This week, we look at the Paul’s message found in Romans 6.15-23 regarding the process of sanctification and the being a slave to sin or righteousness.
“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? 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.” – Romans 6.16-18 (ESV)
What is a slave? Many of us conjure up pictures of horrific scenes of human cruelty, forced labor, and the devaluing of human dignity. We tend to think of our own heritage here in America with the slavery that was very prevalent in the years before the Civil War in the 19th century. Without a doubt, American slavery is a dark chapter in the history of our nation. So is this what Paul is telling us? Are we to be dragged into labor towards righteousness against our will and forced to obey God? Let’s take a moment to explore this thought. If we are thinking from our American experience of slavery in this context, then we may miss the point that Paul is trying to teach us. Let’s think of slavery in a slightly different context. A second definition for a slave includes one who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something. This is perhaps more in line with the message that Paul is trying to convey. Who or what controls you? Let’s take a look at two possibilities presented to us in light of Romans 6.15-23.
Slaves to sin
“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.” – Romans 6.20-21 (ESV)
Before we can talk about being a slave to sin, we must first define what sin is. We have previously discussed Sin, or the barrier that separates us from God, but let’s take a moment to talk about little “s” sins. Sin is any disposition or act contrary to God. “The Bible typically describes sin negatively [and in relation to God]. It is lawlessness, disobedience, impiety, unbelief, distrust, darkness as opposed to light, a falling away as opposed to standing firm, weakness not strength. It is unrighteousness, faithlessness.” (Daniel Doriani, “Sin,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [EDBT], Baker, 1996, 737). There are numerous things in this world, whether it be idolatry or sexual immorality or other acts that are contrary to God’s command, and we are slaves to these now or have currently been slaves to such things in the past. Paul tells the church in Corinth that such people who are slaves to these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6.9-10). The point is that sin is serious, and we oftentimes choose not to see it that way. We’ve crafted ways to explain away sin and call it different names. Let’s just be real and call it for what it is and deal with it appropriately. Until we do, we will continue to be slaves to these things and further drive a wedge between us and God. In the same passage, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6 that many of us were such as those and yet we have been saved by his grace and love. These sins, while serious, can be forgiven, no matter what they include. God in His mercy has the power to redeem people from the dark cave of slavery to sin and free us from that bondage. In that freedom, He gives us the desire to pursue righteousness. This is Paul’s next point.
Slave to Righteousness
“But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6.22-23 (NLT)
So the next question that needs to be asked here is, what are you a slave to? Can you evaluate your life and see a pattern of slavery to sin, or a pattern of “things that lead to holiness” and right living? What does your fruit say? I challenge you to take out a sheet of paper and write down the things you feel like you truly struggle with. Lust, gossip, materialism, pride, vanity, or some form of addition may end up on your list. Now divide the sheet of paper in half and start listing practical things you do in order to strive for holiness. These may include being in the Word, prayer, being in community with believers, attending an accountability group, or limiting yourself on certain activities (TV, movies, shopping, internet, etc.). Compare the list and see if you are doing what it takes to live a holy life and work through those sin struggles. Whoever said it was going to be an easy task? Sanctification is more than likely going to be the hardest thing you do, but the difference between that and simply living by rules of do’s and don’ts is desire; do you have the desire to grow in holiness? At the end of the day, do you look at your life and see the power of God working in you so that holiness is being wrought? Paul referred to this as ” working out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12). I love the words of 18th century missionary, David Brainerd; he says, “Blessed Lord! let me climb up near to Thee, and love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with thee, and pant for deliverance from the body of sin and death.” God never promises that the life of the believer and the journey of sanctification would be easy. That’s why the call of Christ is a call to come and die (Mark 8.34)! So again, I pose this question, to whom or what are you a slave? Are you willfully choosing the life of sin which leads to death, or you living as one who is bound to righteousness, joyfully serving the one who has saved you?
We have arrived at a crossroads with our study of Romans. Where do you find yourself? Do you see yourself journeying down the road of sin which leads to death, or are you on the road of sanctification which leads to eternal life in Christ Jesus? Some may say, “Well I don’t know how to get off this road of sin, it’s too hard!” or perhaps “This is just the way God made me and I’m just going to have to accept that and get on with life.” To both statements I emphatically say NO! God desires that you strive after Him alone, and what’s amazing is that He has given us the ability to do so! The Holy Spirit is the believer’s aid in growing towards holiness. Upon accepting Christ, every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, but we must listen and obey! St. Augustine nailed this one when he stated, “We will, but God works the will in us. We work, therefore, but God works the working in us.” Romans 10:13 (which will unfortunately not cover in this study) says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Call on Him now and He is faithful to bring you onto the road of sanctification that leads to eternal life. Take care and have a great week in the Lord!