“FOR THE NEXT 100 MILES YOU ARE NOT UNDER TRAFFIC LAWS!” I couldn’t believe the sign. Put the pedal to the metal! No lurking police!
Not true, of course. But Paul’s promise is. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
Sin is a power. “ . . . Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin (Romans 3:10). But it will no longer lord it over us if we have been made right with God through faith in Christ. The reason? We are “not under law but under grace”. Paul will elaborate in the next two chapters. For now, he presents a question which Jewish Christians in Rome, raised “under law”, would inevitably ask . . .
“Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15a). In Deuteronomy, Moses prepared the Israelites for the Promised Land.
“ , , ,if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:25).
But Christ ended the Mosaic era. We’re not under law any longer; we’re under grace. Should we live lawlessly? By no means!” (6:15b). Why such an emphatic NO?
“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?“ (6:16).
Slavery was common in Rome. Paul’s readers would know if a man offers to be someone’s slave, he is a slave and the one to whom he offers himself is his master.
As humans, writes Paul, we have only two alternatives. One: live under the dominion of sin leading to death-like separation from God. Two: live under the dominion of obedience to righteousness (“you have become slaves of righteousness”—6:18) leading to righteousness in character and conduct.
The present tense of “present yourselves” (Greek, paristanete) implies an ongoing offering. The more we present ourselves to sin, the more “dead” we are in our relationship with God. The more we present ourselves to obedience to righteousness, the more righteous we are in character and conduct.
Paul thanks God that the freed-from-sin’s-power Romans have become “slaves of righteousness” . . .
“But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, 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 greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (6:17-19).
The former slaves to sin have been “entrusted” or “handed over to” a “form of teaching”. By the mid-50’s A.D. there was a defined body of Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching. Paul had given them over to that—to learn and to follow. And they “have been obedient from the heart” to that teaching. They have become “slaves of righteousness”.
Parenthetically, Paul explains he’s speaking “in human terms because of your natural limitations”. That is, the spiritual concepts involved here are too complex for them to grasp, so Paul uses slavery as an analogy.
He continues with an exhortation: you used to offer the members of your body to impurity and to increasing iniquity; now offer them to righteousness resulting in “sanctification”. Sanctification is another word for holiness—a life morally set apart to God. This “righteousness for sanctification” is a process. Just as the Roman Christians’ iniquity grew greater and greater, so now Paul urges them toward greater and greater holiness.
“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23).
Still persuading the Romans not to live lawlessly even though they’re not “under law”, Paul reminds them as “slaves of sin” they were not restrained in any way by righteousness. But “what advantage” (Greek, karpos—fruit) did they gain from the behavior they are now ashamed of? Those things end in “death”—separation from God, ultimately eternally.
But, they have been set free from sin’s power and made slaves of God. The fruit of that is “sanctification” and the end is “eternal life” with God
For the pay-off of sin is death, but God’s “gift” (charisma) “is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Even though eternal life is the outcome of Christians offering themselves to righteousness, that offering is not meritorious. The power to not present themselves to sin but to righteousness comes from God. Sanctification–a benefit of slavery to God–is God’s work. There the end of the whole process–eternal life–is God’s gift.
Paul means all this to move the Romans to answer “Should we sin, because we are not under law but under grace?” the same way he did–“By no means!”
* * * *
At times I’m tempted to offer myself to sin. Anger, for instance. In my illness, I can be an angry man. And I agree the sin of anger is a power that I sometimes allow to rule me. (Please don’t think I beat my wife. Words or withdrawal–that’s how I express my anger.)
There are, of course, other sins we offer ourselves to, other sins that increasingly dominate us. Pornography. Lying. Selfishness. Slander. How easily we presume upon God’s grace and how lightly we regard our sin! How much we need to hear and heed Paul’s warning of sin’s enslaving power that distances us from the enjoyment of God’s presence!
And how we must consider the “fruit” of sin and the “fruit” of righteousness. “Sanctification” sounds stuffy. Puritanical even. But to be set apart to righteousness–to be set apart to God–is what God created us for and what he redeemed us for through Christ. As a man and woman were made for each other in marriage, so we through Christ are made for God.
Finally, this convicts me. I pray a dozen times a day for the Lord to heal me. Just as often should I pray that in my illness I might seek to behave righteously. For the fruit of righteousness is to be set apart to God. And the outcome of it all is eternal life.
“Lord, don’t let me put the pedal to the medal. Keep me driving in your ways!”