TO CHEW ON: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?" Romans 6:16.
Slaves? That sounds extreme. By using the startling analogy of slavery, Paul pictures our life choices in a very either/or, black/white way. Is he saying Christians can actually still be slaves of sin?
What I understand this passage to mean is that even as people who have accepted God's gift of salvation and are legally free, it is possible to live as slaves of our old master, sin. We humans have been born with a nature to which sinning comes naturally. How easy it is, even after we've been set free, to slip back into old habit patterns of worry, envy, pride, anger, unforgiveness etc. etc., that is, patterns of sin.
Paul urges these Roman Christians to resist old reactions and instead prove that they are slaves of Christ by living in obedience to His standards of righteousness.
But, I can hear you say, slavery has a bad connotation. I don't want my life with Christ to be characterized in such a negative way.
Even Paul acknowledges the unfortunate aspect of this metaphor: "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh..." he says. But then he goes on to extend and explain it even further: "For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness" Romans 6:19.
But Paul is not giving a mere "just do it" message. Something real happened when we gave our lives to Jesus and began living in the realm of grace. Romans 6:23 reminds us we have been "set free from sin" and have in a real sense "become slaves of God."
So let's use this slavery picture to flesh out and affirm our freedom from sin and our enslavement to the "fruit of holiness and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). Today when we're at a decision crossroads:
- about whether to fret about the difficult thing on today's to-do list, or place it in God's hands and refuse to worry about it any more.
- about whether to eat one more helping or push back from the table.
- about whether to react to the person who cuts us off in traffic — or not.
- or about a hundred other situations
we can ask ourselves: What would a slave of Jesus do in this situation? And then choose to do it.
PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am a slave to sinful tendencies and am habitually making sinful choices. Help me to enslave myself to You today. Amen.
MORE: ... a better explanation
I find understanding and explaining the concepts in Romans a huge challenge. John Piper in a December 2000 message, spoke on this passage. He ended his message with three "exhortations" that give a fuller (and theologically more complete) explanation of what Paul is saying here:
"1. Do not jump to the conclusion that when Paul says, "Sin will not be master over us," it means that we will be perfect in this life....
2. When you hear that God is sovereign and that he has guaranteed that those under grace will not be defeated by sin, do not jump to the conclusion that the battle is a charade, and nothing hangs on your choices....
3. Finally, realize that Paul is teaching us in this chapter how to live for the glory of God, not the glory of ourselves...
"Just do it" is man-centered. Do it because "God is at work in you to do it" is God-centered. Putting it this way keeps the work of God front and center in your life. That is where he will get the glory."
Excerpted from "Free from Sin, Slaves of Righteousness, Part 2"*************
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.