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(Group) Romans 6:15-23

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Title: “Enslaved to Serve”
Theme: In this passage, there are only two choices, two different ways of living: one is a slave either of God or of sin. There is no such thing as an autonomous person, free of any master. The person who imagines himself to be free because he acknowledges no god but himself is deluded; for such a self-serving perspective is nothing less than idolatry, the very essence of slavery to sin (1:21–25). This is very much in line with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, which stresses that not everyone who claims to be a believer will find a home in the Kingdom of God but only those who take seriously their calling to obey (). It is possible for us to so overemphasize God’s grace and the principle of salvation by faith alone that we lose sight of the demands of God’s lordship over us.
This is very much in line with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, which stresses that not everyone who claims to be a believer will find a home in the Kingdom of God but only those who take seriously their calling to obey (). It is possible for us to so overemphasize God’s grace and the principle of salvation by faith alone that we lose sight of the demands of God’s lordship over us.
It is possible for us to so overemphasize God’s grace and the principle of salvation by faith alone that we lose sight of the demands of God’s lordship over us.
In this passage, there are only two choices, two different ways of living: one is a slave either of God or of sin. There is no such thing as an autonomous person, free of any master. The person who imagines himself to be free because he acknowledges no god but himself is deluded; for such a self-serving perspective is nothing less than idolatry, the very essence of slavery to sin (1:21–25)
(ESV)
INTRODUCTION
In 6:1–14, Paul responds to an objection that the very abundance of God’s grace in Christ encourages sin by arguing that Christ, in fact, sets believers free from sin. In 6:15–23, Paul responds to a similar objection by emphasizing the “flip side” of this freedom from sin: slavery to God and to righteousness. Slave imagery dominates this paragraph. Paul also uses the language of freedom but less often. Thus, it is not “freedom” that is the topic of this paragraph but “slavery.”
This emphasis on the Christian’s slavery—which Paul admits is not the whole picture; cf. v. 19a—is necessary in order to show that the freedom of the Christian “from sin” is not a freedom “to sin.” Between the dangers of legalism and licentiousness Paul steers a careful course. He makes it clear that Christians are free from the binding power of the Mosaic law while at the same time stressing that Christians are “under obligation” to obey their new “master”—God, or righteousness.
He makes it clear that Christians are free from the binding power of the Mosaic law while at the same time stressing that Christians are “under obligation” to obey their new “master”—God, or righteousness
For, as Paul makes clear, there is no such thing as human “autonomy,” a freedom from all outside powers and influences. Either people are under the power of sin, or they are under the power of God. The question is not, then, whether one will have a master, but which master one will serve. Serving sin, Paul shows, leads to death; serving God, to life.
Paul repeats the objection of verse 1 in slightly different terms (suggested by the wording of verse 14) and uses the analogy of the slave-market to answer it.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 396–397). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, pp. 143–144). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
In this section, Paul addresses another anticipated objection, closely related to the first: If Christians are now freed from the jurisdiction of the law and governed solely by the principle of grace, what’s to keep them from continuing in sin? Doesn’t such a denial of the God-given role of the Mosaic law undermine the foundation of all morality and ethics? Not at all, Paul responds, because true Christians submit themselves to God and are committed to obeying his desires. If a person chooses to continue in sin, it shows that sin—not the will of God—is the real “master” of that person’s life. Real Christians are committed to living a morally good life because they have made God’s desires their “master.” How a person lives, then, shows who or what that person’s master is, for that to which we submit becomes our “lord.” One cannot claim to be a follower of God and continue to live in sin; the two are mutually exclusive—to continue to live in sin results in eternal death.
Mohrlang, R., Gerald L. Borchert. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 14: Romans and Galatians (p. 107). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
BODY
I. Rhetorical Question and Reminder of Consequences that actions bind us to powers (15-16)
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
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. The reference in 6:15 is obviously to 6:14b, where Paul proclaims that the believer is not “under the law” but “under grace.” Those who are joined to Christ by faith live in the new age where grace, not the law of Moses, reigns. This being the case, believers’ conduct is not directly regulated by the law. Under Jewish premises, such a “law-less” situation would be assumed to foster sin. Christians would be no better than “Gentile sinners” (cf. ). But Paul sees in God’s grace not only a liberating power but a constraining one as well: the constraint of a willing obedience that comes from a renewed heart and mind and, ultimately (cf. ; ), the impulse and leading of God’s Spirit.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 398). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Grace does not free us to do anything we want. It does not provide the opportunity to live apart from all restrictions. Freedom is not the exercise of unlimited spontaneity. It means to be set free from the bondage of sin in order to live in a way that reflects the nature and character of God.
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 155). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
16 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 (i.e., conduct that is pleasing to God)?
Once more Paul appeals to a commonly known truth (cf. vv. 3, 6, 9), this time to a frequent occurrence in the ancient world, selling oneself into slavery to avoid debt. It has been estimated that 85–90 percent of the population of Rome and the Italian peninsula either was or had been slaves (Rupprecht 1993:881). So the metaphor here yielded a powerful image. Paul’s point is that if you offer yourselves (the present tense means to do so on a continual basis) to a thing, you become slaves to the one whom you obey.
Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (pp. 160–161). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Christians, who have been set free from sin by their union with Christ, must recognize that, were they constantly to yield to the voice of temptation, they would effectively become slaves of sin again. The Lord Jesus made the same point: “Every person who is committing sin is a slave to sin” (). Without taking anything away from the reality of the transfer from one master to another, then, Paul wants to make clear that “slavery” is ultimately not just a “legal” status but a living experience. Christians, who are no longer slaves of sin, must no longer live as slaves of sin.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 398). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Unbelievers may think they are free and would have to give up that freedom should they accept Christ. Such is not the case. They are servants of sin right now. In coming to Christ they simply exchange one master for another. Servitude to sin is replaced with servitude to God. The master we obey is clear evidence of whose slaves we really are. There is no room for compromise. As Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters” (). We also are reminded of Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites at Shechem, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” ().
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 156). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF OBEDIENCE?
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF OBEDIENCE?
• Willing loyalty
• Quick responsiveness
• Intuitive understanding
• Readiness to change
• Eagerness to learn
How many of these qualities are part of our relationship with God?
II. Contrast pre-Christian existence with new Christian experience (17-18)
17 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,
18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Paul now dispels any idea that Christians stand in a situation of neutrality with respect to the master they are to serve. This verse and the following one reveal Paul’s conviction that they have already made the decision to follow a new master.
This unusual way of putting the matter is intentional; Paul wants to make clear that becoming a Christian means being placed under the authority of Christian “teaching,” that expression of God’s will for NT believers. The new convert’s “obedience” to this teaching is the outgrowth of God’s action in “handing us over” to that teaching when we were converted.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 401). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
The teaching was not entrusted to the converts but the converts to the teaching. Barrett points out that unlike the rabbis, Christians are not masters of a tradition; “they are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it.” The gospel message with all its ethical implications represents an existing body of truth into which new believers are brought by faith. The message is not brought to the converts but vice versa.
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 157). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Paul’s concept of freedom is not that of autonomous self-direction but of deliverance from those enslaving powers that would prevent the human being from becoming what God intended.
It is only by doing God’s will and thus knowing his truth that we can be “free indeed” (). This is why, without paradox, Christian freedom is at the same time a kind of “slavery.” Being bound to God and his will enables the person to become “free”—to be what God wants that person to be.
The Christian is not just called to do right in a vacuum but to do right out of a new and powerful relationship that has already been established.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 403). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
CHANGE OF HEART
We were wholehearted sinners, even if only in our desires. Now we are to be wholehearted servers, but doing so requires grace, repentance, forgiveness, the Lordship of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, restraint of our desires, and disciplined effort.
III. Imperative to give ourselves fully to the powers that we are enslaved to (19)
19 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.
Analogies, by definition, are less than perfect. So Paul reminded his readers that he was putting the argument in human terms because of the inherent difficulties in understanding spiritual truth.
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 157). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The first sentence of this verse is not explicitly linked to what precedes. We may therefore take the verse either with v. 18 or with v. 19b. But we need not make a choice. The sentence is a parenthetical explanation of why Paul is using slavery imagery to depict the Christian and so is related both to v. 18 (“you were enslaved”) and v. 19b (“slaves”).
He thus makes clear that Christians should serve righteousness with all the single-minded dedication that characterized their pre-Christian service of such “idols” as self, money, lust, pleasure, and power. Would that we would pursue holiness with the zeal that so many of us pursued these other, incomparably less worthy goals!
“Sanctification” may refer to the state of “holiness,” as the end product of a life of living in service of righteousness.59 But most of Paul’s uses of this word have an active connotation: the process of “becoming holy.” This is probably the case here also.61 Committing ourselves as slaves to doing what is right before God (“righteousness”) results in living that is increasingly God-centered and world-renouncing.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
IV. Contrast pre-Christian existence with new Christian experience (20-23) 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
The imperative “present yourselves as slaves to righteousness” in v. 19b is the center of the paragraph. But this command does not, and cannot, stand in isolation. We can, and must, serve righteousness because God has freed us from sin and made us slaves to righteousness. The “imperative” grows out of, and reflects, the “indicative.” In order to maintain this careful balance, Paul “frames” the command in v. 19b with reminders of our new status in Christ (vv. 17–18, 20–23). Therefore the “for” in this verse introduces vv. 20–23 as the ground of the command in v. 19b. As in v. 18, Paul reminds his Christian readers that they were formerly slaves of sin. But instead of immediately completing the temporal sequence with a description of their present Christian status, he pauses to remind them of an implication of their past lives.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
21 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.
As confirmation (“for”) of the shameful character of pre-Christian “fruit,” Paul reminds his readers of the “end” or “outcome”72 of them: “death.” In contrast with “eternal life” (v. 22), “death” refers particularly to what we usually call “eternal death”: the eternal separation from God in hell that begins after death.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 407). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
22 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.
The “fruit” of which they are now ashamed has been replaced with fruit that “yields a harvest” of sanctification. And the final outcome of this “fruit leading to sanctification” is “eternal life.” “Life,” while it begins for the believer at the moment of conversion (cf. 6:4 and 8:6), is not granted in its full and final form until “that which is mortal is swallowed up by life” ()
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 407–408). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Freedom is not a question of whether or not we would like to serve but the choice of which master we will serve.
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 158). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This verse not only explains the contrasting “outcomes” of death and life specified in vv. 22–23 but also brings the entire chapter to a fitting climax.
We may summarize the verse by noting, with Lloyd-Jones, its three contrasts: the master that is served—sin versus God; the outcome of that service—death versus eternal life; and the means by which this outcome is attained—a “wage” earned versus a gift received.
Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 408). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

With a nice touch of theological sophistication, Paul finishes the chapter by reminding us that, though our sin merits the sentence of death, eternal life must always be understood as a sheer gift of God’s grace (6:23). So we must never rely on the quality of our moral life itself to save us—that will always be insufficient; but genuine, saving faith in Christ will change the quality of our moral life.

With a nice touch of theological sophistication, Paul finishes the chapter by reminding us that, though our sin merits the sentence of death, eternal life must always be understood as a sheer gift of God’s grace (6:23). So we must never rely on the quality of our moral life itself to save us—that will always be insufficient; but genuine, saving faith in Christ will change the quality of our moral life.
Life Application Bible Commentary, Romans Slaves to Righteousness / 6:15-23

THE CHOICE

You are free to choose between two masters, but you are not free to adjust the consequences of your choice. Each of the two masters pays with his own kind of currency. The currency of sin is death. That is all you can expect or hope for in life without God. Christ’s currency is eternal life—new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God. What choice have you made?

THE CHOICE
You are free to choose between two masters, but you are not free to adjust the consequences of your choice. Each of the two masters pays with his own kind of currency. The currency of sin is death. That is all you can expect or hope for in life without God. Christ’s currency is eternal life—new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God. What choice have you made?
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