As we continue in chapter 6 of Romans, we are considering the question hypothetically proposed by Paul in vs 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” The emphasis in that question is shall we continue in sin. From this question which Paul answered with a resounding “NO” he establishes the principle that as a Christian, saved by grace, we cannot continue in sin. We cannot live a lifestyle of sin. We will not live in sin, even though it is true that as sin increases grace abounds all the more.
And in the first 14 verses Paul supports that principle by showing that continuing in sin is incompatible because we died to sin and now have new life in Christ. We have died to sin. We have been united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and raised to newness of life. So we are a new creation, with a new life. The penalty for sin has been paid, and the power of sin has been broken, and we walk in a new life. We will not go on sinning so that grace may abound because we have died to sin, and we have a new life and a new nature.
But this is such an important principle that Paul doesn’t want to leave it at that. And so he asks what seems to be basically the same question again in vs 15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” And his answer is; “May it never be!”
Now the question is fundamentally the same, but with a different emphasis. Many commentators believe that in this question, Paul is not asking can you continue in sin, or live in sin, but can you lapse into sin and still be considered ok because you are no longer under the law. The answer is still the same – may it never be! Sin is still an offense to God.
But the premise of the question is also somewhat different. In this question, he asks, not just if we can sin while under grace, but rather, since we are not under law, can we sin? Now Paul previously explained the purpose of the law in chapter 5 vs 20 saying, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The point made there was that the law did not save, but rather it convicted you of sin. The law, Paul will say in Gal.3:24, is our tutor to show us to our need for a Savior. The law, God’s standard of righteousness, only convicts us of sin, and magnifies our sin so that we might understand how sinful we are, and drive us to our need of a Savior.
So when Paul contrasts law and grace, he isn’t trying to show two ways of salvation; one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Remember, he has already made the case that Abraham was saved by faith, not by the law. But instead he is saying, that since you no longer have the condemnation of the law hanging over your head, convicting you as a sinner, but now you have been saved by grace through faith, are you now able to lapse back into sin and not have to worry about it. Because, after all, the penalty has been done away with. Someone else has paid the fine, and since there can’t be double jeopardy, is it ok to sin?
Well, the answer is still, may it never be! The goal of our salvation is that we might not sin, and that we would be delivered not only from the penalty of sin, but the power of it. Now to illustrate his point, Paul turns to what would have been a familiar analogy to the church at Rome, especially in light of the culture that they lived in. It is estimated that in Paul’s day, 30-40% of the population were slaves. It’s very likely that even a larger percentage of the church at Rome were slaves. And so Paul uses an analogy of slaves, or servants to illustrate this principle.
He says in vs16 “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?”
The equivalent of that phrase “do you not know” is like saying, “Isn’t it obvious?” So, Isn’t it obvious that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey? Let’s just pause there for a moment. You know, as bad as slavery was in those days, for some it was the only choice that they had. Very often, people would voluntarily sell themselves into slavery, either because of no economic opportunity, or because they were an alien, or because they were in debt and it was either slavery or prison. Now whether or not that is what Paul had in mind I’m not so sure, but the phrase that you present yourself to be a slave for obedience would indicate to me that something like that was possibly in the apostle’s thinking. But regardless of how they became a slave, the idea is that a slave must obey the one who is his master.
Now the fact that he is using slavery as an analogy for obedience to sin or obedience to righteousness is evident from the context of that verse. He says, “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
So the point he is making is a believer cannot serve two masters. The Lord Jesus makes that very clear in the Gospel of Matthew. “No man can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will hold to the one and despise the other.” But he not only says that, he says in the next chapter in the 18th verse, “A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” That’s why Paul then adds the fruit of sin or righteousness, saying, “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.”
So we cannot obey sin anymore, because we have a new Master. Our allegiance, our new life, our identification is with our new representative Jesus Christ. We’ve been given a new nature, new ownership, belonging to a new Master, and consequently, we cannot serve sin any longer.
The fact is, if your master is sin, then you’re going to obey sin. If your master is righteousness, then you’re going to obey righteousness. There are two families in the human race: people are either in Adam or they’re in Christ. They’re either under the reign of sin and death or they’re under the reign of righteousness and life. They’re either under the reign of iniquity or they’re under the reign of grace. There is no middle ground.
The sad truth concerning slavery is that if a person was born to a slave, he was by birth a slave. If a person was born to a free man, then he was by birth a free man. So because of our forefather Adam who became a slave of sin, we who are born as descendants of Adam are born as slaves, born into sin. And the outcome of that slavery is death. You’re serving someone, either sin or righteousness.
I cannot help but think of the song by Bob Dylan that was popular a couple of decades ago. It was called “You Gotta Serve Somebody.” I’m not too confident about all of Dylan’s theology today, but he got that part right. The song lyrics said, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” You belong to one or the other.
Now as I said Paul is using the analogy of the slave market of his day. And a slave was responsible to obey his master all his life until death. But when he eventually died his obligation to his old master was gone. And so our obligation to our old master is now gone because we have in our representative died. We have been buried. We have been raised up together with Him to new life. Or we could apply the same analogy in a different way. We could say here is a slave who is the servant of one master, but who is put on the auction block and sold to another master, and therefore, he is obligated to obey the other master and no longer required to obey any commands that the old master might extend to him.
Likewise, our old master was sin. Jesus Himself said in John chapter 8: 34, “Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin.” And slavery to sin results in death. And everyone, Paul has already established in the first three chapters, is a sinner. Every man, woman and child is born in sin, under the dominion of sin. The sin nature which we received from our forefather Adam instilled in us the corrupting principle of sin, that defiles all that we are and all that we do. There is none righteous, not even one. (Rom.3:10) So we were all born as slaves of sin.
In vs17, Paul states that you “were” slaves of sin. Verse 20, you were slaves of sin. Again and again we are reminded that we were slaves of sin. Back in vs 6, the indication is that sin was our master. And the effect of sin is death, verse 21, the outcome of sin is death. And then in vs 23, “The wages of sin is death.” The whole human race is born into slavery to sin, with the ultimate outcome physical and spiritual death. Sin is like rampant cancer spreading to every organ of a body. It is incurable; it is terminal. And worse, physical death provides no relief. It only casts that sinful soul into an eternal death which is spiritual death.
Now in vs 17, we find what the famous preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones calls one of the most important statements in all of this epistle, in that it tells us exactly what a Christian is. “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.” Lloyd Jones says this is a definition of what a Christian is. He’s a person that has obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which he was delivered. He is no longer enslaved to sin, but a slave of righteousness.
The key to this transformation, Paul says, is obedience from the heart. It’s a change of heart resulting in obedience. And that is something that God does in you through His grace. A change of heart results in a change of allegiance, and a change of allegiance results in a change of action. Ezekiel 36:25-27 speaks to this divine transformation. ”Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
And that same change of heart resulting in obedience is spoken of in Jeremiah 31:33 “But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
There is another important principle which Paul makes in that verse, and that is our obedience is from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were committed. And the interesting word in that statement is the word translated as “form.” That word in the original Greek is “typos” which means a die or a mold. The picture is that of a mold which is made by the teaching of the gospel, into which we are poured into, so that we might be shaped or formed into the image of Christ. It’s a very beautiful word picture of how the preaching of the word conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. And that conforming that occurs reshapes us from the old man to the new man. As 1Cor. 15:49 says, “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
And verse 18 describes that new condition, then, as having been freed from the power of sin. “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” You have been purchased by a new Master. You have been set free from the dominion of sin, from the enslavement to sin, from the power of sin over you. Now, we are now under the dominion of righteousness. We are servants of righteousness. Because of a change of heart, we have a love for God, and out of that love we are obedient to righteousness.
Then in vs 19, Paul says that because of the weakness of our human condition, because we cannot comprehend spiritual things as we ought to, he is using a physical analogy to teach a spiritual principle. Vs19 “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.”
To present means to give, to yield. And that indicates a willingness on our part. In the old nature, we willingly presented our bodies to sin because we loved evil. And we were enslaved by our affections and our passions. But now that we have a change of heart, a change of loves, we are no longer compelled to serve sin. It’s possible to willingly return to sin, but the point is that we do not have to serve sin any longer. If we do serve sin, it’s going to be because we want to do it, not because we have to do it.
And so in that change of nature is our freedom from sin. When we sin, Paul said, it always results in more sin, and more sin. It’s the nature of sin to spread, to multiply, to consume, to corrupt completely. But in the opposite of sin, when we respond to righteousness, it in turn leads to holiness, or what Paul calls sanctification. Sanctification is simply becoming less sinful, and more holy in our behavior. It is a process where God works in us the fruit of righteousness. He planted, so to speak, righteousness in us through justification, and He reaps righteousness in us through the process of sanctification. The process in which we become molded more like Christ as we die to the old nature, and out of our new nature serve Christ from the heart.
And as a further incentive to serve the Lord, he says in vs 20, “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.” What that means is that when we were enslaved to sin, we had no claim to righteousness, but only the fruit of death. So what was the benefit of our life of sin? I will confess that when I lived in sin at a young age, kind of in a prodigal son type of existence, I thought I was doing these cool things which even though I knew were wrong, I saw them as kind of marks of manhood, or marks of achievement that I could brag about later. But I can tell you now from the vantage point of maturity, there is practically nothing that I did during those years that I am not ashamed of today. In fact, I look back on much of my life and I am so ashamed. There was no benefit, only shame, only emotional and physical scars on both myself and on others that I hurt.
And what Paul is saying, is from a believer’s perspective, as you look back on your life before you were saved, why would you ever want to go back to that for even a second? Especially knowing the progressive nature of sin, that one little sin leads to another, and another, until you are completely corrupted, and the ultimate end of it is death.
Vs. 22 “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Listen, there is great benefit from sanctification. To be sanctified means to be set apart for good works. And there is a blessing and a reward that is promised for our service to the Lord. There is a peace that passes all understanding in knowing that you are right with God. There are inherent blessings in following the Lord, and there are certainly future blessings from a life lived for God, as we enter into our reward in eternal life.
But Paul doesn’t equate godliness with an easy life. The life of a slave or a servant is sometimes trying. It means that we sometimes have to give up our way for His way, give up our priorities for His priorities. But the benefits to serving the Lord are an eternal, everlasting inheritance which cannot be taken away. In Rom 8:16-18 Paul says, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him] so that we may also be glorified with [Him.] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
So Paul clearly presents a choice for every man. To live for sin and reap the reward which is death. Or to live for the Lord and receive the gift of eternal life. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Consider the outcome of your life. If you live for yourself, if you live for sin, then you will get your wages. And your wages which you earned is death. But if you live for the Lord, then you are given life. You could never earn eternal life and all that is encapsulated in that promise. But God is gracious to give us eternal life if we present ourselves to Him to be His servants.
Given all that Christ has done for us by dying in our place as the price for our sin, given all that God has given us in a new life, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and inheritance as co heirs of Christ, how could we ever return to the enslavement of sin? How could we ever spurn the grace that God has given us, for the temporary, fleeting pleasure of sin that though it may look appealing for a moment, will put us back on the path of misery and death.
Paul has spoken three times in this text about presenting yourselves, presenting your members. And in Romans 12:1,2 he speaks still further about the need to regularly present ourselves to God and not be conformed to this world And we do that by continually renewing the mind by the washing of the word of God that we might not sin against Him. Romans 12:1,2, Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I urge you, to present your bodies to the Lord which is your spiritual service. The benefits are eternal. May God help us to leave behind the way of sin and to live as the free men and women God has made us to be. As Paul said in Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of bondage,” (Galatians 5:1). You have been freed from the slave market; now walk as new men. This is Paul’s exhortation to us. I pray that you will be conformed to this gospel.