Victory Over Sin For All in Christ
Paul’s statement in verse 14 that Christians “are not under law but under grace” raised a new question that must be answered. Namely, “shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (verse 15, NASB).
Many have thought that as soon as they hear “free from the Law, the sinful flesh scents the morning breeze.” Such individual see in grace the opportunity to dump the law, then to do what they want. On the other hand, “legal Pharisaism” gets ready to draw dangerous conclusions from the doctrine of grace in order to destroy it.
As a result, the “hostile brother’s” of lawlessness and legalism always surround the doctrine of grace. Both sides, albeit for quite different purposes, shout out “Freedom from the law means free and open path to sin.” Paul confronts the hostile brothers head on in verses 15-23.
“May it never be! Or “By no means!” is Paul’s response to the thought that anyone could even think that they could use grace as an excuse for sinning. As in verse 2, he stands aghast at the very idea.
The apostle in verse 16 extends his argument in his astute claim that people are never really free. God made them for obedience. The only question is whether they will be obedient to sin or to righteousness, to God’s principles or to Satan’s Freedom in the abstract is an illusion.
In this way freedom from the law does not mean absolute freedom. And for Christians, freedom from the law as a way of salvation, “does not mean freedom from God but freedom for God.” Faith is just the opposite of being loosed from God. It is an intimate relationship with Him. For Paul, obedience is faith’s natural result. The expression “the obedience of faith” frames the entire book of Romans (Romans 1:5; romans 16:26). Paul cannot even begin to imagine genuine faith that does not lead to obedience.
But in Romans 6:16 he suggests a provocative thought when he claims that individual offer themselves as slaves to either sin or righteousness. In that context Paul talks about the two destinations of the two possible paths. One leads to death, and we would expect him to say that the other path has life as its goal. But he doesn’t. Rather he says obedience to God leads to righteousness.”
Wait a minute! Has the great apostle gotten confused? Is he saying after all his talk of righteousness by faith without works of law that people can achieve righteousness by obedience?
By no means! But he is telling us that obedience is an important part of a life lived in grace. The grace-empowered obedience of the born-again Christian leads to righteousness in the sense that it motivates conduct that is pleasing to God, in harmony with the principles of His kingdom.
Romans 6:17 find Paul excited and thankful for what God has done for the Roman Christians – that have changed masters. That verse also tells us more about their faith. A faith that has responded to the apostolic teaching, it had led them to “enslave” themselves to a new ruler or lord. Paul, like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, was absolutely convinced that “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). The Christians in Rome had realized the fruitlessness of serving their first master (sin) and had voluntarily linked up, as had Paul (Romans 1:1), to become slaves of God.
Beginning in Romans 6:16 Paul begins a discussion of two quite different paths, which leads to his conclusion regarding two radically distinct ultimate destinations in verse 23. Verses 16-19 treat two slaveries (i.e., sin versus righteousness) related to two lords. Then verse 20 and 22 continue in terms of two freedoms. Paul speaks of it here in terms of sinners being free from righteousness (verse 20) and Christians being free from sin (verse 22).
Underlying the presentation is what we might call the doctrine of human freedom. Not pawns in the hands of an all controlling force, we do have choices in life. God gives each of us freedom to sin if we so desire or freedom to walk the path of holiness. Through the gift of the Spirit we have genuine choices.
God forces no one. But neither does He protect us from the consequences of our actions. As a Christian I have the liberty should I choose, to lie down on the interstate at rush hour. But God won’t create a miracle to keep me safe. We live in moral universe, in which people harvest what they sow.
In verses 22 and 23 Paul spells out the advantages the Christian gets from serving God. The first is “sanctification.” That word in Romans 6 means not only to be set apart for holy use but to walk progressively closer to God as through His grace we tread the path of holiness.
As you go on living this righteous life, and practicing it with all your might and energy, and all your time, you will find that the process that went on before, in which you went from bad to worse and became viler and viler, is entirely reversed. You will become cleaner and cleaner, and purer and purer, and holier and holier, and more and more conformed unto the image of the Son of God.
Eternal life” is the second advantage of being “slaves of God” (verse 22). Verse 23 treats that topic more fully, along with outlining the destination of those who elect to remain under the lordship of sin.”
“The wages of sin is death.” That is about as blunt as one can get. The text then goes on to note that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul in romans 6 is explicit in his argument that the two paths, the two enslavements, and the two freedoms leads to two quite different destinations. God is not arbitrary. All persons, in the face of the knowledge they possess (Romans 1:2), chose the path they want to walk through life, but each path has a specific destination. Every choice, every action in life take us somewhere. And God in His wisdom and greatness allows people to select the route that they will individually follow.
Romans 6 is a crucial chapter in Paul’s presentation, teaching that even though salvation is a free gift, those who receive it demonstrate their reception of it by accepting the lordship of Christ in their lives and by a Christlike life. Romans 6 makes it plain that those who will be in the heavenly kingdom will be those who have so internalized the great principles of God’s character that they will be happy to be with God throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. God forces no one to be what they aren’t. The two freedoms lead to the two paths and the two masters and eventually to the two quite diverse destinations.