Sanctification – Slaves to Righteousness

by Mike Ratliff

17χαρις δε τω θεω οτι ητε δουλοι της αμαρτιας υπηκουσατε δε εκ καρδιας εις ον παρεδοθητε τυπον διδαχης 18ελευθερωθεντες δε απο της αμαρτιας εδουλωθητε τη δικαιοσυνη (Romans 6:17-18 WHNU)

17Thanks but to God that you were slaves of sin, you obeyed and from the heart to which you were delivered a form of teaching; 18 having been freed and from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 word for word translation from the Greek to English)

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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)

What does it mean that genuine Christians have been enslaved (εδουλωθητε) to righteousness (δικαιοσυνη)? So many professing Christians today have absolutely no concept of this. It would be safe to say that those professing Christians who are ignorant of this are the vast majority. Some of those ignorant of this have never been properly discipled so their concept of the correct way to walk before the face of God in this life, their Coram Deo, is based in some sentimental or “culturally relevant” standard instead of what God’s Word says. On the other hand, there are also some in this group who are not genuine Christians. They are not regenerate so they would be those who are still δουλοι της αμαρτιας.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 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? (Romans 6:15-16 ESV)

Paul would have a hard time conceiving of a legitimate form of Christianity that advocated license to sin. To him, these are mutually exclusive. I hear so many today say that since Christians are under grace (χάριν) we can sin boldly and not be concerned about offending our Holy God. When we see χάριν instead of χάρις (grace) then it is a prepositional form of this wonderful word, which describes a gift or blessing totally undeserved. Paul’s usage here is saying that some would say, “because of grace” we can sin and it is not a problem with God. What is Paul’s response? He declares emphatically, “By no means!” Some translations render this as “God forbid!” However, the word θεω is not in the text of this statement. Instead, what we have is μη γενοιτο. These two words together literally means, “May it never be!” Why is Paul so emphatic?

The reason is a matter to whom or what a Christian is εδουλωθητε (enslaved). The act of being the obedient δοῦλος (slave) to someone or something shows to whom one belongs. If a professing Christian consistently reveals that he or she is a δοῦλος to ἁμαρτία (sin) then they are living a lifestyle that leads to θάνατος (death). This is a separation from God or spiritual death. This is the state of the unregenerate.  On the other hand, those who are δοῦλος of δικαιοσυνη (righteousness) do not consistently present themselves to sin, but to obedience, which leads to δικαιοσυνη. This righteousness is speaking of character that is of God. Those who obey God by putting to death their addiction to sin are in the process of taking on (leading to) God’s very character. Paul is tell us that those whose lives are marked by obedience to God are those who are on the way to fulfilled sanctification, while those whose lives are marked by them indulging their flesh, are not and this is evidence of their unregenerate state.

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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 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. (Romans 6:17-19 ESV)

How do those former slaves to sin become obedient? It comes from a regenerate heart. This obedience comes from their new nature for their old nature could only serve as a δοῦλος to ἁμαρτία. Their new nature is keyed to obedience to the “the standard of teaching” to which they are committed. What does this mean? The “standard of teaching” is doctrine. The actual Greek words for this are τυπον διδαχης. This literally means “stamp or mold of teaching or doctrine.” This stamp or mold speaks of something a craftsman would use to cast a molten metal object. This is a picture of God pouring new Christians into the mold of His truth (Romans 12:2; Titus 2:1). This shaping and crafting by God results in genuine believers having a compelling desire to know and obey His Word (1 Peter 2:2).

Genuine Christians were sanctified at the moment of their new birth, but this is God’s work of making each of them holy in His eyes. They are “set apart” from His wrath because they are justified and this sanctification marks them as holy. However, in the day-to-day practical aspect of our faith, we have “natural limitations.” This is the Greek phrase, ασθενειαν της σαρκος. This literally means “infirmity or weakness of  your flesh.” This unredeemed part of all Christians is the propensity to sin. When Christians react passively to this “drive” to sin or walk according to the flesh then they will become enslaved to it. They lose the ability to walk in obedience because their flesh has such a strong hold on them. The stronger the flesh’s control of a Christian, the weaker they are in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who learn to mortify their sins to crucify the flesh to deny self are strong in the spirit. Paul recognizes that we have this ongoing battle so he refers to it as our “natural limitations.” Yes we have been sanctified positionally at Salvation, but in this life we must become devoted to presenting our members as slaves to righteousness which leads to the fulfillment of our sanctification. The alternative is to be enslaved to the flesh and very weak spiritually.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 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. 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. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23 ESV)

Carefully read this passage my brethren. The unregenerate are not obligated to be slaves of righteousness. However, the regenerate, genuine Christians, now look at the fruit of their past sins with shame. Those in Christ have been set free from sin, that is, the penalty and control of sin. All truly in Christ are on the road of sanctification that leads to eternal life. God makes sure that His children persevere and those who have this eternal life did not earn or deserve it. It is a gift (χάρισμα). This word means a “divine gratuity.” Salvation is a gift not something we earn or deserve.

Is it okay for Christians to sin, to disobey God, as if there are no commands from God to walk in repentance? No, it is not. Paul makes that very clear here that we are new creations who have been delivered from slavery to the flesh and sin. We must walk the road of sanctification to get to the end, where our Lord awaits in eternity. Let us take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus as a way of life my brethren.

Soli Deo Gloria!

19 thoughts on “Sanctification – Slaves to Righteousness

  1. This was wonderful Mike. It is as you say, all of it.

    As you learn to take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Jesus, the Lord has a way of closing off the things of the world to you – you lose your desire for things of the world, certain interests and passions fade away and sometimes it is only after they have gone that you realise that they have gone. Your interests and thoughts and life focus becomes the Lord and Him alone and again, it is something He does in you, because He has given you a new heart that is ‘Himward’. Our perspective changes from looking inward from ourselves, to outwardly, in Him.

    If we are truly born again from above, we will not willingly want to sin, we will not want to do anything that grieves our Lord in any small measure – our sin will truly bother us, will mortify us. We will want to become slaves (Doulos) to God although at times we do war against our flesh as Paul talks about so clearly in Romans 7, but we will persevere in this war with His help.

    If our sin is of no consequence to us, we are in serious spiritual trouble.

    I feel I may not have articulated clearly what I wish to say and I trust I have not caused any confusion.
    Bless you dear brother 😀


  2. It is wonderful to have the freedom, as one of His, to choose NOT to sin. I am a willing slave to the One who gave His life for me. 🙂


  3. Thank you Mike!

    Posse Peccare — able to sin (Pre-fall Man)

    Non Posse Non Peccare– no able not to sin (Post-Fall Man)

    Posse Non Peccare!!– able not to sin (Reborn Man)

    Non Posse Peccare!!!!– Not able to sin! ( Glorified Man!)

    Thank you Jesus!


  4. Thanks, Mike. This passage has been the one I have clung to since Day One of my new life. Our old master likes nothing better than to stroll in, acting like he still owns us. Out of long habit, the pull to obey him can be strong at times, but we are now under no obligation to obey.

    Another thing I like about this passage is that it goes beyond the negative (do not submit to sin) but strongly asserts the positive (submit to righteousness). By God’s grace, in time our daily focus can be on the positive, rather than the negative.

    Praise Him!


  5. I like this Mike, Well done.

    Rather than comment I want to ask you a favor for a future post.

    In the process of sanctification how do you think the Church should handle the situation where a person, lets a say a supposed regenerate Christian, is in Gods word daily but continues to struggle against his sin, but has major difficulties in overcoming it. Would you eventually see him as unregenerate? The problem with too much sanctification talk, without the Groundwork of the Gospel and grace, is it does not always allow a person to step up and tell other Christians about his struggles and get the guidance and Christian network support to overcome it. The same shame you were talking about is leading him it isolate himself in the same Church that should be helping him. Thats the problem, in my opinion, with too much holiness talk (which I love IF the right groundwork is layed) without first a DEEP understanding of the Gospel. It tends to keep people struggling with sin at the outter fringes of the Church.

    My take on alcoholism, over-eatting, fornication, adultery, sexual sin, pornography, and long list of other sins is those things need to be brought into the light and exposed …and our only choice is to know Gods word and to open up among other Christians ( all of which struggle with sin themselves) … as Irons sharpens Iron so does one man sharpen another. The problem we have is Christians tend to have deal breakers sins… what I call a singradation scale. Some sins are ok for me to hear about, but if you cross this line then your way out of bounds and obviously not a real Christian… or at least an attitude like that.

    Keep in mind I am a fan of sinner safe environments but not of sin approved environments — if that makes sense. I think this is highly scriptural. I desperately want to see sin at a deeper level… and to see both my younger brother and elder brother sins (Parable of the Prodigal Son). This knowledge of my sin will drive my sanctification.

    As I wrote this I am thinking of the verse: 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    The congregants of many Churches today see Church more as a sanctuary for saints rather than a Hospital for sinners where Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the only doctors.

    Thanks for everything your doing?


  6. By sinner safe, I mean a place where we can go and confess our sins and to discuss how the addiction of the world needs to be transformed into a Passion for Christ and not just be told in a simple-minded way “you know thats sin, don’t you!”.


  7. Jon, who is not being merciful to the immature? This series is all about getting those who are struggling with the enemy within to understand the way to victory not to put them down.


  8. Jon, you can take that way too far though and many do. The balance is to be able to confess our sins one to another, but it also calls for repentance and with the proper discipleship we learn how to do that and again, that is the purpose of this series.


  9. Loved this article and by the way-Happy Fathers Day! I was a little confused by something centrality wrote above–“This knowledge of my sin will drive my sanctification”. Mike, any input? I know, for me, the love that He has revealed to me since becoming a “real” christian is what drives my will. I am so very grateful to God for everything He does, and it is He who does it all, that I cannot put it into words. I will really enjoy this series and so appreciate all the information you share.
    Quick change of subject- I listened to Joel Osteen this morning just out of curiosity. Never have before nor had the desire, never have read any of his books–he is a total stranger to me other than what I have read about him on some discernment ministry sites. He said he would speak on Matthew 7( love that chapter) so I settled in to listen. All I can say is you have to listen for yourself. He did not teach the scripture but mainly told about 8 or 9 stories and made about two 3 second references to scripture. Very sad. He mentioned that those who make their ministries from “criticizing” other ministries have a “spirit of criticism” and will not realize all God has for them. This is what one of the largest churches in the US has to offer? Oh, and to his credit, the purple lights and the music was great…felt like a concert…oh, wait, that was supposed to be the worship part, right? Thanks, and sorry I got off the subject.
    Bless you,


  10. I agree Diane, that is the same for me as well.

    That is typical Joel Osteen. He is a false teacher. He preaches what people want to here instead of the truth.


  11. Mike,
    What is so fascinating to me about watching him this morning is this: everything I have ever read or heard about him and his twisting of scripture and prosperity teachings and only speaking about love, etc., was exactly what he did this morning. He confirmed every negative thing I have read about him to the letter all in one sermon, if you can call it that, more like conversation.
    I mean, he wasn’t even “kind of” OK. There was nothing to be gained at all.
    I see you have a study on judging. I will have to read it.
    Thank you again.


  12. hey Diane I agree…. even though Gods Law is misused (Phil 3:7-12) by many but it is a guide for Christians. Ultimately it points us to how great our need is for a savior –even in our sanctification we trust in ourselves too much!


  13. I am really enjoying this post and its giving me lots of thoughts. Thanks.

    Scripture also discusses a works based righteoussness that seems to be a part of the religious. Therefore, I see this, as many others do, as a potential trap of Satan in a Christians sanctification. He wants to divert us from “in Christ” to “in ourselves” and Hebrews 6 paints this as a scary path. I don’t believe I am overstating the problem by saying this is common for man to engage in this. I have as much as anyone else been a part of this.

    Tim Keller calls this religious sin and here is a good article which hints at it:


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