Dr. Richard L. Strauss
January 6, 1991
Purpose: To increase our understanding of why we as believers can and should enjoy victory over sin.
To most of us here today, it is deplorable to think that some of our forefathers actually held other human beings in slavery--that in some cases, they beat other human beings, starved them, chained them, cursed them, ripped them away from their families, refused them medical attention, and subjected them to the foulest conditions imaginable. But on New Year's Day, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued what we know as the Emancipation Proclamation, and newspapers North and South virtually screamed the headlines: SLAVERY ABOLISHED! Former slaves were now free to leave the plantations and make their own way in life. The legal power which slaveholders once had to control the lives of other people was decisively broken.
But a strange thing happened: Many of that first generation of freed slaves never left the plantations. Right up until the day they died they continued serving their old masters, as cruel and brutal as they may have been. One Alabama slave, when asked what he thought about the President and his Emancipation Proclamation, replied, "I don't know nothing 'bout Abraham Lincoln, 'cept they say he sot us free. And I don't know nothing 'bout that neither" (Shelby Foote, The Civil War, cited by Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, p.104). And the plantation owners were happy to keep it that way. If they could keep them in ignorance, they could keep them working in the fields.
There is a powerful parallel between that fact of history and the spiritual truth which the Apostle Paul revealed in Romans 6. Remember Romans 6:6? Our old self, the person we were before we met Christ, was crucified with Him, so that the power which our sin natures held over us might be broken and we might be freed from our slavery to those sinful inclinations. That's the good news of God's Word: WE'RE FREE!
Romans 6:7. "For he who has died has been freed from sin."
But the sad reality is that many Christians--maybe most--don't know it, and they're still living in slavery to their old masters: their sin natures. That ruthless old slavemaster named Satan is happy to keep it that way. If he can keep them ignorant, he can keep them defeated, discouraged and doing his bidding.
That may be where some of you are today--defeated, discouraged, and doing what Satan wants you to do. You're still down on the plantation of sin, still in bondage to your sinful nature, and miserable as a result. The great Apostle wants you to know that you've been emancipated, and you can enjoy freedom from the bondage of sin in daily living.
Now remember how he got into this subject. In the first five chapters of the book, he established irrefutably that our justification, our right standing before God, our eternal salvation is not the work of any human deed we can possibly do. It is totally of God's grace, not of our works. But he knew that some, when they heard that, would jump to the wrong conclusion: "If it all depends on God and not us, then it doesn't matter how we live, right?" Paul is in the process of exploding that blasphemous misconception.
He does it by asking and answering four questions. We dealt with the first one in the last message. Romans 6:1. "What shall we say then? As a result of all that we've heard and learned about God's grace and how we're saved and justified, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"
And the answer? Romans 6:2. "Certainly not. How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"
By God's grace, we died to our old life and arose to a new one. That unhappy chapter of our lives is closed. Why would we ever want to go back and open it again? We've been crucified with Christ, identified with Him in His death to sin and His resurrection to new life. All by His grace.
You see, God's grace, rather than promoting sin, is the means for overcoming sin. Remember how he concluded that section? Romans 6:14. "For sin shall not have dominion over you because you're not under the law but under grace."
The reason we don't have to live under sin's domination any longer is because we're not under law but we're under grace. Our rule of life as believers is God's grace, not the Mosaic law. And that truth is not just tucked away in this one little verse. It is repeated and emphasized over and over in the New Testament (Romans 10:4; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Galatians 3:24-25; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 7:11-12, Galatians 5:18).
And how thankful we can be that it's true--that we're not under law but under grace. For one thing, the motivation is greater. We no longer strive to satisfy the impossible demands of a cold, hard, sterile code of law. But rather, we respond to the unceasing love of an infinitely gracious Person. We no longer submit grudgingly out of fear, but we obey joyfully out of gratitude.
For another thing, the enablement is greater. We no longer struggle in the energy of the flesh, but we depend on the power of the permanently indwelling Holy Spirit, God's gracious gift to us. There's no comparison between the two. As diligently as some people would try to get us back under the law, praise God we live under the administration of God's grace.
But as carefully as we try to explain this, there are going to be some people will always misunderstand (or misrepresent) God's truth. That's what leads Paul to the second question. And it's that second question that gets him into a discussion of slavery. So let's follow him into the slave market. The first thing we see is the choice of two different slaveries.
The Choice of Two Slaveries
Here's the question that gets him started. Romans 6:15a. "What then? Shall we sin because we're not under law but under grace?"
It's a little different objection to the doctrine of grace than the first one. Compare the two. Do you see the difference? The first one suggested that we should sin "that grace may abound." This one suggests that we can sin "because" grace does abound. Furthermore, the first one referred to a habitual life pattern of sin (present tense). This one refers to isolated acts of sin (aorist tense).
You get the picture, don't you? I have this temptation to sin--maybe shade the truth a little when my spouse asks me where I've been. I just don't want to tell her. It's only a "little white lie." And I'm only going to do it once. And it isn't going to hurt anybody. It certainly isn't going to affect my eternal salvation. I'm not going to be judged by the law for it. God's going to deal with me in grace--marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, grace that is greater than all my sin! So why not go ahead and do it? I've heard Christians say things like that.
That's what Paul is saying in verse 15. "Shall we sin because we're not under the law but under grace?" Well, it may be a slightly different question, but it get's the same answer as the first one. Absolutely not! Perish the thought!
Why not, Paul? Here's why not. Romans 6:16. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether sin to death or of obedience to righteousness?"
The reason we shouldn't "continue in sin" (verse 1) is because we died to it (verse 2). And the reason we as Christians shouldn't even choose deliberately to sin once in awhile is because, like it or not, we become slaves to whomever we obey. And there are only two masters to choose from: sin or God, that's it. He says "obedience" here, but it is obedience to God. And down in verse 22--if you let your eye drop down there--he talks about being slaves to God. He uses the term "slaves to obedience," "slaves to righteousness," and "slaves to God," all interchangeably here. The master we obey reveals whose slaves we are.
Ray Stedman tells of seeing a man walking down the street in Los Angeles with a sign hung over his shoulders. The front of it said, "I'm a slave for Christ." On the back it read, "Whose slave are you?" Now the guy may have been a little strange; I don't know. But it's a good question. All of us are somebody's slaves. By our very nature we are going to yield ourselves to the control of somebody or something. We may think we're calling the shots ourselves and doing what we want to do, but in reality we are controlled by one or the other of these two masters: our sinful nature or the Lord God. There are no other choices. And the master we obey reveals whose slaves we are.
Jesus taught this same truth. He said, "...whoever commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). Most of us don't like that. We think we can sin a little here and there without becoming slaves of sin. But experience teaches us otherwise. We often boast that we are in control of our lives when in reality we are in bondage. Like the fellow who says, "I can quit smoking any time I please. I've done it dozens of times." He's saying with his mouth he can do what he wants, but he can't do what he wants. Or the one who says, "I can lose this weight if I want to. I've already lost 250 pounds--25 off, 25 on, 25 off 25 on." We claim to be free to sin or not to sin, but it's not true. Sin inevitably lead to bondage.
So what happens when you tell that one little white lie? It makes it easier to tell another. In fact, it will probably require another to cover the first one. And that will demand another, and another.
And what happens when we let our anger get out of control? It stirs up anger in the people around us, and so we get even angrier to prove our point. And every time we do it, it gets a little easier, until hostility and anger have us in their grip. That's what sin does, according to God's word.
And what happens when we go to bed with that person to whom we are not married? We tell ourselves that we'll only do it this once--never again. But our guilt gets us depressed, and in order to find relief from our depression we run to the very person who constitutes the source of temptation to us, and before we know it, we're back in bed with him or her again, and again, and again. Or we tell ourselves that we've done it now; we're already soiled goods; so why not do it again? And soon we wake up to the fact that we're in slavery to our sinful passions.
So whose slave are you? That's the question that confronts us when we open God's Word to Romans 6. And there are only two choices: sin which leads to death, or obedience which leads to righteousness. That's it. No other choice.
The Change of Slaveries
If you've trusted Christ as your Savior and opened your heart to Him, you have already decided who your master should be. That's the subject of the next two verses.
Romans 6:17-18. "But God be thanked, that though you were slaves of sin yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."
He's talking about the Christians in Rome, and he's referring to the moment they put their faith in Christ as Savior from sin, the moment of their salvation. He gives God all the praise for it, not them. "Thanks be to God!" Why? Because by His grace they had obeyed from their hearts--that is, with deep sincerity and conviction. They had obeyed that form of doctrine to which they were delivered. Doctrine. You see that word there? That gets some people in a cold sweat; they don't like that word "doctrine." Don't be afraid of it. It's right there in the Bible; it's part of God's word. It means "teaching." This obedience is one act at one point in time (Aorist tense), the obedience of faith that brought them salvation.
Did you notice what they obeyed? That form of doctrine to which they were delivered. A "form" was a mold into which hot, molten metal was poured so that it would take a particular shape. God's truth is like a mold. When He saves us, He "delivers" us (or entrusts us) to the mold of His truth. His doctrine. Bible doctrine. As we obey it, He uses it to make us into the people He wants us to be.
The Roman Christians had responded to His grace, put their faith in Christ, and were in the process of being molded into the image of Christ. They had changed masters. Just as all other Christians, they were identified with Christ in His death to sin and His resurrection to new life. They were freed from their slavery to sin and they became slaves of righteousness. That's what we learned in the early part of the chapter: verse 4. So that we don't have to be slaves to our old sinful nature anymore. You see, that happens to every person the moment he trusts Christ as his Savior. He changes slaveries. He has a new master.
I'm afraid some Christians still don't know that this has happened to them, that they have been set free from sin's bondage. If anyone were to ask them what they thought of their identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, they would probably answer much like the old Alabama slave, "I don't know anything about that, except that they say it was supposed to set us free. And I don't know anything about that either." They made the choice to change owners when they trusted Christ as Savior, but they're still serving their old master: sin. It's obvious that they have never really begun to live in submission to their new Master. And that's probably why Paul moves on to the challenge of our new slavery.
The Challenge of Our New Slavery
He's described a choice of two slaveries, and a change of slaveries, in verse 17 and 18. Now, the challenge of this new slavery. Romans 6:19a. He says, "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh."
That's an interesting little side-light. In other words, this human analogy of slavery leaves something to be desired. Obviously, our relationship with God is not humiliating and degrading like slavery, and so the analogy breaks down. But I have to use it, he says, so you can understand what I'm talking about. So don't think about the bad part of it. Think about the important truth that it communicates. You see, it does help us understand the degree of obedience that should characterize our lives as Christians under grace. When we think of a servant in our culture we think of somebody who puts in his hours then has some time to himself. But a slave in the Roman world enjoyed no such luxury. He had no life of his own, no time to himself. He was at his master's disposal 24 hours a day.
And that's the way we served our sin natures before we met Christ. That's not to say we never did anything good by human standards. Our sin natures all have certain strengths and they can accomplish some commendable things in the world's view. But all we had before we got saved was a sin nature, so we served it continually. Now our position has changed. We have a new master, and here is the challenge of our new status: Romans 6:19b-c. "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness and of lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness"--that's a description of what we were before we were saved and what we did--"so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness."
Let's give ourselves just as wholeheartedly and completely as slaves of righteousness as we did as slaves of unrighteousness. And just as surely as serving sin led to more and more sin, so serving righteousness will lead to progressively greater holiness (or sanctification). We will be more fully set apart to God's glory and praise. That's what the Christian life is all about. That's why God saved us.
It sounds to me as though Paul really thought we could live above sin. What a far cry from the defeatist attitude of many professing Christians who fully expect to sin and see themselves as helpless victims of their sinful urges. In his book The Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll likens them to a slave cowering before his former master saying, "Yes, master. Yes, master. Don't hit me, master. I'll be a good slave" (p. 113). They are running scared of a master who no longer has any rights over them. They say things like: "I just can't help myself." "I'm just weak in that area." "I'm only human, you know."
They lie and cheat and steal and gossip and fornicate, and then try to excuse it by insisting that nobody's perfect (Swindoll, p.108). True enough. Nobody is perfect. But the Word of God assures us that we don't need to live as slaves of sin any longer. We've been emancipated! We can give ourselves to serve righteousness and grow in holiness. And that's the challenge before us. So whose slave are you anyway? That's the question we need to answer today.
The Consequence of Each Slavery
In case you're not yet moved by Paul's plea for righteous living, he wants to warn you about the consequence of each slavery. He mentioned this briefly at the end of v.16, but now he wants to amplify it. He takes the two in turn.
The Consequence of Slavery to Sin
Romans 6:20. "For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness." He's talking about their pre-conversion days when sin rather than righteousness was their master.
Romans 6:21. "What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?" No spiritual fruit. "For the end of those things is"--there it is--"death." That's the consequence.
There was no true spiritual fruit back in those days, just things of which we are now ashamed: sinful words, sinful acts, sinful attitudes, sinful habits. And they all led to one thing: death.
But the important thing to understand is that they still do lead to death, even after salvation. You say, "Wait a minute. What are you talking about?" Paul is going to amplify this for us in chapter 8, so we'll talk more about it then. But sin always leads to death of one kind or another. Even in the life of the believer. For one thing, it means death to our joyful fellowship with God. You don't enjoy God's presence when you're living in sin. That's a death. Death to fellowship.
It may also bring death to meaningful and satisfying relationships with others, particularly in the home. Shipwrecked marriages are always the result of somebody's sinful attitudes and actions. Sin leads to death. Death to relationships.
It may speed up the process of physical death. Some Christians are killing themselves with anger or worry, some are destroying their bodies with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Some have contracted fatal diseases through illicit sexual encounters. Death is the natural consequence of slavery to sin, even in the life of the believer.
Why would anyone want to stay in a slavery that promises nothing but death? That would be foolish. It would be like a slave back in the days of physical slavery in our country--a slave who had been owned by a selfish, cruel, tyrannical master who beat him and starved him, who was then sold to a warm, humane master who treated him with kindness and compassion. But then of his own volition he went back to his old master, who was only too happy to have him and beat him some more. That would be stupid! But that's exactly what some of us are doing.
Let's get out of there. Let's stop taking those beatings. We've been freed from all of that. Now let's live like it.
The Consequences of Slavery to God are Much Happier
Romans 6:22-23. "But now having been set free from sin and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The word for "wages" was used for a Roman soldier's pay. It was something he earned by the sweat of his brow and considerable risk to his well-being. It was due him and nobody could deny it to him. And we get wages for choosing to live as slaves of sin: death.
We would almost expect the second part of the verse to read, "...but the wages of obedience to God is eternal life." But Paul doesn't say that. That would imply that we could earn our salvation by good works, and Paul wanted to avoid that at all cost. Eternal life is the free gift of a gracious God. Salvation is totally of God's grace. But if you are saved, choose to live your life in a manner consistent with the life that is yours in Christ. Submit yourself to God, serve Him in holiness. That's the way of life.
I like the way John Stott sums up this passage. "By birth we are slaves of sin; by grace and faith we have become slaves of God. The slavery of sin yields no return, except a steady, moral deterioration and finally death. The slavery of God yields the precious return of sanctification and finally eternal life" (Men Made New, p. 55). Why would we ever want go back to that miserable wretched slavery to sin once we have been delivered from it?
That's where Satan wants us. He's going to do everything in his power to get us back there. He'll keep coming and whispering in our ear, "Go ahead and do it, just this once. It won't hurt you. It'll be fun. Besides, you're not under the law, you're under grace. God will forgive you. Everything will be alright." You've heard those words, haven't you? Maybe not in audible tones but those thoughts have come to your mind. Now you know where they come from. That's Satan's temptation.
What are you going to say? If you understand and believe Romans 6, you're going to say two things. First, "Get out of here Satan. I died to my old life. That chapter is closed and I'm not going to open it again." Second, "Satan, you must be crazy. That one sin will lead to slavery, and eventually to death, and I've been set free from that. I'm want no part of that slavery, ever again."
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Are you willing to take the truths of Romans 6 and translate it into life? Daily living. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not. How shall we who have died to sin live any longer in it? Well, what then? Shall we sin because we're not under law but under grace? God forbid. Don't you know that whomever you present yourself to obey, you are that one's slaves, whether of sin to death or obedience to righteousness?"
Will you make the right choice this morning? When the question confronts us--Who's slave are you?--will you make the right choice, and live your life voluntarily yet radically as a slave to Jesus Christ?
Now you probably noticed that in the context, Romans 6:23 is written to believers; this passage is addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. And yet, the truth found in that verse is some of the most important truth that an unsaved person could ever possibly hear, because the principle relates to him as well--or her. "The wages of sin is death." There is a reward, a paycheck, for sin: and that is death. In this case, it would eternal death. Separation from God. Condemnation. Judgment. Hell, the Bible says. "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Will you receive His gift? It doesn't cost you anything; it's a gift. But the reason it doesn't cost you anything is because it cost God everything: the best that He had. The Jewel of heaven. The Treasure of heaven's glory. His only begotten Son. And He paid for it in full so that you might now receive it freely by His grace. Will you do that?
Let's bow prayerfully in His presence. With our heads bowed before the Lord, if you are uncertain of your eternal salvation, would you settle it right now? It's a matter of faith. Express it to God. Just in the quiet of your own soul, you pray. Will you, right now?
"Lord, I'm a sinner, and I believe that Jesus paid for my sin to deliver me from eternal death. And I gratefully receive Your gift of eternal life, which is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and save me from sin."
Oh, we long for you to make that decision if you've never done it. Settle it today, please.
Maybe you know you've settled that issue, but you also know that you've been back obeying your old master, living in sin, and it's become a slavery for you. You understand Romans 6 because you're living it in your own experience. You've been set free. Did you know that? You don't need to live as a slave of sin any longer. Will you now begin to live as the person you are in Jesus Christ? Would you make that commitment today, by God's grace? "Through His power, I will choose to walk away from sin and live for the glory and praise of Jesus Christ." Tell Him so, will you?
Father, thank You again for Your matchless grace. Help us, I pray, to appropriate it by faith, resulting in triumphant living to the praise of Jesus Christ, our living Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Continue to ROM 10: Know Your Enemy