Week of 29 October 2017
Adopted, part 4 (Romans)
Romans 6:15-23 - What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 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. 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 sanctification. 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. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grasping the key point of any particular text in Romans requires, perhaps more so than most other books of the bible, the context of what’s just been said. As we’ve noted, Paul has built a case that everyone everywhere needs saving because of sin and that no one anywhere can achieve getting saved on their own because they have already sinned (chapters 1-3). He shows that what we could not do, God has done through his Son, Jesus Christ (chapters 3-4). He builds on this argument (chapter 5) that since this salvation thing is a work of God, not us, once we are truly saved, God will not, cannot, change His mind about that.
Well, that argument led critics to proclaim that such a belief would propel Christians to sin all over the place. And that prompted Paul to delve into the whole concept of just what has happened to an individual who has been saved (chapters 6-8). And so far in chapter 6, we find that what has happened is as dramatic as a caterpillar going into a cocoon and emerging a butterfly. We’ve been changed from the inside out. Everything about us is altered. Our old self is dead, and we’ve been made new, or in Paul’s terminology, spiritually raised from the dead. We are to reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. In fact, since all our sins are covered, the Christian is not even under the law anymore, but under grace.
That gets us to our text today. Paul no doubt has heard the charge that Christians, or frankly anyone, who believes they are not answerable to the law will prove to be lawbreakers. Paul’s response is sort of a “Not so fast there, big guy! The Christian isn’t just a free-wheeling, whirling dervish ricocheting from sin to sin as he violates every law he can. What you have missed is that the Christian is still ‘under’ something. It’s just not the law anymore. It’s grace.”
Paul then seeks to find an analogy that will bring this point home, and what he lands on is slavery. Not a bad idea, really, since slaves constituted about one-third of the population of Rome at this time. Probably half of the congregation in the church in Rome were either slaves right now or had been in the past. They would totally get what slavery means. Paul says, “Hey, think of it this way. Before you got saved, you were slaves of sin. The hallmark of slavery is that you must obey your master. You have no choice. If you don’t, that master can beat you senseless or worse. So, if you now are not under the master of sin, but the master of grace, you are required as a slave of grace to obey it.” Now, this sounds strange, perhaps, but remember that scripture tells us that at salvation the Christian is transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. We’ve moved from one king to another, one master to another.
See, Bob Dylan was right. You gotta serve somebody. And we get to choose: sin and Satan, or righteousness and Christ. And those are the only two choices for everyone on earth. God is going to lead us to become the people he can use more and more through our obedience to Him through Christ. And that is what is going to prevent the Christian from sin. He’s answerable to another Master.
In v19, Paul seems a little uncomfortable with this slavery example, as accurate as it is. It’s as if he wants to clarify things a bit. He wants us to compare the two slavery situations. For example, if you were a slave in Rome, you had to obey because of fear. You disobeyed, you rebelled, at your own peril, and you could expect the consequences to be severe. But is that the kind of Master Christ is? Yes, we are to fear God, in the sense of honoring and respecting him. But He considers us his children. He’s adopted us as sons and daughters. He loves us. That’s a different slave-master relationship, isn’t it? Paul distinguishes the two examples in v20-23. As a slave to sin, you got what benefits? Oh, shame and death. Hmmm. . .not that good a deal. But set from sin and given a new master, God Himself, what do you receive? Oh, I don’t have to sin anymore; I don’t have to deal with its consequences in my life; I get a changed life that makes me more and more useful to God and the things He has for me to do here in this life; and, wait, there’s more--there’s a whole life that never ends beyond this existence here. Sweeeeeet!!
Paul’s point? A Christian freed from the master of sin and the law will not be a reckless sinner because He will obey his new master, Christ, who will lead him to live the life that Jesus promised his followers—a life to the full. And that is going to be too wonderful for anyone to want to go back and let sin be the boss.
I think about the saddest people I know are those who have accepted Christ, but still try to dabble in the dark side with their pet sins. They never quite experience that life to the full. Instead, their heavenly Father has to deal with them as rebellious children through loving discipline. And they’ll go through life like the dog who refuses to obey his master’s voice and runs away every chance it gets. That dog will find it doesn’t get to run free and experience a life of true freedom under the master of grace. Instead, that dog will be leashed. The bottom line sounds a bit paradoxical: Obedience to the master of grace through Christ actually nets us the freedom to live the life we always really wanted.