Monday, January 30, 2012

Romans 6 15-23 Who’s Slave are you?

On January 1 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation. In it he declared that all persons held as slaves in the Confederate States "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free". This executive order was limited in that those states to which the proclamation applied, had separated themselves, formed new government, and did not recognize the authority of Lincoln or the United States. In order for that proclamation to have the authority it needed to be effective, the Union first had to win the war.

Likewise in Romans 6 Paul is making the case that those redeemed by Christ were first dead to the power of sin, and also freed from the bondage of sin. The goal of course is the continual sanctification of God's elect. His intent is to persuade us of the importance of living a spiritual life as God intended, rather than a life serving the things that will perish with us in death.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not

[Is the grace of God an opportunity to sin? In Romans 5:22 we learned that the Law caused sin to abound, in that sin became more apparent because of the law. But verse 13 reminded us that sin was already in the world before the Law was given to Moses. Sin was not only in the world but God was clearly judging sin apart from the Law. Adam and Eve lost their home in the Garden of Eden, Cain was exiled from his people, and Noah's contemporaries were utterly destroyed from the face of the earth. I think it obvious that sin was offensive to God even without the Law. So would a God offended by sin really extend His grace so we could sin all the more? Again Paul uses the same reply we saw last week "Certainly not". In the strongest terms Paul refutes this false inference drawn from the doctrine of grace.]

16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

[First the bad news, you are a slave; but the good news is, you at least get to choose a master. Now the idea of slavery is offensive to our modern sensibilities, but we should give the analogy a fair hearing because it fits well with the doctrine being taught.

The common form of slavery among the Hebrews was that of a bond-servant, where a man would pledge himself to serve his master as payment for a debt. The standard term of servitude was 6 years, after which the servant could go out free and the debt was paid.

This is very different from the bondage which held Israel in slavery to the kings of Egypt for generations, before God called Moses and brought terrible plagues on the land to free the children of Israel.

Paul makes the comparison between us and the bond-servant, asking the question "who do you serve"? We can choose sin leading to death, or obedience leading to righteousness. If you object to the choice thinking you would prefer to be free and not a slave at all; hold that thought. Paul is about to answer the objection.]

17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

[When the grace of God reached each of us, we were already slaves to sin. Because of our sin nature we have a proclivity to sin, and we understand that since the time of Adam, the end of every sin filled life is death. But those who believe the gospel have been sold to a new master. We have been freed from sin to serve righteousness.

And how have we been freed? Recall verse 7 "For he who has died has been freed from sin". As Christ died for our sins, in Him they can remain buried. Likewise His resurrection is the pattern or mold for our spiritual life. The "form of doctrine" in verse 17 is that pattern where the natural man is diminished and the spiritual nature begins to thrive. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive".]

 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

[Here we see the progressive nature of sin: "lawlessness leading to more lawlessness".

Most people don't enter into sin with the hope of being enslaved, but every addictive behavior, every self destructive lifestyle begins with a single sinful act. The supernatural regeneration, the spiritual rebirth of salvation gives us a new nature, a spiritual nature that is the antidote to the power of sin in our lives. Just as the slaves of sin do not serve righteousness; neither should those whom God has declared righteous serve sin any longer.

There is an old saying in science that "nature abhors a vacuum", meaning if you take away one thing, something will always take its place. The void of a vacuum is an unnatural state. If Jesus simply took away our sin but left us unchanged, we would naturally return to a life of sin. But thank God, Jesus does not leave us unchanged; in the power of His spirit we have a new spiritual desire, an affinity for the righteousness of Christ.]

21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

[From the outside looking in, many people imagine they have to give up a lot in terms of lifestyle, in order to become a Christian. What they are seeing is the natural outgrowth of the new nature, where God's redeemed desire the fruit of righteousness, more than the old passions of the flesh. But to those who are powerless to overcome sin, they can't imagine how they could ever give up those passions.

To the Christian Paul asks, what is the benefit of a life spent serving sin? The fruit of a sinful lifestyle is guilt and shame, and it all ends with the life of the body. Paul answered this question for himself in Philippians 3 where he famously declares all the accomplishments of his mortal body were garbage compared to the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Moreover in that same passage he makes a connection to last week's lesson of "reckoning ourselves dead to sin" by saying the he is already "conformed to His death", and ready for the resurrection.]

22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[The redeemed of God are not destined to a life of futility. Unlike the works of unrighteousness, our fruit does not perish with the body. Just as the fruit of sin is death; the new nature we receive in Jesus, produce holiness that lasts forever. But this righteousness is never our own, it was secured for us in the obedience of Jesus Christ. Righteousness and eternal life is the wage or fruit of obedience, and Jesus gives it as a gift to all those who believe.

In this country and around the world slavery has an ugly history. Mankind is too often quick to see our differences as a natural inequality in order to justify the slavery of others who were also created in the image of God.

Even though the time of service for a bondservant was limited, there was a provision in the law for someone to become a servant for life. If at the end of his 6 year service, a servant did not want to go out free, because he had prospered and because he loves his master and his family; the law allowed a servant who wished to be bound for life, to appear before the elders, and stand in the doorway while his master took an awl and pierced through his ear to the doorpost. This act was a public witness that the servant was pledged to his master forever, a man who served for love not money.

Paul was so fond of this analogy, that he took to calling himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, realizing that the man, who paid the price to free him from sin, was now his master. In fact that is how he introduces himself in the opening of Romans and Philippians. Peter, James and Jude did the same in their letters as well. This term was their reminder that they had been freed from sin in order that they might serve the righteousness of God.]


  1. In what ways are people slaves to sin?
  2. Could we ever be righteous if our nature never changed?
  3. Do you view the term bondservant as derisive or honorary?

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