by Mike Ratliff
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. 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 6:17-23 ESV)
God is Sovereign. I find it tragic that that statement can raise the ire of so many professing Christians. These same people will get just as angry when passages such as Romans 6:17-23 (above) are taken literally showing that the lost are slaves (δουλοι) of sin with no ability to become free from that slavery without the gracious breaking in by our Sovereign God who, in a supreme act of mercy, makes those dead in their trespasses and sin, alive through the washing of regeneration. These new creations who were totally incapable of knowing God and His truth and their lost condition before Him, by His grace through a faith that is now spiritually alive believes the Gospel and receives Christ as Lord and Saviour. Our God is Sovereign and we should rejoice that this is so because if it is not, then we are left to ourselves to somehow find a way to pay back the wages of sin, which is death. God is the ultimate promise keeper and He is merciful and gracious.
Not one of us deserve salvation, no not one, but God has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him through the righteousness of another. In this we are justified by faith and receive the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. In this we become slaves (δουλωθητε) to (τη) righteousness (δικαιοσυνη) and are set free (ελευθερωθεντες) from (απο) sin (αμαρτιας). My brethren, please notice that the Greek word used here to describe the Christian’s being set free from sin, ελευθερωθεντες, is an aorist tense participle in passive voice. That means that each of us were MADE free from sin by another, we did not do it ourselves. Also, since this is an aorist participle and is temporal in relation to the main verb in this verse, it signifies action prior to it. What is the main verb in v18? Isn’t it the description of believers ‘becoming slaves of righteousness’? This is the word δουλωθητε, which is in aorist tense, indicative mood, and passive voice. This grammar structure defines punctiliar action and with the sentence structure we have here it follows our being set free from sin. What this means is that Paul is describing the work of God in the salvation of His people. He takes those who were once slaves of sin, sets them free from that sin and from this work of grace, they become slaves of righteousness.
These slaves of righteousness have bee set from from sin and have become slaves of God. What is the fruit of this? It is that this leads to sanctification (αγιασμον) and its end, eternal life. The word translated here as sanctification, αγιασμον , is a word borrowed from Hebrew. The KJV translates it here as ‘holiness.’ This Greek word describes the state of being holy, not the process of becoming holy. It describes the behavior befitting those separated unto God. So, my brethren, what is the life pleasing to God? It can only be found in those whom He has set from sin to become slaves of righteousness.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV)
Carefully read this passage my brethren. Each of us in Christ have been set free from sin and have been made slaves of righteousness. Each of us are called to walk before the face of God as δουλος of righteousness unto separation from the idolatrous, flesh-bound, wickedness of this temporal world. We are to be separate unto God in our sanctification in abstaining from all things that are not the will of God for His children. God is Holy and His children are commanded here to walk before Him in a state of being set apart from sin to holiness. How are we to do this? We have our answer in vv4-8 in this passage.
We must learn to control (κτασθαι) our own bodies in holiness (αγιασμω) and honor (τιμη), not in the passion (επιθυμιας) of lust (παθει) like those who do not know God. The Christian is called to control his or her own body with a behavior suitable before God and humans respectively. Notice that the behavior unfit for those set from from sin is wicked and involves sexual immorality. The only sexual activity appropriate for a child of God is that which is within the bounds of heterosexual marriage (Ephesians 5:3; 1 Peter 1:15-22).
In v6 Paul exhorts us to not defraud our brothers and sisters in Christ through sexual sin. I’m sure we have all heard of churches in which the wife of member has an elicit affair with an associate pastor or whatever. I remember when I was a young man that this happened in my parents’ church. This is exactly what Paul is warning against here. Who is the avenger of those wronged here? The Lord is! That in itself should be warning enough. Paul then says something quite profound. God has not called (εκαλεσεν) believers for impurity (ακαθαρσια), but in holiness (αγιασμω). The word called, εκαλεσεν, refers to the effectual call from God in which all called by it respond by embracing the Gospel (Romans 8:30). This call from God has as its goal holiness, not impurity or uncleanness.
In v8 we have another very profound statement by Paul. Professing Christians who reject these calls to holiness and purity are actually rejecting the giver of the Holy Spirit and are cutting themselves off from the sanctifying power that enables the Christian to be “blameless in holiness” when our Lord returns (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
How should we respond to this my brethren? We must prayerfully examine ourselves. I pray that all who read this will be pricked in the heart and be drawn to confession and repentance before our merciful Lord. I pray that He will peel away the layers of spiritual blindness that have accumulated in their hearts and that they will learn to walk before the face of God in the power of the Cross-centered life.
Soli Deo Gloria