Romans Bible Study (The Righteousness of God Revealed)

Romans 6:15-23, Slaves To Righteousness

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In our last lesson we looked at how we can break free from the power and dominion of sin. Christ has set us free and we cannot allow sin to reign in our bodies. We cannot present the members of our body as instruments for sin. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We examined some practical ways that we can fight against sin in our last lesson. Paul is going to continue this train of thought, breaking free from slavery to sin and becoming slaves to righteousness.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:15; ESV)

I think it is important to ask, “Is Paul repeating the same question here that he asked in Romans 6:1?” While many seem to think so, I believe that Paul is not going over the same point again but advancing his point. Chapter 7 is going to give an illustration what it means to not be bound under the Law of Moses. I think Paul is pressing forward in Romans 6 to discuss the impact of not being under the Law of Moses. Paul seems to be asking about the impact of not being under the Law of Moses but being under grace. Are we in sin if we are not under the Law of Moses? Are we under no law since we are not under the Law of Moses but under grace? I believe this question is paralleled to Paul’s question in Galatians 2:17, “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” (ESV). Does coming out from the sphere of the Law of Moses mean that one was joining the sinners? The Law of Moses separated the Jews from the sinful Gentiles. Since we are not under the Law of Moses, does this mean we are not under law at all and are joined to sin and to the sinners? Paul strongly answers, “By no means!”

16 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? 17 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16–18; ESV)

Previously Paul was emphasizing more our status over our behavior. We have been given the status of righteous/justified/acquitted. Therefore we cannot live as if we are under the rule and power of sin. Now Paul is emphasizing more our behavior over our status. “You are slaves of the one you obey.” This is a fairly simple point. You are a slave to whatever you obey. Christians are no longer slaves to sin. Therefore, they must no longer live as slaves to sin. We cannot obey sin. Please notice that there are only two options available. Either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to God in obedience. The choice is not, “Should I retain my freedom or give it up and submit to God?” We are not free. We are in slavery to sin. The question is, “Should I be a slave to my body and my passions, or should I be a slave to God.” Being under grace clearly means that we are to be slaves to God.

Verse 17 makes the point very clear. Paul is not saying that we are not under any laws whatsoever. Paul is not saying that we do not need to obey God’s law. To break free from the slavery of sin means that we are going to be obedient from the heart to God’s teaching. When Paul speaks of obedience, he does not mean that Christians are saved because they keep the rules. Paul is calling for a change of heart that leads to our obedience to his commands. No command is something that is to be followed begrudgingly or spitefully. We are to obey because we love God and understand that the death of Jesus has made it that we can be pronounced justified. We obey because of what God has done for us. We obey because of the blood of Jesus that was given for us. We obey because we do not want to be enslaved to our passions and desires. We want to be free from that prison and live in service to God.

Verse 17 also has an interesting nuance to consider before we move forward. Paul is not speaking about the scriptures being given to believers. There are many New Testament scriptures that do say that. But notice that Paul does not say that the standard of teaching was committed to us, but that we were committed to the standard of teaching. We were previously committed to the power of sin. But now we have a new master and have been committed to the power of God. We have been delivered from one master to another. Therefore, looking at verse 18, we have set free from the power of sin and are now slaves of righteousness.

19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. 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 holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 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. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to holiness and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:19–23)

Paul admits that he is trying to use an illustration to get his point across. I think Paul means that we should not see the Christian life as slavery. It is being set free, as Paul spoke about earlier in this book (Romans 6:7). Paul is using a limited illustration to help us recognize where we stand. What we obey shows us if where we are enslaved. If we obey our passions and desires, we are enslaved to sin. Those who are not enslaved to sin are those who obey Jesus.

Paul continues by telling us that obedience is habitual. Sin is a cruel master that drives us into deeper sins. Lying breeds more lies. Sexual immorality leads to more sexual immorality. Sin has a domino effect. Lawlessness leads to more lawlessness. Sin brings more sin. Satan lies to us, causing us to think that we can sin just once. But sin triggers a chain of wicked events that are very difficult to stop. But the opposite is also true. Presenting ourselves as slaves to righteousness will lead to holy living. When we obey Christ, we are triggering a chain of events that are very difficult to stop. Reading the scriptures regularly in the beginning will be difficult, but will become a habit and will be easier to do each day. Doing good and living right is hard to begin but grows easier with time as it becomes a habit. So we need to live different and not live as we did in the past.

There is no quick fix here. There is no shortcut. This is hard work toward holiness. The easy route is to cave in to the desires of the flesh. The easy path is to succumb to temptations. The easy road is to keep doing what we are doing. The narrow road is the more difficult path. We need to dig in and present the members of our bodies as slaves to righteousness. Start good habits. Break the old habits. Serve God well.

Verse 20 ought to be jarring statement to our souls. When we are slaves to sin, we are free in regard to righteousness. We are free from God’s covenant faithfulness when we serve sin. When we let sin be the rule of our lives, we do not have the declaration of justified in the sight of God. We have returned to ungodliness and the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness (1:18). Grace is not overflowing and super-abounding if we make the choice to remain under the rule and power of sin. We must change our allegiance to God and present our bodies in obedience to God.

Paul now asks us to decide if that lifestyle was really worth it. What fruit were you getting from that lifestyle? What lasting benefit do you have for being slaves to sin? I think this is really important for us to consider and answer. At best, we can say nothing. Sin has temporary joy and pleasure, but it does not last, leaving us looking for something else to give us that joy. At worst, being enslaved to sin leads to all sorts of problems. Family relationships are destroyed, marriages are ruined, friendships are lost, health is compromised, emotional scars, imprisonment, and even physical death. Sin can destroy us physically and emotionally. What fruit can be found in that slavery? There is short term joy, but devastating consequences.

But look at the fruit obtained from the godly life. Holiness and eternal life are the end result. Being slaves to sin leaves us with nothing to show for our slavery. But serving God and being set free from sins leads to a new, different life than the world. A life that God wants you to have. Further, eternal life is available. Paul pictures Christians not only having a quality of life now, but the great result of being with God. This is how Paul ends the thought.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:23; ESV)

Sin, as a ruler, pays out wages to its captives. Wages pictures a repeated payment. We do not receive a wage once for our work. We all get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. This is the idea behind the wages of sin. Sin keeps repeating its payment to us. That payment is death, separation from God. The wages of sin is not physical death, because everyone will die, regardless of whether they are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. But sin separates us from God. “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14; ESV). Sin is the payment that keeps on paying its horrible consequences to us. We are separated from God and continue to be separated from God.

By contrast, when we are slaves to righteousness our ruler is God. But God does not pay out wages. He gives us gifts. The gift that comes from God is eternal life. Notice that this is a beautiful contrast. Sin repays to us separation from God. God gives the gift of a relationship with him. Real living, true living, and a fulness of life is being given to us.

Life Applications:

  1. We have been given over to a new standard of teaching. We cannot follow the rules of the world. We have been committed to a new standard of teaching that we are to obey from the heart. New rules for a new way of life.
  2. The life in sin is a fruitless life. What do we have to show for it? The only lasting thing we receive from being slaves to sin are problems. We have nothing tangible from our sins that gives us lasting enjoyment now. But we have a whirlwind of problems from our sins.
  3. Life is like a stack of dominoes. When sinning, it is easy to commit more sins. When obeying, it is easy to continue in obedience. The hard part is breaking the chain. Create new good, pure habits. End old wicked habits.
  4. Sin is paying us its wage — separation from God. We are not with God when we allow ourselves to remain enslaved to sin. We are free in regards to righteousness (6:20), no longer justified from our sins when we stay under sin’s power. Either we are slaves to sin or slaves to God.
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