Romans 6:19–23 (ESV) — 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In verse 18, we discovered a profound freedom that comes from our slavery to righteousness.
- This freedom is found in both…
- The gift of a new heart that has new desires – something that comes from the indicatives of the Gospel.
- And the fact that the gift of our heart’s new desires now aligns with God’s imperatives.
- Under sin our desires were at odds with God’s imperatives.
- But under grace, “The ‘imperative’ grows out of, and reflects, the ‘indicative.’” – Douglas Moo.
Before this slavery to righteousness, our slavery to sin consisted of the exact opposite…
- A heart of stone that freely desired to serve sin.
But our transfer into grace through Christ set us free.
- Slavery to righteousness is freedom.
- It is humanity as God intended.
In the remainder of Romans 6…
- Paul teases out some of the implications of our new slavery.
Romans 6:19 (ESV) — 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
Paul starts off with an odd admission.
- The slavery analogy he uses to explain his dominion theology is an accommodation.
- It is speaking in “human terms”.
Paul tells us that humanity has “natural limitations” when trying to understand God and His revelation.
- “…human nature produces a weakness in understanding that can be overcome in this life only by the use of (imperfect) analogies” – Douglas Moo.
Why is this important to remember in our discussions about God?
- We need to continually remember this.
In the remainder of verse 19, Paul then goes on to give us an imperative.
Again, as we saw last week, we need to think of the imperatives as God giving us what we now desire:
- (1) A road map to imitate Christ.
- (2) A way to participate in bringing about His kingdom.
- (3) A way to participate in spiritual warfare.
Paul’s imperative here is very similar to verse 13.
- Romans 6:13 (ESV) — 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
What we need to pay attention to is the before and after picture Paul’s dominion theology contains.
- Paul says, you “once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness”.
- “Once” meaning you used to have a life “characterized by sin and transgression” but you no longer do so (Tom Schreiner).
- “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness”.
- Act upon the new desires of your new heart.
Given the meaning of “present” – to be in the service of or the disposal of someone:
- Paul is simply telling you to freely serve your new master.
Paul is not telling you to do that – Christ did that for us; it is done.
- He is saying you now desire to do this – to be a slave to righteousness.
- So at the risk of sounding like Oprah – “be what you have become”.
And here is the beauty of our new slavery:
- Whereas the “presenting” of the old self to sin led to “more lawlessness”.
- The “presenting” of the new self to God leads “to sanctification”.
- Sanctification meaning to become Christ-like and being set aside for God’s use (Schreiner).
- Sanctification occurs even when we fail!
- God’s grace even redeems and uses our failures to shape us into Christ!
- Remember Romans 5:20 – “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”.
- This is freedom!
Romans 6:20–21 (ESV) — 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Paul demonstrates the futility of service to – of presenting to – the master of sin.
- There was no desire or concern for righteousness in the heart.
Douglas Moo says this:
People under sin, “are ‘free’ from the power and influence of the conduct that pleases God; they are deaf to God’s righteous demands and incapable of responding to them even were they to hear and respect them” – Douglas Moo.
The NLT translation puts it perfectly.
- Romans 6:20 (NLT) — 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right.
But, here is the problem!
- Freedom from doing right is slavery to sin (Schreiner).
And even worse, the fruit of this service – this “freedom” – is “death”.
- Paul says, “the end of those things is death”.
Paul also points out something in passing.
- In referring to the service of the old master – sin…
- He speaks of “the things of which you are now ashamed”.
The word “ashamed” here means:
- “Feeling or sense of loss of status because of some particular event or activity” – BDAG.
- This view towards the past can be crippling to many people.
- Notice that it is a “feeling or sense of loss of status”.
- It is not this in reality – we are in Christ now!
- We can never lose our status – Why?
BTW – Interestingly, the Greek word used here “plays a special role in the confessional language of primitive Christianity” – EDNT.
- In certain formulas, it means a confession of allegiance to Jesus and His Gospel.
- Romans 1:16 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 6:22–23 (ESV) — 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul has portrayed the master of the dominion of grace in a number of ways.
- Grace itself – “under grace”
- Pattern of teaching
Today he adds another master to the mix – God.
- In verse 22 he says we are “slaves of God”.
Douglas Moo fleshes this out.
- At the end of Romans 6, “Paul confronts us with the ultimate ‘powers’ that dominate the two respective ‘ages’ of salvation history: sin and God” – Douglas Moo.
And as if Paul already hasn’t given enough motivation to serve our new master – God…
- He tells us that our domain transfer brings with it new fruit – “the fruit you get”.
And this new fruit is, “sanctification and its end, eternal life”.
- We’ve covered at length – over the past few years – both of these topics.
- And we just saw what sanctification is – being conformed to Christ and being set apart for use by God.
What about eternal life?
- Eternal life is not heaven.
- It is life in the age to come.
- This, for Paul, is resurrection life.
- Paul’s greatest hope.
Verse 23 is one of the great summation verses of Paul.
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Martin Lloyd-Jones says this verse contains 3 important contrasts (from Douglas Moo).
- “The master that is served—sin versus God”
- “The outcome of that service—death versus eternal life”
- “The means by which this outcome is attained—a ‘wage’ earned versus a gift received” – Douglas Moo.
What this, of course, means is that:
- Freedom from doing right (vs. 20) by serving master sin brings death.
- This death – which entails the judging righteousness of God – is the wage paid.
But, our transfer (the indicatives of the Gospel) to grace and its master – God…
- Brings the “free gift” – life in the age to come.
Verse 23 – One Other Thing:
Most of us recognize Romans 6:23 as part of the Roman Road.
- But to whom is this verse addressed in context – believers or unbelievers?
Why do I point this out?
- Are we doing the Gospel and Paul’s teaching a disservice when we entice the unbeliever with a cost/benefit analysis?
- The Gospel is not a benefit plan is it?
- I think Paul’s dominion theology makes clear that it isn’t.
We know from Paul that all are “under sin” and freely serve its demands.
- We know from Paul that saving faith – which comes from God – is what connects us to Christ and His work, and transfers us out of “under sin” and into the dominion of grace.
So it is Christ and His Work that are the Gospel.
- Christ is the center, the foundation, the sides, the top and the bottom of the Gospel.
- The benefits and the fruit are not the Gospel.
Another way to look at is with this question.
- What should be the object of our saving faith – Christ or gospel fruit?
This is why John Piper says this:
- “Faith is being satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus”.
- As opposed to what heaven or eternal life are for us, for example.
He then goes on to say:
- “I believe that if we do not see and savor Jesus as the supreme satisfaction of our souls, we don’t believe in Jesus in a saving way” – John Piper.
- In other words, is Jesus first and foremost the means to an end, or is He the end?
The point is this:
- We can sell the fruits of the Gospel and think we are offering Christ.
- The risk with this approach is that the fruits of the Gospel become someone’s “supreme satisfaction”.
- How do we present the Gospel so that…
- Instead of offering its fruits – eternal life and our “best life now” – as the satisfaction…
- We offer up Christ as the highest satisfaction and treasure?
- I think Paul’s dominion theology is part of the answer.
Piper brings this point home:
“…if you say that a person can be a Christian – born again, justified, heaven-bound, enjoying eternal life Christian – and have a higher treasure than Jesus, I do not know what Bible you are reading. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’…Where Jesus is not treasured above all things, he is not trusted with saving faith” – John Piper.
And to address a question we might all have at this point:
“Now of course I am deeply aware both from the Bible and from John Piper’s own experience that the trusting and the treasuring of Jesus rise and fall in intensity from day to day. Anyone who has read my books, especially the book When I Don’t Desire God, knows I don’t have a perfectionist bone in my theological body, because I would be a goner. I am a sinner in need of grace everyday, including the grace for my imperfect faith and my imperfect treasuring of Jesus as part of that faith” – John Piper.