We just skipped a really important portion of Romans (6:1-14), and the reason I did so is because we discussed that passage last year when we talked about soteriology. Of course, this should surprise no one, since Romans is the most complete theological treatise on the subject. Just to summarize: Christ has done some things for you, and once you place your faith in Christ, those truths will never change: You died with Christ, you rose with Christ, and therefore you cannot live the way you used to. Paul doesn't mean that you shouldn't live in sin any longer, although that would be true too. No, he’s saying that because of what Christ has done, if you are a true believer in Christ, you will not be able to live like you once did. Notice the indicative mood: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Your part is to demonstrate this truth. Notice the imperative mood: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Those are what you are expected—by his empowering grace—to do. I have some further thoughts on this here and here.
He starts out the passage once again with a question and answer. You can just see Paul getting angrier and angrier as he visualizes his opponents (or confused Christians) asking “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And once again he gives the exact same answer he’s given to similar questions: Me genoito, the strongest possible negative in the Greek language. The very thought that God’s message of salvation by grace through faith could lead someone to ask a question like that apparently set his teeth on edge.
On a side note, I’ve heard it said that Paul and James were fellow warriors standing back-to-back fighting enemies on opposite sides: Paul was fighting legalism (i.e., adding anything to the Good News of Jesus), and James was fighting antinomianism. There is truth in that picture, since they definitely had different emphases. But we need to be careful here. Again, the very idea that a Christian could ever come to a conclusion that he can continue a lifestyle of sin-- instead of progressing in Christlikeness--was something Paul fought just as stridently as James did, as we’ve seen time and time and time again here in Romans.
Anyway, back to the passage. In answer to the foolish question he asked at the beginning of today’s passage. Here’s my summary of his answer: “Everybody’s a slave to somebody.” You don’t get to choose whether you’re a slave or not. You’re going to be a slave to one of two “masters,” and your only choice is which “master” you’re going to obey.
One “master” is sin. If you choose it as your master, then it pays certain wages: Ever increasing depravity which ultimately and inevitably leads to death. If you’ve seen my presentation of “one verse evangelism,” then you know that “death” in the Bible is talking about separation. We use the same type of verbiage when we tell an estranged relative “You’re dead to me.” Physical death is being separated from your body. But ultimately (and inevitably) sin leads to spiritual death, being separated from God—in this life, and leading into eternity.
The only alternative is the “master” Righteousness. Now’s a good place for me to explain why I keep putting the term “master” in quotes, and it’s an important point. Paul says in vs. 19 “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.” I think the reason he inserts this is because using the term “slavery” for our relationship with Christ can be a little misleading if we’re not careful. Slavery—back in Paul's day up to and including modern times—had a connotation of a harsh taskmaster who beats the ones who are enslaved. No one wants to be a slave in the normal sense of the word. Jesus specifically said that he no longer calls us servants but his friends.
Now to be sure, using the term “slavery” in regards to the other side is entirely appropriate. The harshest plantation owner of the Antebellum South--the cruelest, most inhumane, most monstrous slave owner who ever lived in the history of mankind--was a mere piker compared to the Enemy of our souls.
But there are some ways in which the illustration (slavery) fits for this side of salvation. Like a slave, you’ve been bought and paid for. You belong to him. This means that when he tells you to do something, you do it. And with both masters, there are results from our service. Once again, the illustration isn’t perfect (which Paul admits): We really don’t earn “wages” from our “master” in the sense of getting what we deserve. What he gives us is a gift (vs. 23). But being “slaves” or “servants” of God-- in stark contrast to the alternative--does lead to some really wonderful benefits: increasing holiness and eternal life.
This really calls for careful thought and reading. He’s not really commanding us to take Christ as our “master.” He uses the indicative, not the imperative, mood in vss. 17-18: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” This echoes what he said back in vs. 14: “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
So what is his command to us? What’s the point here? It’s the same type of command he gave back in vss. 1-14: You have been set free by Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin. Live like it. “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” You don’t belong to sin anymore, and you certainly don’t belong to yourself. You belong to him. This will show up to some degree in your life if you really belong to Christ. That’s a given. But way too often someone looking at us from the outside could be confused as to whom we’re serving. We need to change that. More and more, we need to demonstrate that we belong to the One who bled and died for us.
Lord Jesus, it’s really understandable if people get confused about to whom I belong, based on how I act. Way too often I don’t act like I belong to you. But I do. Please help me to show it.