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Slaves To Righteousness (6:17-23)

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Scripture tells us that God is good. Yet, we need only look around us to see that evil is everywhere. If God is good, then why is there so much evil? Not only is evil very prevalent, it often seems like it is increasing and getting worse in character. Why does a good, all-powerful God permit it?

The answer to this question is that God has given mankind freedom of choice. Each one of us has the ability to turn away from the path God wants us to travel and go our own way. We have the ability to choose wrong. In his inspired letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul writes that everyone not only has the choice to do wrong, all of us have made that choice. All of us, whether God gave us His Law or whether we live only by our conscience, have chosen to do what we know is wrong. All of us are sinners before God.

The problem is that once we have violated God’s standards and become sinners, we can never become righteous again through our own efforts. All the good deeds and righteous acts we do are only what we ought to do anyway. We can never be more righteous than God requires in order to make up for our unrighteousness and sin. No matter how much good we do, God still counts us as sinners.

In history there have been cases where a person voluntarily agrees to become a slave. By becoming a slave, he gives up his freedom. Now he must do the bidding of his master. Further, he cannot change his status. Once a slave, he remains bound to his master. We do the same thing when we choose to sin. We sin voluntarily – no one forces it on us. Once we have sinned, however, there is nothing we can do to change our status as sinners. Sin has become our owner.

It is possible for someone to buy a slave from his owner. If he is willing to pay the necessary price, he acquires the deed of ownership from the former owner. This is similar to what God did for us. Since we ourselves are incapable of making up the difference between our actions and what God desires, God in His mercy, paid our debt Himself. Through the sacrifice of the sinless Jesus, He paid the price for our sin.

A slave has no choice when a new master buys him. However God does give us a choice. He has already paid the price to free us from our old master, that is from sin. But He allows us the freedom to choose whether we will accept a change in ownership. If we accept the price, we are no longer slaves of sin. Instead we become a slave of righteousness.

This change in ownership has profound implications. Paul explains them in chapter 6 of his letter, verses 17 through 23. “But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto you were delivered. Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to wickedness upon wickedness, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit then did you have at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and having become servants of God, you have your fruit of sanctification, and the result of eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Some people might be offended that Paul compares the followers of Christ to slaves. Paul writes that the reason he uses the illustration of slavery is because of human weakness. It is possible that what he means is that some concepts are hard for us humans to comprehend. At the time Paul wrote, slavery was common. Everyone knew about slavery so, by using it as an illustration, it made the lesson Paul was trying to teach easy to understand. It is also possible he means we are weak in the sense that we are attracted to sin even though God has released us from its slavery.

In any case, the lesson Paul is trying to teach is that just as a slave who has been bought no longer serves his old master, the person who follows Christ, should no longer be under the control of sin. His allegiance has changed. He should think about how to please his new master rather than the old one. Since we have been freed from sin, we should no longer act as if it still had authority over us. Instead, we should offer ourselves to our new master, that is, righteousness.

What Paul is saying is that we cannot serve two masters. This is also what Jesus taught. He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV) Paul’s meaning is clear. We cannot follow Christ yet act as though we still belong to sin.

To make his point even clearer, Paul contrasts the effects of serving the two masters. If we serve sin, the result is impurity, wickedness and shame. If we serve righteousness, the result is holiness. Which would we rather be? Do we want to be impure and ashamed, or do we want to be holy? If we want holiness then we must serve righteousness.

Paul also contrasts the fruit or wages we receive from serving the two masters. Sin is like a cruel master who beats his slaves to death. If sin is our master, we have no hope. In contrast, those whom God has freed from sin can look forward to eternal life. God, through Christ, has rescued us from certain destruction and gives us life. Who is your master? Have you accepted the price Christ paid to free you from sin? Do you have holiness and eternal life, or are you still the slave of sin?

In the next part of his letter Paul gives an illustration from marriage to explain how the followers of Christ are freed from the Law and its penalties. If you would like to know more, please listen to our next program.