INTRODUCTION: We’ve seen in our study of union with Christ that it is impossible to separate salvation from the Person of Christ. Sadly in the Church today there are likely multitudes who want the benefits of Christ’s salvation, but do not want His Lordship over their lives. (Christ’s offices consist of His role as Prophet, as Priest, and as King. As Prophet, He teaches us in His Word about our sinfulness and need of salvation. As Priest, He makes atonement for the sins of all who will believe. As King, He rules as Lord over His redeemed people and perfects them by means of His Word and His Spirit. In order for us to be safely brought to heaven, we must follow Him and submit to Him in all of His offices!)
Because of union with Christ, the believer has the resources for godly living, for victory over sin, and for progress in sanctification. Our responsibility in living out our union with Christ involvescounting ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, refusing to let sin reign over us, and presenting ourselves to God as slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:11-13).
In Romans 6:15-23, our responsibility of presenting ourselves to God is developed in detail. This section of Scripture is vital in equipping the believer for victory over sin. Romans six is nothing less than the divine strategy for overcoming defeat (see the verses on sin and the need to “kill it” while it is yet gestating in the mind – James 1:12-18).
v. 15 – The fact that the believer is not under law, but under grace might appear to provide a license for moral carelessness. This Paul denies, since under the reign of grace, Christians have become slaves of God. The freedom of grace therefore is freedom for obedience and service, not license.
The Greek tense of “shall we sin” is an aorist tense. Here the verb is used as a “snapshot” or event, without reference to time. The tense may refer to isolated acts of sinning. The question in verse 15 would be then, “Can we sin deliberately now and then since we are not under the law but under grace? Is an isolated act of sin permissible?”
Paul’s reply is emphatic, “May it never be!” That expression is tantamount to saying, “How unthinkable, how blasphemous, how monstrous!” Paul is opening up his discussion on the nature of the believer’s freedom. The burden of the whole verse can be expresses as follows: Under the government of Almighty God, there is no such thing as freedom without a master. The only alternatives open are to have sin, or to have God. The man who imagines he is free, because he has no god but his own ego is deluded. Serving one’s ego and self-will is the very essence of slavery to sin. It’s either slavery to life in God, or slavery to sin which leads to death. There is no third option (Cranfield, Romans Commentary I, p. 323).
v. 16 – The second reply to Paul’s question stresses that man is the subject of his moral actions. Paul is deriving his argument from the nature of the human will. Purpose and inclination in one direction are incompatible with purpose of inclination in another direction. (EX. House cats do not clean themselves and then roll in the mud on alternate days of the week, their voluntary life direction is cleanliness.) Christ makes the argument that no man can serve two masters without hating one and loving the other (Matt 6:24; 7:18; Luke 16:13; Jn 8:34). The maintenance of our walk with the Lord centers around submission to Him as Master.
APPLICATION: We need to remember that the nature of sin is rebellion, defilement, bondage, and lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4). Sin masquerades as freedom, but is abject bondage (2 Pet 2:17-22). The death that sin leads to is not merely physical death, but separation from God in hell (Rom 2:5-9; 2 Thess 1:9).
v. 17 – Our salvation is all of grace. God graciously enables the sinner to respond properly to the Gospel of grace. The individual is active in conversion, but not in a meritorious way (divine sovereignty and grace are not compromised when a sinner believes the Gospel and repents).Grace plants in us a new inclination of the will toward God and righteousness. The believer is a slave to righteousness. Reckless and unresisted sinning is therefore incompatible with the grace of God. The nature of the human will forbids doing two contradictory things at the same time (Shedd, Romans, p. 164).
Paul commends the obedience of the Romans to the Gospel. Their obedience was “from the heart.” They were (formerly) servants of sin by nature – it was their continual state. But now their nature has been changed.
“Form of doctrine . . .delivered” uses the Greek word for form that describes a craftsman’s mold for casting molten metal. God may be said to “pour” his children into the mold of divine truth (Rom 12:1, 2). God plants in new believers a compelling desire to know God’s Word (1 Pet 2:2). This “mold of truth” is not some vague set of emotional or sentimental ideas; it is a definite standard. It is Christian doctrine. There can be no stable, strong Christianity without sound theology at the heart of it. No man can reach the God of Scripture without sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; 1 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:9; 2:1). The grace of God instructs us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14). The Gospel teaches us with great precision what God requires morally of a believer.
APPLICATION: The Gospel pattern for liberty in Christ does not interfere with the genuine freedom and spontaneity of the believer – he obeys “from the heart.” His commitment is whole-hearted and voluntary. How clear our thinking needs to be in this area. The only freedom is enslavement to Christ. His will is revealed in His Word.
vv. 18-19 – Verse 18 is a restatement of their obedience from the heart just stated in verse 17. With this obedience comes the consequence and obligation of enslavement to righteousness.The words, “freed from sin” do not imply complete and absolute freedom from sin, but freedom substantially and virtually from the dominion of sin (Shedd, p. 164). Believers are free from the condemning and enslaving power of sin. The believer’s will is free from the dominion of sin. But like an unruly slave in one’s house, indwelling sin annoys and vexes until at last at death, we are set free from its presence. (See Galatians 5:16-26 for a description of why the remnants of indwelling sin hinder holy living.)
In verse 19, the Apostle admits that the figure of speech he is employing (slavery) is inadequate and perhaps unworthy of the reliever’s relationship to Christ and righteousness. The believer’s relationship to righteousness is not humiliating, grievous and degrading as slavery often is. Our enslavement to righteousness is perfect freedom, for we have come to love righteousness.For all its limitations, the slavery figure of speech communicates what Paul intends it to: total belongingness, total obligation, total commitment, and total accountability of those under grace.
APPLICATION: Just as our servitude to sin was one of “total loyalty,” now our enslavement to righteousness must be singular and consistent. The result of living out our union with Christ as our Master is sanctification. Scripture demands that this sanctification, or holiness of heart and life, be present in those who expect to see the Lord (Heb 12:14; 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7).
vv. 20-21 – In your former state, you had no concern for righteousness unto holiness (v. 19). In the days of your abandonment to sin, no good fruit accrued, only shame ending in death. In your days prior to Christ, you were carefree in respect to the demands of righteousness. Christ and righteousness didn’t exercise mastery or authority over you. When you were living in sin, you were “released” from holiness and its demands. But that “freedom” is a false freedom that ends in damnation. Only when a person is a servant of righteousness is he truly free (Jn 8:32-36).
vv. 22-23 – By the renewing grace of God which made you a new creature you are now able to think clearly about your former rebellion against God. You can now see that you were speeding down the broad road to destruction (Matt 7:13, 14). You grimace with shame as you reflect upon your former life; the memory of it is a cause for humility before God.
But now, by God’s sovereign grace, you are freed from sin by virtue of union with Christ and His cross. You are enslaved to God. Submission to righteousness leads to sanctification, which ends in eternal life. APPLICATION: Consider how the truth of v. 22 corrects the “easy believe-ism” views of salvation which downplay the pursuit of holiness. Note how judgment day will involve a graphic public display of one’s works as evidence of which of the two masters he served (Matt 25:31-46).
The contrast between sin and grace is climatic. Sin pays wages. It operates on the remuneration principle. When a person is serving sin, the death meter is running so to speak. The individual enslaved to sin is moving in the direction of death and separation from God. (EX. A depiction of serving sin: note the example of an object careening out of a stable orbit into the black depths of space – Jude 13). His whole person and character is being conformed to unrighteousness. Payday is unstoppable. The wages paid by sin is always death and separation from God. The sinner earns his judgment.
By contrast, the principle of grace operates upon the imputed righteousness of Christ. The Apostle does not say that the wages of righteousness is eternal life. The sole basis upon which the sinner receives life is by God’s free grace – a gratuity, a gift. Whatever progress occurs in inherent righteousness since conversion is the product of the Holy Spirit moving and inclining his will toward God. Righteousness, unlike sin, is not self-originated, consequently, its reward must be gracious. The ground and cause of all grace is Jesus Christ.
CONCLUSION: Union with Christ grants the believer into all the benefits of Christ’s work as Redeemer and Mediator. Christ’s conquest of sin and death becomes the believer’s possession. Through union with Christ, the believer participates in Christ’s victory. The Christian is described as a conqueror, and as an overcomer (Rom 8:37; 1 Jn 5:4, 5).
Are we conquerors no matter what we do? No! Paul addresses the commands in chapter six to believers, those whose wills have been renewed by regeneration. As new creatures in Christ, we now desire fellowship, obedience, righteousness, service. We delight in the knowledge of God and desire to please Him. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we now have the power and inclination to give voluntary loyalty and submission to Christ. Because of union with Christ, we have the resources for godly living and victory over sin which produces progress in sanctification.
The Christian’s freedom is not a master-less freedom; it is a change in masters. It is a transfer from one kingdom to another (Col 1:13). Freedom is a change in service. To attempt to use our freedom without submission and service to Christ will result in indulgence of the flesh (Gal 5:13ff.). Paul states in numerous passages that the Christian life involves the continual exercise of godly discipline (Heb 12:1, 2; 1 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27). An honest examination of ourselves would reveal that we need a higher degree of godly discipline.
Romans 6:1-8:17 is the definitive section in Scripture on the Christian life. It has been described as the Christian’s gospel. This section of Romans clearly defines the path that the believer walks upon toward glory. It provides an exposition of the narrow way spoken of by Christ in Matthew 7:13, 14. It is a sobering thought that countless individuals imagine they are on their way to heaven, even though their lives bear no resemblance to the Christian life described in 6:1-8:17. True believers are to function like salt in its role as a preservative, and as a shining light that illuminates the narrow way that leads to life. In order to show people the narrow way, we must be examples of those who walk the narrow way.
John Murray, Commentary on Romans
The New Geneva Study Bible
The MacArthur Study Bible
S. Lewis Johnson, Believer’s Bible Bulletin on Romans
Cranfield, Commentary on Romans