Freed to be Enslaved Part 1 – Romans 6:15-18
Pastor Mark Hardy August 12, 2012
In his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, John Kenneth Galbraith, America’s most famous economist from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, who was a professor at Harvard University and also served in the administrations of four presidents, illustrated the devotion of his family’s housekeeper, Emily Gloria Wilson.
He said, “It had been a wearying day, and I asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while I had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang and she answered it. ‘This is President Lyndon Johnson I need to talk to Mr. Galbraith.’ To which Emily politely replied, ‘He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him.’ ‘Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him,’ Johnson remarked. Holding her ground, Emily then said, ‘No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.’”
Galbraith went on to say, “When I called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. He said, ‘Tell that woman I want her here in the White House.’”
Emily Wilson’s unwavering submission and devotion to her employer, John Galbraith, is similar to the kind of obedience that we as believers are to have toward our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, which we will begin looking at this morning. Now thus far in Romans 6:1-14 we have seen where the apostle Paul gave four requirements on how we as believers can turn our vital union with Christ into victorious living for Christ. Now as we come to vv. 15-23, Paul continues to address the issue of sin in the life of the believer and he structures this paragraph the same way that he did the previous one.
In Romans 6:15-23 we see six aspects of Paul’s concern that we as believers should live in total submission to Jesus Christ and His righteousness and not fall back into our former sins. This morning we will be looking at only the first three aspects.
The first aspect of Paul’s concern is this:
I. The Introduction: Abhorring another appalling Question
A. Look at v. 15: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
1. The doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone has always been subject to the false charge of giving people license to sin. We saw this in the first appalling question in v. 1 where Paul anticipated from what he had said in 5:20 “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” that some would say, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
2. He is shocked and responds in v. 2, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” And then in vv. 3-14 he explained how true believers are dead to sin and alive to God by their union with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
3. But having said in v. 14 that believers “…are not under law but under grace,” Paul again anticipates a second appalling question, though this time slightly different. He knows that some will say, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”
4. Believers are free from the Mosaic Law, in that, it has absolutely no power in itself to save or deliver us from the penalty and power of sin, only God’s grace through faith in Christ can do that. Therefore, some might say, “No law means no rules. Go for it! We are free to sin as we please because God’s grace is always there to forgive us.”
5. Douglas Moo accurately states, “In both vv. 1 and 15 Paul asks whether the grace of God should lead to sin. However, in 6:1 it is a question of sinning in order to gain more grace, while in 6:15 it is a question of sinning because of grace.” (pg. 398)
6. Thomas Schreiner says it this way, “The questions are the same in that the same result is contemplated: Does the presence of grace justify or encourage continued sin?” (pg. 329)
7. And yet no matter how the question is asked, the answer is always the same!
B. Look at Paul’s response at the end of v. 15, “May it never be!”
1. As we have seen three times before (3:4, 6; 6:2), the statement “May it never be!” (me genoito) is the strongest negative expression in the Greek. It indicates shock, abhorrence, disgust, and outrage.
2. It has been translated as: “Never!” “No way!” “Not at all!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “God forbid!” “Perish the thought!” “Not on your life!” and “Not in a thousand years.”
3. Paul is abhorred by this second appalling question. The very suggestion that God’s grace is a license to sin is absurd!
4. This is because the purpose of God’s grace is to free man from sin not free man to sin. But we must be careful not to look at God’s Law in a wrong way.
5. Whereas in one sense we are not under law in the way we once were, in another sense we are still under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Therefore, being free from the Law does not mean that we are free from its moral commands.
6. Being “under grace” means that we as believers now have the God-given resources and power through the indwelling Spirit of God to keep the moral norms of God’s law. Because of this, we can never say, “Sin doesn’t matter.”
7. For it was sin that caused the eternal God to step out of heaven to become the God-Man in the Person of Jesus Christ. He came for the purpose of dying on the cross as our Substitute to pay in full the penalty for sin that we deserved and to break its power in our lives.
8. John 1:29 declares that He is “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
9. Because sin always matters to God, Paul goes on to explain why we as believers are not to take sin lightly.
10. The second aspect of Paul’s concern is this:
II. The Principle: Obedience leads to Slavery
A. Look at v. 16: 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?
1. As he did in v. 3, Paul once again says to the Roman Christians, “Do you not know…” He assumes that they should already know the truth that he is about to say.
2. And the truth is this: “…that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…”
3. The metaphor of “slavery” dominates this paragraph, for the words “slave” or “enslave” is used eight times in vv. 16-22. Since the majority of the population of Rome were slaves, the Roman Christians understood exactly what Paul was saying.
4. And many of these slaves were in slavery voluntarily. This is why when Paul says, “…when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience,” this was not an uncommon situation in the ancient world.
5. Sometimes people would voluntarily sell themselves into slavery in order to avoid financial ruin and secure a livelihood for their families. But a slave was a slave.
6. He had no rights or will of his own. He became the property of his master and was in total submission to him.
7. Now as we saw last time, the word “present” (paristanete) means to offer, and to place at the disposal of another for service. The term is used five times in vv. 13-19 and is a very important word for the believer’s responsibility in the New Testament.
8. Using human slavery to picture spiritual slavery, Paul wants believers to know that when we constantly present ourselves (present tense) voluntarily to a master as slaves for “obedience,” we are slaves of the one whom we “obey.” The words “obedience” (hupakoen) and “obey” () here speak of the total submission and absolute devotion of a slave to his master.
9. Obedience was an essential ingredient in slavery. It was the responsibility of the slave to do what he was told without question.
B. Notice the two masters that Paul is talking about at the end of v. 16, “…either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.”
1. Everyone who has ever existed is a slave to one of two masters: We are either a slave of “sin” or we are a slave of “obedience.” There is no third option.
2. Now why would contrast a slave of “sin” with a slave of “obedience,” instead of a “slave of God” which we see in v. 22, or a “slave of righteousness” as in vv. 18-19? He says “obedience” because he wants to emphasize that “under grace” the believer’s life is to be characterized by total submission to God and His will.
3. Jesus said 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” or anything else for that matter. (Lk. 16:13)
4. Since we cannot serve two masters at the same time, the master we choose to obey shows whose slave we are. We have already seen that in the first Adam the entire human race is the “slave of sin.”
5. Therefore, regardless of how much an unbeliever may hate sin’s bondage, he can do absolutely nothing in himself to free himself from the dominion of sin. Only Jesus Christ can do that.
6. It is only when a person receives Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord that he is no longer a slave to sin and is freed from its power (vv. 6-7). However, although every believer now has a new Master, Jesus Christ, we can still choose to return to our old tyrant master of sin.
C. Look at the inevitable results of choosing to present ourselves to these two masters at the end of v. 16, “…either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.”
1. First of all, obedience to the tyrant master, sin, is deadly. “Death” (thanaton) here is all-inclusive and refers to spiritual, physical, and ultimately eternal death if the person is not a Christian and God’s grace does not intervene.
2. John Murray rightly states, “Sin is deathly and death in every respect follows in its wake.” (pg. 231)
3. We are told in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but is end is the way of death.”
4. Sin always begins the downward process of destruction and death in everything (Jan. 1:15). Whenever we as believers choose to obey it even a little, we open the door for sin’s mastery once again in our lives, although we have been promised in v. 14, “…sin shall not be master over you.”
5. Sin always seeks to once again gain control of our lives. It works like this: Since one sin will quickly lose its level of satisfaction (i.e. Law of diminishing returns), it demands more and more to reach that same level, until the person is finally enslaved or addicted by his chosen sin.
6. Another example is the sin of lying. The first time one lies, he may be horrified; the second time, only somewhat bothered; the third time lying seems far more natural and easy because the sin of lying has enslaved him.
7. Now although true believers can and do commit sin (1 Jn. 1:8, 10), a “professing” Christian who is living a life characterized by an habitual, unbroken pattern of sin proves that he is still shackled to the tyrant master of sin, and does not truly belong to the Lord. (1 Jn. 3:9-10)
8. John MacArthur said, “Grace not only justifies but also transforms the life that is saved. A life that gives no evidence of moral and spiritual transformation gives no evidence of salvation.” (pg. 343)
9. Paul’s point here is that we as believers must take sin in our lives seriously not lightly! Living under grace does not grant us permission to sin.
10. Since in Christ we are “dead to sin and alive to God” (v. 11), we are to continually “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) or live in dependence on Him and be controlled by Him in order to victoriously fight against sin, instead of clinging to the chains of sin that have us bound.
11. Instead of presenting ourselves to sin resulting in death, we are to continually present ourselves to “obedience (to God) resulting in righteousness.”
12. The word “righteousness” (dikaiosunen) here is probably best seen as referring to righteousness in all respects. It has to do with our declared righteousness by God as we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ; primarily our moral and ethical righteousness in transformed behavior that is pleasing to God; and our final righteousness when we are one day made perfect in heaven when the very presence of sin is removed.
13. May we as believer never forget that we are responsible to keep on presenting ourselves to obedience to God, which results in righteousness of life. This is the only way that we will become more and more like Jesus Christ.
14. For if we don’t, then we will be choosing to present ourselves to sin, which will always result in death no matter how pleasurable sin may be for a season. The principle is this: Our obedience leads to slavery to the master we choose.
15. Now having states this principle, Paul now applies it not only to the Roman Christians, but also to all believers. We see this in the third aspect of Paul’s concern, which is this:
III. The Application: Salvation involves changing Masters
A. Look at v. 17: 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.
1. So decisive and radical was the internal change that has taken place in the hearts of the Roman Christians, and all other believers, by the grace and power of God at the moment of their salvation that Paul bursts forth in a spontaneous doxology, “But thanks be to God…” for all that He has done for us in Christ.
2. Notice that Paul thanks God for four realities about believers: The first reality is: Our slavery to sin is over. Look again at v. 17, “But thanks be to God that though you were (i.e. past tense) slaves of sin…” (Stop there)
3. Before Christ came into our lives, no matter how outwardly moral, upright, or benevolent we may have been, God’s Word tells us that we were in a constant state of being characterized as “slaves to sin” ultimately under the lordship of Satan.
4. But now by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ our slavery to sin is over. Although sin is not yet completely removed from our lives, the power of sin in our lives is broken.
5. Therefore, we are not neutral in our battle against sin. Our salvation involved a change in masters from the old tyrant master of sin to our new Master, Jesus Christ.
B. The second reality about believers is: We obeyed God’s truth with sincerity. Look again at v. 17, “…you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”
1. This is the pivot point in every believer’s salvation history. The moment we became” obedient (aorist indicative) from our “heart,” our innermost being sincerely believed the truth of the gospel, God saved us.
2. The word “obedient” (hupekousate) here is synonymous with our initial faith commitment to Christ. Here we see that our faith in Christ and our obedient commitment to Him as Lord are inseparable.
3. This is elsewhere called the “obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26). John MacArthur describes this well, saying, “Faith and obedience are inescapably related. There is no saving faith in God apart from obedience to God, and there can be no godly obedience without godly faith.” (pg. 346)
4. Now notice again that our wholehearted obedience was “…to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” We might have expected Paul to say “that form of teaching which was committed (paredothete) or delivered you,” as the KJV translates it.
5. But instead, Paul says that believers themselves are the ones who are committed or delivered to this form of teaching. The NKJV corrects this and translates it “that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.”
6. So what does Paul mean here? The word “form” (tupon) here refers to a mold, pattern or standard of teaching.
7. So what is this “form (or pattern) of teaching,” Everett Harrison states, “The teaching of Jesus and the apostles, especially in terms of the demands of discipleship, the ethical requirements of the faith, and the principles that must guide believers in their relations one to the other and to the world became in time so definite and fixed that one could go from one area of the church to another and find the same general pattern.” (pg. 73)
8. It has to do with sound doctrine. Paul’s point is that all believers have already been committed (aorist passive indicative) or delivered to this standard of sound doctrine by God and we are to obey it and live by it. Becoming a Christian is not some vague commitment to follow Jesus; it is a total commitment to obey the truths of the Word of God because we have a new Master (Jn. 8:31; 14:21, 23-24; 15:10).
C. The third reality about believers is: We permanently are liberated from sin. Look at the first part v. 18: and having been freed from sin…
1. As Americans we live in a country where we have the privilege of enjoying so many freedoms that other people around the world do not enjoy. But just because people may be free outwardly does not mean that they are free inwardly.
2. No one is ever free from a master. To think that we are independent and “our own boss” is nothing but an illusion created and sustained by Satan.
3. Independence or human autonomy is spiritual suicide. It is like a skydiver in an airplane at 10,000 feet announcing to the pilot, “I want to be free, so I’m not going to use my parachute this time.” How insane!
4. And yet, that’s the insanity of sin. C.S. Lewis perceptively observed, “[The lost] enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.” (Mac. pg. 98)
5. We see sin’s insanity in the last stanza of William Earnest Henley’s famous poem entitled “Invictus,” which is so often quoted and praised by man. It says:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
6. In reality, no human being is “the master of his fate” or the “captain of his soul.” Sure, the human will can accomplish many incredible things, but sinful man can never deliver himself from being a “slave of sin.”
7. Only God can do that and He has to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says that we have already been “freed (eleutherothentes—passive voice) from sin.”
8. Only Christians can know and experience true freedom and deliverance from sin. For we have been rescued out of the lordship of sin into the lordship of God, out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13).
D. The fourth reality about believers is: Our freedom is enslavement to righteousness. Look at the last part of v. 18: …you became slaves of righteousness.
1. Here we see that the moment we placed saving faith in Jesus Christ it was God Himself who made us “slaves (edoulothete—aorist passive indicative) of righteousness”.
2. Once again, the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is probably best taken to refer to righteousness in all respects. But our moral and ethical righteousness in transformed behavior that is pleasing to God, which is the primary focus in this context.
3. Because we as believer now have a new Master, as Christ’s slaves (1 Cor. 7:22) we now for the first time in our lives are truly able to live righteous, Christlike lives the way God intended by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. We are “freed to be enslaved” to Christ and His righteousness.
4. This is true freedom. For Jesus said in John 8:36, “…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
5. Therefore, we must never confuse liberty with license. Remember that the purpose of God’s grace is to free man from sin not free man to sin.
6. Freedom is never the right to do as we please; it is the responsibility to do as we ought.
In closing, being “under grace” is to be characterized by “obedience,” our total submission to Jesus Christ and His Word, and is to be lived out in a life of righteousness. To what master are you presenting yourself as a slave for obedience? Don’t return to your old master, sin, but live under the lordship of your new Master, Jesus Christ.