Date: 31 Jul 2016
Text: Romans 6:15-23
The late Harold Macmillan, who was Prime Minister from January 1957 to October 1963, was once asked what gave him most problems; he came out with the memorable reply, “Events, dear boy, events”. That is what has happened to me this week which is why I am not preaching the sermon that I advertised last week but rather, completing the short series from Romans 5 and 6 instead. Recent events have rather thrown my planning somewhat and so I can sympathise with our late Prime Minister.
Last week we looked at a few verses at the end of Romans 5 and beginning of Romans 6. From those verses we heard that by coming to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we are no longer living under God’s Law but under God’s grace. We also heard that every time sin increased, grace increased all the more. Paul was at pains to point out though that that did not mean we should sin more simply to receive more grace. He was very emphatic about that as we can see from 6:2 where in answer to the question, should we sin more he replied, “By no means!” Paul goes on to explain in those verses that as followers of Jesus we no longer live lives of sin which leads to death but lives of righteousness which leads to eternal life.
In these final verses in Romans 6, 6:15-23, Paul expands on how we should live now that we live under grace. Just as he was in the first half of the chapter, Paul is adamant about how we should live our lives now that are followers of Jesus.
Continue to Sin?
Paul’s opening in 6:15 is very similar to his opening in 6:1. As if to emphasise how he wants us to live, Paul once again asks, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” He has already told us that every time sin increases, grace increases all the more to overcome it. Just in case there are those who may still be in some doubt about that Paul asks that same question again and gives the same emphatic answer again, “By no means!” That answer should leave us in no doubt that we are not to live lives of sin any longer.
In 6:1 when Paul asked the question about our continuing to sin, the tense and use of the original Greek suggests habitual and ongoing sin. Now, here in 6:15, the tense and use of the Greek suggests simply dabbling in sin rather making it a habit. That is a dangerous thing to do since just as one drink will cause an alcoholic to return to heavy and constant drinking so one allegedly small sin can lead to regular and habitual sinning. Being slaves to sin is not a good state to be in. When we are in that state our will is totally swallowed up by whatever sin it is that takes hold of us and we remain captive to that sin. In far too many cases we become so enslaved to sin that we follow that sin regardless of the damage that it does to our lives. Such is the strength of our bondage to sin that only death can break that bond. Since as sinners we are incapable of breaking that bond, Jesus died on the cross of Calvary to do it for us. His dying defeated sin for us. If we accept that Jesus died for us to pay for our sins then it seems reasonable to suggest that we should no longer follow that pattern in our lives. Our lifestyle and pattern of living have been changed by the grace of God and we are no longer living under sin but under grace.
Having dealt with that question again, Paul moves on to a discussion of our being slaves. Whether we like it or not or admit it or not, we are all slaves to something. Many may not agree but it seems to me that a huge number of people are slaves to their smart phone or their tablet or similar device. If you don’t believe me then just try walking around the centre of Birmingham or the Bull Ring or Grand Central. As a pedestrian you constantly have to move out of the way of people who walk with their heads down playing with their mobile device totally unaware of who or what is around them. They would probably laugh at the suggestion, but they are slaves to those devices and this new craze of Pokemon Go is only making matters worse!
As Paul points out in 6:16, “when you offer yourselves to someone [or perhaps something] as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey”. Just think about that and ask yourselves, “Am I a slave to something?” When explaining to His disciples just who His enemies were, Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Paul is concerned in these few short verses that too many are slaves to sin which leads to death.
When I was in my first year at College our New Testament lecturer asked if we were slaves or servants. Virtually the entire class answered ‘servants’ only to be taken aback by the lecturer telling us that we should actually see ourselves as slaves. Do you find that strange or hard to understand? I know that I and my classmates did. The simple fact is that before we came to faith in Jesus Christ we were indeed slaves but slaves to sin. Now as Christians we are still slaves but this time we are “slaves to righteousness” (6:18). By accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness. Just look back at 6:16 where Paul talks of our being “slaves to the one whom we obey”. Previously we were sinners and obeyed the call of whatever particular sin we were in to. Now as followers of Christ we follow Him and are obedient to His call, thus leading us to be “slaves of righteousness”.
In 6:17 Paul uses the past tense when he says that we “used to be slaves to sin” and he goes on to explain that having been freed from sin we have now “come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance”. When writing to Timothy Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:13, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. “ Hopefully we all hear the same teaching, the teaching that comes from God’s word and equally hopefully it settles in our hearts and does cause us to be obedient. Unfortunately too many Christians come to faith but don’t read and follow God’s teaching. Many pay lip service to that teaching and think that attending a service once a week on a Sunday is being obedient enough. That isn’t what God wants and it isn’t what being a “slave to righteousness” is all about. If we are slaves then we should be obedient 24 hours a day, 7 days a week not just when it suits us. We always need to remember that because Jesus died on the cross for us, we have been set free from sin and are no longer its slaves.
Slaves to Righteousness
When Jesus taught the crowds that gathered around Him during His earthly ministry, He frequently spoke in parables as it was a simple way to illustrate His words and helped the people understand what He was saying. Similarly Paul tells us that, “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations” (6:19a). We still have those human limitations and we so still need the type of explanation that Paul is giving here.
Before we knew Jesus we were slaves to sin and as such Paul says that we offered ourselves, “as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness” (6:19b). Earlier in Romans 6 we learned that when the Law was given sin increased simply because it could now be identified. In last week’s sermon I said, “I’ve no doubt though that sin did increase in a real sense and may have quite possibly got worse in its nature and it seems to me that sin has been increasing ever since!” I believe that sin has got worse and continues to get worse. The advent of the Internet and the so-called social media has opened up even more avenues for sin and they are avenues that far too many people seem to follow.
That though, was our old way of life, the way of life that we followed before we knew Jesus and as such our old life of sin should remain in the past. As Paul now suggests, we should “offer (y)ourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (6:19b). When we followed our old way of life we were free from the control of righteousness; how could we be controlled by righteousness when we were so far from God? Paul asks a reasonable question, “What benefit did you reap at that time?” (6:21). We can never gain from sin, it will eventually find us out and lead to our destruction. There are many criminals in prison who thought that they were above the law and away from its control. The simple fact that they are in prison proves just how wrong they were. As sin takes over people’s lives and those lives spiral out of control they as far from the control of righteousness as it is possible to imagine. As Paul reminds us at the end of 6:21 “Those things result in death!” It takes something amazing and miraculous to drag people back from the brink of destruction, and that miracle was the death and resurrection of Jesus. He died to pay the price for our sins so that we no longer need to approach that edge of destruction but can be pulled back at the very last second.
That wonderful word “But” opens 6:22 and as always indicates a change of direction. Before we came to faith in Jesus we were slaves to sin but now we have “been set free from sin and have become slaves to God”. Last week we made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to sing the new version of the hymn Amazing Grace. The chorus of that new version says, “My chains fell off, I’ve been set free, My God, my Saviour has ransomed me. And like a flood His mercy reigns, Unending love, amazing grace”. That has all happened because Jesus died for us; He died to set us free. Earlier in 6:21 Paul had asked what benefit we reaped from our sinful lives; now in 6:22b he tells us of the benefits that we will reap when we become slaves to righteousness; he says, “...the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”. We gained no benefit whatsoever from our previous life of sin but now in Jesus Christ we live a life of righteousness the greatest benefit of all will be eternal life. I mentioned earlier that as slaves to sin we are held in bondage by that sin and it controls every aspect of our lives. So what is different when we become slaves to righteousness? Why should we move from being a slave to a bad thing to being a slave to a good thing? Being slaves to righteousness is a totally different state of affairs. As God’s slaves our will is swallowed up by His will and it is that that matters most in our lives rather than our own will. God will never ever lead us to the wrong places or ask us to do something that is evil or likely to harm us. We are told time and again in the New Testament that God loves us and there is no reason to doubt that even though we may see ourselves as His slaves, He will continue to love us and will only do what is right for us.
A life of sin brings with it nothing but pain and despair, loss and death. A life of righteousness brings with it holiness and that leads to eternal life with Jesus in heaven. There is no comparison between the two lifestyles and if we are honest there should be no choice at all; a life of holiness with all that it leads to should be the way we choose to live.
Wages of Sin
As if to hammer home his point Paul rounds off this chapter in 6:23 by telling us very clearly that, “The wages of sin is death”. The Bible Society translation that I mentioned last week probably puts it even more clearly when it says, “Sin pays all right – it pays death”. Is that the wage that we want to collect at the end of our shift here on earth? If we continue with our sinful lifestyle and remain as slaves to sin then that is the payment that we will receive. By way of contrast, if we live our lives in and with Jesus Christ as slaves of righteousness then “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord”. What a promise, and what a payment to receive!
This second half of Romans 6 provides another example of the contrasts in our life between our old life of sin and our new life in Christ. Because his readers knew and understood the lives of slaves, Paul uses the analogy of our being slaves, either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. He contrasts the difference between those two lifestyles and naturally emphasises how good it is to be a slave to righteousness, a slave to God. Sin will destroy us; it may seem fun at the time but in the long run it will utterly destroy us. On the other hand being a slave to righteousness can only be good since it leads to a life of holiness and eternal life spent in heaven with Jesus Christ.
We have a choice to make; be a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. I know which one I chose, how about you?
 Amazing Grace, The Baptist Free Church – 24 Jul 2016