Romans 6:18 (ESV) — 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
In verse 18, Paul brings his dominion theology to a crescendo with a startling take on freedom.
- There are a number of things I find remarkable with verse 18.
- (1) A Jesus and Paul connection and (2) how freedom is found in a new kind of slavery.
Jesus and Paul Connection:
Though we covered verse 17 a few weeks ago, I bring it up today for a particular reason.
- There is a beautiful parallel in Romans 6:17-18 with the teaching of Jesus in John 8.
First the texts:
- Romans 6:17–18 (ESV) — 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.
- John 8:31 & 36 (ESV) — 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
- There are at least two ways the texts parallel each other.
(1) Each illuminates the non-negotiable necessity of the believers’ relationship to God’s word.
In Romans 6:17, the idea with “you were committed” is that believers were handed over to Scripture.
- In effect, “the standard of teaching” becomes the believers’ master.
In John 8:31, Jesus speaks of the idea of abiding in His word – “if you abide in my word”.
- The BDAG say of Jesus’ use of this word that the idea is being “transferred” permanently into “a certain realm or sphere” so as to “remain” or “continue” in it.
- The EDNT agrees – Jesus is speaking of a continual “abiding…in a realm or a sphere”.
- So a sign of the freedom Jesus is about to mention is a remaining in the realm of God’s word.
So both Jesus and Paul speak of a dominion or realm that entails a specific relationship to God’s word.
- Paul uses language that means being handed over to it.
- Jesus uses language that means being transferred into it so as to remain in it.
(2) Each speaks of a freedom in opposition to slavery to sin.
In Romans 6:18, Paul contrasts being “set free from sin” with being “slaves of righteousness”.
- The implications of which will be explored shortly.
In John 8:36, Jesus speaks of a freedom that comes only from the Son.
- “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36.
And just like Paul, Jesus contrasts this freedom He offers with slavery to sin.
- Jesus says in John 8:34 – “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin”.
- So, 8:36 tells us that deliverance from this slavery is through the Son.
Paul, no doubt agrees about the source of the freedom of which Jesus speaks.
- His dominion theology teaches that a change of address from under sin to under grace is grounded in a Union with the Son.
- We must be connected to Christ and His work through faith.
Nerd Alert – there is another reason this connection between Jesus and Paul is so cool.
Some scholars argue that Jesus and Paul teach a different, competing Gospels.
- Jesus was all about the kingdom of heaven not justification, and Paul was all about justification not the kingdom of heaven.
- Paul was all about grace; Jesus was all about repentance.
- And Paul very, very rarely quoted any of Jesus sayings.
- This article by Scot McKnight is a good introduction to this subject – http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/9.25.html
However, the parallels between Jesus and Paul in our texts demonstrate that Paul and Jesus were indeed on the same page.
- It seems clear that the source of Paul’s theology was Jesus Christ.
- Their different areas of emphasis are not in opposition at the dominion level.
- Kingdom talk is dominion talk, after all.
So, the Jesus/Paul connection is a remarkable feature of verses 17 and 18.
- The second thing remarkable about Paul’s words in verse 18 is his use of slavery.
Slavery as Freedom:
Romans 6:18 (ESV) — 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
- Oddly, Paul says we “have been set free from sin” to become what?
- Specifically, “slaves of righteousness”.
Douglas Moo sets the tone for us:
- “Paul follows through on his ‘transfer’ language and makes clear that freedom from the power of sin means servitude to a new power” – Douglas Moo.
This seems counter intuitive!
- Our new address – Paul’s “under grace” and Jesus’ “Son sets you free” freedom – is itself a new kind of slavery!
- We will see, I hope, that this is yet another massive dose of grace in the life of a believer.
So what is being enslaved to righteousness and why is it a huge dose of grace?
- The answer to this is where the indicatives of the Gospel give power to the imperatives of the Gospel.
- Let me explain.
God in Christ has provided and transferred us to a new address of grace.
- He did so through His death, burial, resurrection and exaltation, etc.
- These are the indicatives of the Gospel.
- Colossians 1:13–14 (ESV) — 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
But we are called to imitate Christ, to fight sin, and be obedient to our new master.
- These are the imperatives of the Gospel.
Here is the thing!
- Our slavery to righteousness…
- A slavery made possible by the indicatives of the Gospel…
- Is the reason why the imperatives of the Gospel that call us to be holy…
- Are not a call to legalism and not a call to certain failure…
- But is a recognition of the new desires that the believer possesses – new desires that come from our regenerated heart and our new address.
The imperatives of the Gospel are God giving us what we now desire – to imitate Christ!
Douglas Moo unpacks it beautifully.
“Paul sees in God’s grace not only a liberating power but a constraining one as well [Paul’s slavery to righteousness]: the constraint of a willing obedience that comes from a renewed heart and mind and, ultimately, the impulse and leading of God’s Spirit” – Douglas Moo.
It is incredibly important that we get this and tease it out.
- We will do so with Tom Schreiner’s help.
- This is really cool stuff…so hang on!
We need to understand something about the “under sin” dominion that Paul teaches us about.
- Those who live in this realm are not operating against their will.
- They are not serving sin and its power against their will.
- They are free to do what their heart’s desire.
Schreiner puts it this way:
“Unbelievers are totally subservient to sin as a power that exerts authority over their lives, but the slavery envisioned is not coercion. People do not submit to sin against their will. Rather, they ‘freely’ and spontaneously choose to sin. In other words, unbelievers are slaves to sin in that they always desire to carry out the dictates of their master” – Tom Schreiner.
- Their master, of course, is sin!
So here is the grace and the good news.
- The same principle applies to the believer and his or her desires.
- As a slave to righteousness, the believer now desires to “carry out the dictates of their master”.
- And for Paul, this new master is a beautiful compilation of Christ, grace, obedience, Christian teaching and righteousness.
And our service to this new master is not one of coercion!
- It is the free response of a regenerated heart.
Under grace we freely – not under coercion since there is nothing to be earned – seek to imitate Christ.
So because of the indicatives of the Gospel the believer…
- Has been delivered from freely serving sin…
- To freely fighting sin and imitating and serving Christ.
Again, Tom Schreiner is helpful here:
“The indicative of God’s work does not rule out human activity or suggest that human decisions are unnecessary. Instead, the indicative is the basis and ground for the [free] choice to submit to righteousness” – Tom Schreiner.
This is where Ezekiel 36, Jeremiah 31 and Psalm 37 are so helpful.
- Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
- Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV) — 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
- Psalm 37:4 (ESV) — 4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
- A slave to righteousness operates from a new God-given heart that has new desires.
It might help to look at the significance of our slavery to righteousness this way…
So why do we even care about God stuff?
- Why do we struggle with trying to obey?
- Because we have, as part as our new address, new desires.
- We aren’t forced or coerced to care; we freely care from a new heart.
- We struggle against sin because we want to.
What does our obedience accomplish?
- Nothing with respect to our position in Christ and before God.
- Nothing with respect to our address.
So what does our obedience do?
- It glorifies our new master.
- It is our contribution to God’s intent to put creation right.
- It is how we participate in spiritual warfare.
- Using our members as “instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).
- It is our freely given, grateful service to our new master.
I want to end with this.
- “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.
- Slavery to righteousness is being the human being that “God intended” us to be.
- A slavery made possible only by the indicatives of the Gospel.
As slaves to righteousness, we have been set free from our allegiance to sin and have been graciously enslaved to freely serve God!