Sermon on Romans 6:14-23 – “Set Free to be Slaves of God”
Dec 30, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church
CONTEXT and INTRODUCTION
We’re now returning to our sermon series on Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome.
As you recall Romans is a treatise on justification. Paul’s main contention in the letter has been that righteousness is not found by works of the law but it is had by the grace of God, made known and applied through faith in Jesus Christ.
As we come to Chapter 6 we find Paul dealing with two objections to this doctrine.
The first objection was in 6:1 – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And Paul responded “By no means!” In Jesus Christ we have died to sin—it no longer has dominion over us—and we have been made alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Now today in the second half of Chapter 6 we will come to the second objection against Paul’s doctrine of salvation by Grace through faith.
And if we look at key words in each of these passages (the first half and second half of Chapter 6) we might note that Paul answered the first objection with an LIFE-DEATH analogy and will now answer the second objection with a SLAVE-FREE analogy.
Another way to summarize is to say that there are TWO MASTERS, TWO corresponding LIFESTYLES, and TWO corresponding RESULTS. [REPEAT: TWO MASTERS, TWO LIFESTYLES, AND TWO RESULTS]
That is, there are only two possible masters (either God is your master, or sin is your master), your lifestyle then depends on which of these two masters you follow, and the corresponding result (or fruit) of the lifestyles is limited to one of two possibilities: following sin as a master leads to death, but following God as your master leads to eternal life.
If you were at the Sunday evening study two weeks ago, you might see a similarity—a connection—between this passage and the early church catechism—the Didache—which we began to discuss.
The Didache, an early church catechism or teaching manual, says “There are 2 ways; 1 of life and 1 of death, and a great difference between these two ways.” To match better with our passage today, it might very well have said “There are 2 masters, and thus there are two ways, 1 of life and one of death, and a great difference between these ways.”
If Sin is your master and you blaze your own path in life, death is the result of that lifestyle.
But if Jesus Christ is your master and you follow him, you follow the path of God, and find eternal life.
There is indeed a very great difference between these two ways. One is life and one is death.
So the title of today’s sermon is “Set Free to be Slaves of God.” [REPEAT: “Set Free to be Slaves of God] And like the passage itself, this title makes an intentionally paradoxical statement. We Christians are “Set Free to be Slaves of God.” But while this statement might at first appear contradictory or confused, I hope that by the end of this sermon you will see more clearer its meaning and so praise the Lord and follow Him all the more earnestly, being in fact glad to be a Slave of Jesus Christ.
I. NOT UNDER LAW BUT UNDER GRACE
As we look to the first verse of the passage—verse 14—we find a statement that deserves to be discussed in its own right, for it is regularly misused or mishandled. It is a critically important verse to properly understand. It reads:
14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
This verse, when misunderstood and misused, has been the rallying cry of many deceitful and self-deceiving people. They will say “I’m not under law but under grace” so as to excuse any sin and their continuance in that sin.
But as I’ve discussed in previous sermons on Romans, we know that being “not under law but under grace” does not mean that we throw out the law entirely. We are definitely to understand that salvation is not by the law. But the law still has other purposes. I mentioned in previous sermons that the law, though not saving us, still is to be used as a mirror, a curb, and a guide. So we should not misinterpret this verse and think that Paul approves of sinning or denies to the law its proper purposes.
So then what does it mean to be “not under law but under grace”?
Paul is speaking here of the method of salvation. We are not saved under a principle of law, but we are saved under a principle of grace. [REPEAT: We are not saved under a principle of law, but we are saved under a principle of grace.] And thank God that that is true, for no one could make it under the law. No one could live a perfect life and merit heaven. But now, the Covenant of works is no more, we are now in the Covenant of Grace.
Our understanding of verse 14 is benefitted by reading it in context, for in the very next verse we read:
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
That old antinomianism has crept back up again, and Paul again bops it on the head like a game of Whac-a-Mole.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
So we know that since Paul is condemning antinomianism (lawlessness, disregard for the law) in verse 15, he certainly cannot be approving it in verse 14.
Paul is appalled at the suggestion. This is his most fervent negation. By no means! μὴ γένοιτο he says in the Greek. μὴ γένοιτο, by no means!
This is the same phrase he used in Romans 6:2. What shall we say then? Are we to consider in sin that grace may abound? μὴ γένοιτο May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
So Paul’s argument is that though we are under grace, and not under the law, this is not an invitation to sin. Sin is no longer your master. Sin has no dominion over you. You are not under law but under grace and thus you are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. [REPEAT: you are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness.]
These then are the only two possible masters:
Sin and righteousness. Yourself and God. Your master is either your own sin, or it is God and his righteousness.
Conversely, you are either a slave to sin, or a slave of God. [REPEAT: you are either a slave to sin, or a slave of God]
II. SLAVES OF GOD
The word “slave” in the Greek language of the New Testament is doulos. Strong’s Lexicon says that a doulos is one “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” The word derives from the verb δέω meaning “to tie or bind.”
A number of English Bible translations—including the ESV and King James Bible— translate doulos most commonly as “servant.” But other versions better translate doulos as “slave.” Slave is probably a better term, for it has the appropriate connotation of permanence which “servant” lacks. A servant might just be hired, but a slave is bound to his master.
So, a slave of God is one tied to God and bound to Him.
Both the phrases “slave of God” and “slave of Jesus Christ” are used in the New Testament. We might note incidentally that since both of these terms are used interchangeably, from these very terms we have the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. That is, if one is “a slave of God” and also “a slave of Christ,” then (unless they have two masters) Christ is God.
And in almost every case that the term “slave of God” or “slave of Christ” is used in the New Testament, it is self-applied as a badge of honor.
Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus” in Romans 1:1 and again a “slave of Christ” in Galatians 1:10. In Colossians 4:12 Pauls speaks of Epaphras a man who is a “slave of Christ.” And since Epaphras was not an apostle, Paul yet calling him a “slave of Christ” tells us that that term is applicable to Christians in general, not just apostles or other leaders.
So Paul and Epaphras are slaves of Christ. And then Peter in 2nd Peter 1:1 says that he is “a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.” And Jude in Jude 1:1 refers to himself as “a slave of Jesus Christ.” And finally the Apostle John in Revelation 1:1 is among the “slaves of Christ.”
It might seem strange to self-apply the title “slave of God” or “slave of Christ.” But this is exactly what the New Testament Christians did.
But perhaps this is not surprising as Christ himself came to serve. Though he was in the form of God, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The vitally important thing to understand is that all people are slaves to something. [REPEAT: all people are slaves to something.] A person might be a slave to money, or power, lust, gluttony, or some other vice.
The basic division is that you are either living for yourself or you are living for God. You are either a slave to sin or a slave to God and His righteousness. Since being a slave to sin is such a terrible thing, and being a slave to God and His righteousness frees one from the desire to keep sinning, it is easy to see why the New Testament Christians would gladly call themselves slaves of Jesus Christ.
This basic division can well be summarized in saying that “there is no neutrality.” [REPEAT: “there is no neutrality.”] The Bible simply does not admit or allow some neutral position. If you are standing still, you are not walking with the Lord. If you are not for Him, you are against him. And thus agnosticism is impossible. A man either lives with fear of God before his eyes or he does not. [REPEAT: A man either lives with fear of God before his eyes or he does not.]
The professed agnostic is seen in reality to be an enemy of God because in none of his actions does he honor the Lord. The professed agnostic does not pray to God and does not obey the commandments. He shows by his actions that he believes there not to be a God who will judge him at the last day. The professed agnostic is an Atheist. He is a slave to sin.
The only other option—the solution and escape from slavery to sin—is to be tied to the Lord, to be rescued by him and so made a slave to righteousness, following God in all your ways.
Recalling that doulos finds its root meaning in the Greek verb meaning to tie or to bind, this helps us understand the Biblical idea of being a slave to sin or a slave to Christ. The slave is tied to—is bound to—his master.
It is like being on a raft in an ocean current which always flows in one direction. You are bound to that raft and go in the direction that it goes. Or, similarly, it is like being on a train. You are going where it goes. If the direction of your travel is sin you will sin, if you are on a path of righteousness then you shall have sanctification.
Whatever you obey is what your master is. And your actions show to what (or whom) you are a slave.
III. THANKS BE TO GOD
And so Paul praises God saying:
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.
Thanks be to God!
Paul thanks God also in Romans 1:8 for the faith of the Romans being proclaimed throughout the world. Unlike the Galatians or Corinthians who need tough love, the Romans are a shining example of the faith. But the praise is not theirs. The praise is God’s, for HE has set us free from sin to become slaves of righteousness.
Thanks be to God!
That could be said over and over again. We should say it ever day. Thanks be to God!
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
We no longer live in that domain of darkness. Sin no longer has dominion over us. We, like actual slaves, have been passed on to a new master, and so serve Him and not our former master. And since no man can serve two masters and we Christians are slaves of God, we should obey only him and not therefore continue in sin.
We have been set free. Set free to be slaves of righteousness. Set free to be slaves of God. This sounds paradoxical of course, but now you should understand its meaning. Being set free from sin, we walk in the path of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And this walking is not of our own will, but as we are led by the Holy Spirit both to will and to do good things which lead to our sanctification.
So those are the two possible masters – yourself and God, and following them there are the two corresponding lifestyles — sin and righteousness. Living in disobedience of God’s commands or living in obedience to them. Then, finally, there are the two results – death and life. And a great difference between these two.
IV. THE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
But, Perhaps one might ask, “why exchange one master for another?” Perhaps someone would say “I like sin, and I don’t want Christ to be my master.” Then an analysis of the fruit of the lifestyles is to be made to persuade them otherwise.
The fruit of sin is rotten; it is dead. But the fruit of righteousness is ripe and glorious; it is life eternal.
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. 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. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Those former things you are now ashamed of. So don’t turn back!
No we are not to sin that grace may abound.
No we are not to sin because we are under grace and not under law.
Don’t you remember that you are ashamed of those former ways? Those sins.
In fact, the way of sin becomes a vicious cycle. Paul says it is “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness.” But thanks be to God for he has taken us out of that vicious cycle and brought us into a virtuous cycle. His Holy Spirit works in us to produce good deeds which leads to our sanctification. In sin things get worse and worse; in the Spirit things get better and better, leading ultimately to eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And this as a gift to us. For what we deserves is death. The wages of our sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life.
This “gift” language is Paul’s throughout his letters. All that we have from God—and especially our salvation—is a gift of God, so that no one can boast. We thank God for the salvation He has obtained for us, a salvation in which our efforts have played no vital part. The free gift of God is eternal life.
2 Masters, 2 Lifestyles, and 2 Results.
We see this more clearly in Psalm 1 than almost anywhere else:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the way of the wicked or stands in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields fruitful in season. His leaf does not whither for whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked they are like chaff which blows away in the wind. The wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregations of the righteous. The Lord watches over the path of the Godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.
The only true freedom then is freedom in Christ, therefore let us—each and every one of us—thank God that we who were once slaves of sin have become obedient, and in this let us fully commit to our Lord (our Master) and Savior Jesus Christ.
Christ himself is recorded in John’s Gospel saying, in chapter 8,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The Son—Jesus Christ—has set you free. You are free indeed. Do not continue in sin, for you are free from that master. Your master is now and forever Jesus Christ and his righteousness, and you are free indeed.
Tie yourself to God. Bind yourself to Him and to His Word.
As Christians, like those at Rome to whom Paul is writing, you are already bound to God. He has adopted you; not the other way around.
And so like Paul says of the Roman Christians,
THANKS BE TO GOD, that have become slaves of righteousness. THANKS BE TO GOD. AND GOD ALONE.
Let us Praise God that He has freed us from the shackles of sin, has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. Amen. Let us pray.