Romans 6:15–18 (ESV) — 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
So having established last week with Romans 6:14 that “under law” is:
- Not a domain maker.
- Is a power in at work in salvation history.
- Is a positive power in the domain of grace.
- Is a negative power in the domain of sin.
Paul, in Romans 6:15, raises yet another domain-based question that he knows is on people’s minds.
- “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”
- This is similar to the one he raised in 6:1 – “continue in sin that grace may abound?”
- But this time he frames it within the believer’s relationship to the law.
To paraphrase these two questions, might be helpful here.
- The first question demonstrates the extravagant nature of God’s grace this way…
- It is the domain in which the believer has been placed by Jesus’ Reign Making.
- In this domain, one way that grace abounds is by redeeming our sin.
- So, why not keep sinning?
The second question demonstrates the extravagant nature of God’s grace this way…
- It provides freedom from the negative effects of the law – disobedience and death.
- We are no longer killed by the law nor convicted as lawbreakers in God’s law court.
- We are “under grace” and “in Christ”.
- So, why not keep sinning?
Paul’s answer to both questions…
- “By no means!”
The rest of our text is the reason why we are to “not keep sinning” even though we are not “under law”.
- His answer consists of two realities.
- The first is that all persons everywhere are metaphorically speaking, slaves.
- The second reality is that those in the church at Rome are a particular kind of slave.
Romans 6:16 – 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
This is really pretty simple.
- All people are “slaves of the one whom you obey”.
- And there are two choices – “either of sin”…“or of obedience”.
And depending on your slavery…
- It either “leads to death”
- Or it “leads to righteousness”.
Word on Freedom:
As we have seen elsewhere Paul’s theology is straightforward…
- There is no place of autonomy where a person can reside.
- You can act within the domain in which you reside…
- But nobody stands outside of either domain and makes a choice.
- One is never free from a “master” – Douglas Moo.
I love how Moo puts it here:
- “Paul makes clear, there is no such thing as human ‘autonomy,’ a freedom from all outside powers and influences. Either people are under the power of sin, or they are under the power of God. The question is not, then, whether one will have a master, but which master one will serve” – Douglas Moo.
Because of Adam, we are all by default born into Garden Exile.
- And our master is satan and sin.
Word on Obedience:
So we know what Paul means by slave to sin here.
- We have been talking about the domain of sin and being under sin since Romans 3.
- The question here is what is Paul doing with his slave to “obedience” language?
His choice of “obedience” essentially has Paul saying everybody is…
- An “obedient slave” to sin as master…or
- An “obedient slave” to obedience as master
- This doesn’t seem right.
Wouldn’t “God” make more since here than “obedience”?
- Obedience as master seems a bit odd.
How are we to understand this?
Some suggest that what we have here is an allusion to Paul’s “obedience of faith” language.
- Romans 1:5 (ESV) — 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
The idea here about obedience is that:
- It is a submission and trust.
- And it comes through Jesus Christ (1:4).
- In other words, it is God powered.
Moreover, obedience is a feature of our new domain.
- “received grace…to bring about the obedience of faith” (1:5).
So putting all this together, the concept of obedience here contains all of these features:
- Sourced through Jesus Christ.
- Submission (acts of obedience) and Trust.
- A feature of the domain of grace.
If so, then what Paul might be doing with his “obedient slave to obedience” language is simply this:
- Asking us to consider all of the above in opposition to sin.
We know, however, that Paul is not saying obedience is our master.
- For Paul, God is our master!
Word on Righteousness:
One thing is certain…
- Whatever Paul means by being an obedient slave to obedience…
- It “leads to righteousness” (vs. 16).
And this is yet another reason we know Paul is not saying obedience is our master.
- He does not teach that obedience makes you righteous.
- Righteousness comes from being “righteoused” by Jesus – Romans 3:21 ff.
- So whatever “obedience” is, it certainly involves Jesus – as we just saw.
- Why? – because it leads to righteousness.
But what about righteousness here?
- Remember the idea of covenant faithfulness and covenant justice and God putting things right?
- “Its underlying stress is on the good purposes of the creator to bring the world back from chaos into proper order, and to bring human beings into the right shape and the right relation to himself” – N.T. Wright.
In other words, being a slave to obedience leads to two things:
- Being put right.
- Participation in the putting right.
So by our acts of obedience we participate in God’s “righteousing”.
- Obedience is our positive contribution to God’s work of putting the world right.
And interestingly, this touches on the freedom discussion we just had:
“Paul’s concept of freedom is not that of autonomous self-direction but of deliverance from those enslaving powers that would prevent the human being from becoming what God intended” – Douglas Moo.
So as slaves to obedience (and all it entails) we can finally do what God intended!
- This also relates to the “instruments” talk a few weeks ago and spiritual warfare.
- So we aren’t talking to do lists – but obedience as contribution to kingdom building and spiritual warfare.