by Mike Ratliff
17 χάρις δὲ τῷ θεῷ ὅτι ἦτε δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὑπηκούσατε δὲ ἐκ καρδίας εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς, 18 ἐλευθερωθέντες δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἐδουλώθητε τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ. (Romans 6:17-18 NA28)
17 But thanks be to God that you used to be slaves of sin, but you have become become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching; 18 having been freed from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
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. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)
What does it mean that genuine Christians have been enslaved (ἐδουλώθητε) to righteousness (δικαιοσύνῃ)? 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, 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 δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας.
15 Τί οὖν; ἁμαρτήσωμεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλʼ ὑπὸ χάριν; μὴ γένοιτο. 16 οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ᾧ παριστάνετε ἑαυτοὺς δούλους εἰς ὑπακοήν, δοῦλοί ἐστε ᾧ ὑπακούετε, ἤτοι ἁμαρτίας εἰς θάνατον ἢ ὑπακοῆς εἰς δικαιοσύνην; (Romans 6:15-16 NA28)
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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 μὴ γένοιτο. 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 ἐδουλώθητε (enslaved). The act of being the obedient δούλους (slave) to someone or something shows to whom one belongs. If a professing Christian consistently reveals that he or she is a δούλους 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 δούλους 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.
17 χάρις δὲ τῷ θεῷ ὅτι ἦτε δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὑπηκούσατε δὲ ἐκ καρδίας εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς, 18 ἐλευθερωθέντες δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἐδουλώθητε τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ. 19 Ἀνθρώπινον λέγω διὰ τὴν ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς ὑμῶν. ὥσπερ γὰρ παρεστήσατε τὰ μέλη ὑμῶν δοῦλα τῇ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ καὶ τῇ ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν, οὕτως νῦν παραστήσατε τὰ μέλη ὑμῶν δοῦλα τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ εἰς ἁγιασμόν. (Romans 6:17-19 NA28)
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. 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. (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 διδαχῆς. 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, ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς. 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.
20 ὅτε γὰρ δοῦλοι ἦτε τῆς ἁμαρτίας, ἐλεύθεροι ἦτε τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ. 21 τίνα οὖν καρπὸν εἴχετε τότε; ἐφʼ οἷς νῦν ἐπαισχύνεσθε, τὸ γὰρ τέλος ἐκείνων θάνατος. 22 νυνὶ δὲ ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ ἔχετε τὸν καρπὸν ὑμῶν εἰς ἁγιασμόν, τὸ δὲ τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 23 τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας θάνατος, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν. (Romans 6:20-23 NA28)
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. (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 and this is the road 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 all by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria!