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Weekly Word

Entries in Everlasting Life (1)

Thursday
Jul272017

Slaves to Righteousness

Romans 6:15-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 23, 2017.

Last week we looked at the first half of this chapter and focused on how our water baptism symbolizes and highlights the new life that we are given in Jesus Christ.  This new life is not a life that is exactly the same as the world, yet covered by “Jesus Insurance.”  It really is a new life where we grow in our ability to walk away from the unrighteousness of the world and our own flesh. 

Now in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of slavery to make a point.  Now, I know that such imagery can be offensive to many, but please recognize that Paul is not advocating slavery here.  So, instead of letting this become a red herring, let us try to focus on the Paul’s argument that Christians should not continue in a life of willful sin.  Simply put, he reminds believers that they have been freed from sin so that they can follow Jesus.  May God help us to truly follow Jesus and experience the new life that God has for us in Christ.

Our change in status is put in terms of slavery

In verse 1 Paul contemplates a sort of “godly sinner.”  Clearly this is an oxymoron, but what I mean by it is a person who does not claim to reject Christ, but instead have come up with a religious argument why it is okay for them to continue in sin.  They see nothing wrong with sinning because it is covered by the grace of Jesus.  Paul answers the person who thinks their continued sinning somehow glorifies how great God’s grace really is with a very strong rejection of such a thought.  The phrase is literally, “may it never be!”  It is a categorical rejection of such an idea.  Thus in verse 15 he contemplates this same issue in relationship to our status as a slave under the law versus a free child of God under grace.  Paul does not give a fully explored and neatly outlined theology.  But, he does give us enough to understand what is right in this area.  The people to whom Paul is writing were well acquainted with slavery.  It was around them every day.  Paul uses this imagery to speak in a powerful way to both free and slave alike.  No free person desires to be a slave, and most slaves want to be free.  So what about the person who treats God’s grace as a license to be able to do anything?  Paul’s answer again is, “May it never be!” 

Now this is a very important concept because there are some in Christianity who are so afraid of legalism that they push grace to the point that Paul is talking about here.  I would call this a hyper-grace theology.  Christians have truly been set free, but not in order to keep on sinning.  Instead we have been set free to fight against sin without guilt and fear.  This is the proper understanding of grace.

In verse 16 Paul reminds us that we are a slave to that which we obey.  Notice that Paul uses an interesting turn of phrase.  Though he is saying they are becoming slaves, he expresses it in a way that emphasizes their freedom, “to whom you present yourselves.”  The picture is of a slave presenting themselves to their master for instructions.  A Christian is no longer a slave to sin, but they can still make the mistake of presenting themselves to sin.  Don’t be deceived.  If you do this you will become a slave to sin all over again.  To obey sin is to present yourself to it, receive its instructions, and then do it.  This always leads to death in the end.  Such “obedience” is actually disobedience to Christ.  We were not raised up to plunge into the same old life of sin.  How can a Christian be a slave to sin?  The answer is simply because they use their freedom to rebel against the command of God, and love themselves above all else.  Let me use the example of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus.  Their problem was not that they wanted to be righteous before God and their fellow man.  Their problem was that they refused to listen to God’s message through the Law- you fall short and need my grace.  Instead of seeking a righteousness from God by grace, they clung to the self-righteousness of their own making.

In verses 17-18 we see that the Gospel has freed us from being sin’s slave so that we can become slaves of righteousness.  The Gospel comes to all of us when we are slaves to sin and our flesh.  The “form of doctrine,” or teaching that they received, was the teaching of true righteousness, which can only be found in Jesus.  Paul continues the slavery terminology by saying that they were delivered from sin to this new master of the Truth of Christ, and his true righteousness.  When they believed the Gospel, they then obeyed its instructions: they repented of their life of sin, and confessed Jesus as their Resurrected Lord.  Sin no longer had dominion over them, but that does not mean they are “free” from the Gospel that set them free.

Now in verse 19 Paul makes it clear that he is using terms from the human situation of slavery because of their weakness of understanding, and their weakness towards sin.  They needed to stop serving sin and start serving the righteousness of Christ.  It is clear that Paul is uncomfortable in couching this teaching in these terms.  Grace really is about freedom.  It is the freedom to actually be able to follow Jesus, and live out the true righteousness by faith.  Anyone who teaches that freedom means you can sin if you want to do so is lying.  Sin is bondage.  So even though Grace is truly freedom and not slavery, he uses those terms for the sake of understanding.  Ultimately he is reminding us all that we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.  Christians are those who refuse to serve sin anymore, and begin serving Jesus.  If we continue to serve sin it will just lead us to more sin, until eventually we are destroyed by it.  But serving the righteousness of Christ will lead to holiness; a person that is set apart by God and by their life for His purposes, not sin’s.

What does our slavery produce?

In verse 20 Paul points to the reality of what our slavery produces.  When Israel was in Egypt, their slavery produced bricks for Pharaoh’s glory.  But when they served God, He led them to the freedom of producing life for themselves, and to God’s glory.  Imagine being set free by God, but then turning around and going back to Egypt in order to make bricks.  Paul is challenging us to think about what our choice in this matter leads to.

If I obey sin, it will only lead me to shameful things and then death (vs. 20).  When we were sinners we weren’t worried about what Jesus thought.  We were too busy sinning and pleasing our master, sin.  This implies that Christians should be too busy serving the righteousness of Christ that we no longer give thought to pleasing sin.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Why go back to shame and death?  There are some who believe that a Christian is somehow immune to the effects of sin.  Even if you repent and are forgiven, sin still produces death in our lives.  If you are unfaithful and your wife leaves you, she may not come back just because you repent.  However, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the singular consequences of a particular sin.  It is on the end product of living our life in service to sin.  It leads to physical and spiritual death.  Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Grace does not make us immune to the effects of sin.  Rather, it provides a way out from under its tyranny and dominion.

In contrast to this, to serve God produces holiness and everlasting life.  God wants us to follow Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is what produces everlasting life.  Think of all the grace that God has given us.  He has freed us from sin and its dominion.  He has shown us the True Righteousness that is found in Jesus.  Yes, His righteousness saves us and sets us free.  But then His grace enables us to live out his righteousness too.  Thus, serving God is like a tree of righteousness in our life producing the fruit of holiness and a new life that is eternal.

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  Verse 23 lays it all out in a succinct statement, but we should also notice the change in his terminology.  When speaking of sin, he keeps it in terms of Law and slavery.  If you work for sin you will be paid death, period.  But, if you are under grace Paul drops the slavery terms.  The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Slavery terms are very appropriate for a person who is living for their flesh and sin because that is exactly what it is.  But they are not the most appropriate terms for our New Life in Christ.  We really have been set free in Christ to now produce the righteousness of God.  So the choice is before us.  Will we choose death or choose life?  Let’s choose life by voluntarily presenting ourselves to God, through Jesus.  He will set us free from sin and give us eternal life!

Slaves to Righteousness audio