Saved to Serve as Slaves of God: An Overview of Romans 6:15–23

By | June 7, 2024

If we are no longer under the law, does that mean that we can live any way we want, sinning as we please? Paul asks this question in Romans 6:15, only to give an emphatic answer—“By no means!” Then, in Romans 6:16 he asks another question to explain his answer further. The basic thought is this—if you obey sin, you will receive eternal death, and if you obey as a Christian, you will fully live out the righteousness that has been declared yours right now.

Not leaving his readers to wonder about themselves and their eternal destiny, Paul gives “thanks to God” that they were the latter—whereas they were once enslaved to sin, now they were slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17–18). Paul uses this language (“once you were, but now you are”) to help them think correctly about themselves. This change came about through the truth (“the standard of teaching to which you were committed”), their favorable disposition toward this truth (“from the heart”), and their willingness to believe and obey it (“obedient… slaves”).

Paul then clarified why he used “human terms,” this analogy of slavery—“because of your natural limitations” (Romans 6:19). This analogy of slavery is not perfect, but it is inspired by the Spirit and helps us understand our relationship to sin and righteousness. Having shifted from slavery to sin to slavery to righteousness, we no longer are “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness,” but “now” we must obey Paul’s command: “present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:18–19).

The reason to obey this command is clear. Previously, as “slaves of sin,” we “were free in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:20). Grace did not reign in our lives, and apart from Christ, there was no God-given ability to overcome sin. As a result, the “fruit” of such living results in being “now ashamed,” realizing that, had we remained in sin, “the end of those things” would have been eternal “death” (Romans 6:21). Thankfully, however, we are “set free from sin and have become slaves of God” (Romans 6:22a). The result of this slavery is increasing “sanctification” in this life “and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22b). As Paul did in Romans 6:17–18, Paul uses another “once you were, but now you are” description of his readers in Romans 6:20–22 to justify his command in Romans 6:19. As slaves of God, they were to present themselves accordingly. Paul summarizes in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is no middle ground. There are no Christians who are both under grace and slaves of sin. When we move from sin to Christ, we become slaves of obedience, righteousness, and God. Such a life leads to greater sanctification over time and its end, eternal life.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

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