With Dale Ratzlaff
We continue our study in Romans 6:15-23.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (Rom 6:15-19).
Before we get to the individual references in this section, I would like to give a little review and a new step forward. There are three overall concepts in the Christian life that must be kept in their right order. The first concept is substitution—He did it for me. We must recognize that Christ is our Substitute. He took my sin and accounted my righteous with the very righteousness of God. This was clearly taught in Romans 3-5 and is summarized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The second is representation—I did it in Him. I died with Christ; I was buried with Christ, and raised from the dead with Christ to newness of life. Now I can consider myself to be dead to sin! This is found in Romans 6:1-14. Now we come to the third concept, cooperation—we do it with Him. We cooperate with God in our desire to follow Christ’s example of love and holiness. If we try to follow Christ’s example in order to be accepted by God before we personally understand and apply the work of Christ in substitution and representation it will often result in failure and will be a type of righteousness by works. However, once we thoroughly understand the first two concepts, then we can with the power of the Holy Spirit follow Christ’s example moving us toward a loving and holy life. We now consider each verse.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
If I have heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times, “You seem to be saying that we are not under the law, therefore it must mean it is OK to kill, steal, and commit adultery”. Paul’s answer is in the strongest mode. “May it never be”. “Sin” in the above verse is in the aorist tense and refers to a specific sin. Perhaps some might say to themselves, “Well, Christ is my Substitute and Representative and I am saved by His life, not my own, therefore, it would be OK for me to occasional step into sin as I am under grace. Sin is really no big deal now I am living in Grace.” Paul rejects this idea in the strongest way. We can never think that a sin or a number of sins does not matter. As theologian Emil Brunner put it: “Freedmen from the Law does not mean freedom from God but freedom for God.”
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?
Here Paul builds on the concept of Redemption which is one of the foundation pillars for justification as we studied in Romans 3:24 with the Old Testament examples. When we respond to the grace of God we are delivered from the master of sin to a new Master, Jesus Christ. Our purposeful behavior will indicate which master we serve. Jesus taught this truth in Matthew 6:24:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
If we purposely choose to sin, it is evidence we need to go back and review the steps to faith.
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Read this verse over several times. It is amazing how much truth Paul can put in each sentence. He does not praise God because we became obedient. Rather he thanks God for what God has done for them. “You became obedient” is in the aorist tense, indicating a point of time. We look back to that decisive moment of new birth, at that moment, by God’s doing we became obedient. Yes, there was a needed response from us. We were committed to the teaching of God. We become “slaves of righteousness” only after we have been freed from sin. That is why it is so important to “consider ourselves to be dead to sin.”
The freedom a Christian has is a wonderful thing. Yes, we are free only when we are slaves of Christ Jesus. This is a truth taught throughout the New Testament.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:1-2).
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).
For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave (1 Cor. 7:22).
I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Apparently Paul felt there may be some in the Roman church who would read this letter who might not understand Paul’s previous teaching, so he gives an illustration all could clearly understand. Before their redemption in Christ they were slaves of numerous sins. Now they are slaves to righteousness which results in holy living.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul does not single out certain people who at one time were slaves to sin. No, his point is that unless one has been saved and comes under grace there is no way he can live a life that demonstrates total righteousness. This does not mean that a pagan person cannot do right things, but it does mean that doing the right thing will not be the controlling factor in his life. Often sinners are shameless. We need only look at some of the left-leaning politicians, entertainers, and sports figures to see that their sin is open and often flaunted as something good. We are reminded of what Paul wrote in chapter one.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Rom. 1:28-32).
Once we are born again and have the mind of Christ, we look back with shame at what we did before coming to Christ now that our consciences are tuned to the Word of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s point is that now we are Christians, looking back to our pre-Christian sins has no benefit. There is no getting away with sin. The outcome of sin is death, period.
Paul now brings the contrast using “But now”. As we discovered in the lesson on Romans 3:21, “But now” introduces us to a major contrast.
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
“Having been freed from sin” is aorist passive. This is not something we do. It points us to a decisive action by another—when the great transfer took place.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Picking up again on the slave/redemption motif, Paul shows that when we were delivered from the controlling power of sin God did not leave us alone to fend for ourselves in the battles of this evil world. No, He enslaved us to Himself. But this enslavement—to complete the corresponding analogy—is a voluntary one—one where we eagerly enter the service of our Savior and King. And what is the result? It is a life of holiness, a true sanctified life, “in Christ”. It is a life that is unending. What could be better than eternal life with God? Paul brings this section to a close with the powerful, well know statement: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
There are several points of application in this section. First, the fact, and it is a fact, that Christians are not under law does not mean they can chose to sin. In the new covenant, sin is expanded to include more that the law covered in the old. The Christian is to reject sin in any of its forms. Second we must understand substitution and representation before we can successfully live a life where we cooperate with the Holy Spirit toward a life of love and holiness. Third, we rejoice that God has freed us from sin once and for all. We are still salves but now we serve a good Master.
Father, thank you for the revelation you give Paul who in turn passed it on to us. Thank you that we can now consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Thank you that we can now cooperate with the Spirit and develop a character that will reflect love and holiness.
In Jesus name,
See Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 261.