Freedom in Christ
We move on this morning to look at the second half of Romans 6. Over the last two weeks we have given thought to God’s amazing grace and how that leads us to being united in Christ as a result of His death, burial and resurrection. And so this morning I want to give more detailed consideration to what it means to be a slave. Although we touched on that subject when we looked at 6:6 where we read that “we should no longer be slaves to sin”, now here in 6:15-23 Paul expands on that thought and tells us that we should be slaves, but slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin.
At the end of Romans 5 Paul had been talking about sin and grace and that led to him starting Romans 6 with a question, suggesting that since wherever sin abounds grace abounds more does that mean we should continue to sin so as to receive more grace? He answered his own question at the beginning of 6:2 with an emphatic, “by no means!” Now in 6:15 he starts with a similar suggestion, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Again he answers his own question with an emphatic, “by no means!”
That leads Paul to discuss what it means to be a slave. I suspect that many of us have a vague idea of what being a slave means. We can cast our minds back into history to the work of William Wilberforce and others in bringing about the abolition of the slave trade. At that time people, mainly black Africans, were bought and sold as commodities and made to work for their new owners. They were badly treated, frequently chained and beaten, and badly clothed and fed. Even today many of the descendants of black Americans hold bitter memories of the slave trade. That may well be the general perception of what it means to be a slave. Here though, in 6:16-18 Paul brings us a different view of what it means to be a slave. He points out that when we become slaves we obey our master, whoever that or they may be. When we are slaves to sin, it is sin that we obey. I mentioned last week drug addicts being ruled by the need to get their next fix and alcoholics who can only think of where and when their next drink is coming from. Drug addicts and alcoholics are slaves to their masters, drugs and alcohol. There are probably many other situations that we can no doubt think of where an individual has become a slave to a sinful master. Last Monday (21 Sep 2015) I read an article in The Times about a Premier League footballer who claims to have gambled so much that he lost £1.5M and his marriage. He was a slave to gambling. This former player became such a slave to his addiction that he turned into a very adept liar, lost many of his friends and ran up debts with a number of bookmakers. Gambling was his master and he was the obedient slave. There may well be many other examples although I suggest that drink, drugs and gambling are the main masters of far too many obedient slaves.
In 6:16a Paul reminds us that when we “offer ourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey”. That is what happened with those slaves who Wilberforce tried to help, they obeyed their master and did everything he or she demanded. We may not realise it but 21st century slaves are also obedient to their chosen master. They may deny it but it is true nonetheless; sin becomes their master. Being a slave to sin leads to only one conclusion – death. As sinners, and slaves to sin, we are cut off from God and being in that state will lead us to die spiritually and never to be with Jesus Christ in paradise. There are many of course who strongly deny that they are sinners. The Apostle John said of such people, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Notice that John says we are deceiving ourselves; we cannot deceive God. On the other hand you may remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and taken to Jesus by the Pharisees. Because they wanted to trap Jesus, they asked Him to confirm that it was OK to stone her. They kept on asking Him until Jesus quite calmly said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). Slowly but surely they all drifted away.
As the opposite to the dreadful and perilous state of our being slaves to sin, in 6:16b Paul goes on to suggest that we can become slaves to obedience, a road that leads to righteousness or, as the NLT puts it, to righteous living.
Being slaves to sin all happens before we come before God in repentance to seek His forgiveness for all that we have done wrong and for denying Him, and it comes before we accept that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Saviour. Through His grace, God forgives us and we become part of His wonderful family. Interestingly enough as a result of our coming to faith we become slaves again, this time slaves to obedience, or slaves to Christ. It is Jesus Christ Whom we obey and, therefore, Whose slaves we become. However, we mustn’t run away with the idea that we are slaves in the 17th and 18th century sense even though we are slaves. Jesus is a benevolent Master Who loves us and cares for us. The thought in 6:18 sums it up rather well when Paul says, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness”.
That thought of freedom is both interesting and important. Two of my favourite verses that link together well appear in John’s gospel. The thoughts may appear to be in the wrong sequence but I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m getting at! In John 14:6 Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Earlier, in John 8:31-32 Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. I hope you can see that the link is that word “truth”. We are set free from our sins by the truth of Jesus Christ. It is when we accept that truth and come to faith in Jesus Christ that we are truly free and are able to become His faithful slaves.
Prior to our coming to faith we have been held captives, captives to sin, unable to escape because we didn’t have the power or the means. No matter what happened we remained slaves to whichever sin controlled our lives.
Whilst we have been set free it is important to realise that we haven’t been set free so that we can now do what we like with impunity. Through Jesus Christ we have been set free from being slaves to sin and that should mean that we no longer obey sin but rather obey Jesus. The freedom that we now have in Christ is freedom from being slaves to sin. We may still sin from time to time because even though we have been saved through God’s grace, we are far from perfect, our transformation is an ongoing process and there may be some slips along the way. What our freedom does mean though is that when we do slip God is gracious and will forgive us.
In 6:19-23 Paul moves on to explain the difference between our old lives under sin and our new lives under grace. These verses show the stark contrast between the two states and highlight just how different they are. As sinners we used to offer ourselves to “impurity and lawlessness” (NLT) and went on to ever more wickedness. It may be a generalisation but there are many examples of drug addicts who started out by smoking cannabis before moving on to stronger and harder drugs until their lives become dominated by the constant craving for drugs. That is how it is with sin; we may start off with what might be described as minor sins before moving on to ever worse and more degrading sins. Remember that as slaves to sin we are obedient to our master and seek to do more and more to please “him”!
That is how things used to be. However, now that we have been set free from obedience to sin we are able to “offer ourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (6:19b). Just as sinners we can sink deeper and deeper into ever more depraved and sinful behaviour, so as slaves to Christ we can move into offering ourselves to ever deepening and growing holiness. The Message version of 6:19b includes the suggestion that by coming to faith in Christ our lives are healed. That sounds good to me! Sin has a negative effect on us and can even lead to illnesses of various sorts. Now by coming to faith in Christ we have not only ceased to be slaves to sin, but our decaying lives have been healed.
As slaves to sin we were “free from the control of righteousness” (6:20). We were basically out of control with our lives on a downward spiral to that ever increasing depravity. Paul comes up with a very pertinent question in 6:21 when he asks “what benefit did you reap at that time...” In the long term, where did sin get us? Those three sins that I mentioned earlier - drugs, alcohol and gambling – all lead to an accelerated physical death, just as all sin results in spiritual death. By the way, notice that Paul makes an interesting observation at the end of 6:21 when he refers to “the things you are now ashamed of”. I’ve no doubt that there are many of us who have done things in the past that make us wince or cringe when we think about them. That was obviously true when Paul wrote those words and is most certainly true today.
All of that though is in the past and that is where it should stay. As believers in Jesus Christ we have moved on, we have been set free from sin by His sacrificial act on the cross of Calvary. We are no longer slaves to sin but, as Paul reminds us, we “have become slaves to God” (6:22a). Whereas sin was our master and we were the obedient slaves, we are now slaves to God and obey Him instead. Just as there is no long term benefit in sin, there is most definitely a benefit in being slaves to God, and those benefits are short term, medium term and long term, in fact they last for all eternity. Paul points out that when we are slaves to God, “the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (6:22b). What greater benefit can there be?
One of the verses that is quoted quite regularly by preachers and evangelists comes in 6:23a which says, “the wages of sin is death”. That is what most people remember isn’t it? However, we need to read on and see what Paul also says, “...the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23b).
That final verse highlights exactly the differences between our being slaves to sin and slaves to God. It is a difference that is greater than chalk and cheese or rich and poor. It is a difference that highlights those exact opposites, death and life. Sin leads to death whilst obedience to God leads to life. Lest we run away with the idea that all we have to do is obey God to gain eternal life, let me remind you that true obedience to God only comes as a result of our coming to faith in Jesus Christ as our own Lord and Saviour. There is no other way to come to faith and become slaves to God; as Jesus Himself says in the second part of John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me”.
Those closing verses of Romans 5 and the 23 verses of Romans 6 give us some great teaching on God’s grace and the vast gap between our lives of sin and our being slaves to sin, and the new life that we have when we come to faith in Jesus Christ and become slaves to God.
It is a gap that can only be bridged by Jesus Christ and our accepting Him as Lord and Saviour. Whilst Paul has been talking about this throughout these verses, he sums it up beautifully in his epistle to the Ephesians where he says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
There can be no greater state to be in than knowing Jesus Christ and obeying Him in all that He asks of us. I recommend that if you don’t already know Him then you ask Him into your life and seek His forgiveness for your sins. I commend these thoughts to you all.