” that brought shame, and the end of that kind of life is “death” (i.e., eternal death, separation from God in hell).

“Now” that they have become “slaves of God,” their lives are producing “fruit” that is bringing sanctification, and the end of this kind of life is “eternal life.” “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23).


[1] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 212.
[2] Paul brings up this question because of what he wrote in verse 14: “You are not under law but under grace.”
[3] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 398.
[4] Ibid., p. 396.
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 333.

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