Serving the Right Master
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 22: Romans 6:15-23
The world has known its share of cruel masters. They have taken advantage of their workers and have driven them to sickness and death. They have often physically abused them, sexually defiled them, and treated them with inhumane cruelty as if it was their right.
Sometimes it was in the context of racial slavery where certain classes were subjugated as animals and bought as if they were mere possessions. Sometimes it was in the workplace where workers were driven into debt to the management and held in fear for their lives. Sometimes it was the enslavement of children who were forced to work against their will and considered easy prey to greedy and callused opportunists.
There is also a cruel master that enslaves all the descendents of Adam. We are all born into a state of moral bondage that deceives us into obedience. It rewards us with unsatisfying promises, and ultimately pays off in eternal damnation. When the mind itself is held in moral chains, it does not realize its own disadvantage. The lost soul knows only the false promises of its master’s lies. It comes to crave more of the unsatisfying practices which only enslave him more. Living in that awful condition, fallen man lashes out in hateful vengeance at others, or he sinks deeper and deeper in to the quicksand of depression and despondence. Sometimes he imagines deliverances which are mere fantasies. They disappoint him all the more.
That is the slavery Paul describes in the first part of Romans chapter 6. But the message of Scripture tells of a way out, an effective liberation for the bound soul. The chains of moral bondage are broken in only one way, by the effectual work of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus died, he acted as a substitute for God’s people. He paid the debt that justice demanded for their sin and for the guilt they inherited from Adam. When the Holy Spirit applies that atonement to the individual, he is set free! The bondage of sin is ended and he is united to a new master, righteousness. Romans 6:6, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
We are told to live in the reality of this promise.
Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
In that last verse, when Paul says we are not “under law,” he does not mean that God’s good law is cruel, or that we are free from obeying God’s law. No! The law was graciously revealed so we can know how to please God once enabled to do so when regenerated by grace. The law reveals our sin and our bondage to it as descendents of Adam. It shows us how much our Savior endured in paying the penalty in place of his people. When God’s grace delivers us by the work of Christ, the condemnation revealed by the law is gone since the penalty was satisfied by our Savior. We now serve a new master. We are set free!
The delivered believer still struggles with the remains of sin. Paul asks his next question to correct a horrible excuse some might suggest.
Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
It is obvious as we read the New Testament that though we are not “under law” but are “under grace”, we are not now free to sin without any concern. Doing things contrary to God’s revealed moral principles offends our Creator, and does harm to our representing him as those made in his image. What Paul is saying here in the context is that we are delivered from the cruel mastery of sin, and have by grace come under a new mastery: the mastery of Christ and of Righteousness.
The same Savior who redeems us and pays for our guilt, also restores us to fellowship with God from whom we draw true spiritual life. When we are renewed this way, our moral desires are changed. Believers are no longer comfortable in their sins. The illusions and false promises are gone. We see sin for what it is; a horrible offense to God, and a wicked master who only destroys his blind servants.
What can be said about looking for such excuses to sin?
Romans 6:16-18, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
If the soul is really made alive, it will be seen in the person’s attitudes and behaviors. What you obey reveals who your master really is. This is the test the Apostle John gives in 1 John 2:3-6.
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
No one can stop sinning altogether in this life, but the believer is troubled by his sin. Since righteousness is his new master, sin weighs on the true Christian’s heart. It brings him to repentance and humbles him before God. He calls upon God to strengthen him to overcome sin. He uses the means God gives him in the battle to grow in his obedience. He isn’t going to be asking “How can I excuse my sin?” He will be concerned more with asking, “How can I overcome my sin?”
This leaves us with a clear duty.
Romans 6:19, “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”
Now that you are under a new master (the righteousness received through Christ) you need to be presenting the members of your body to serve holiness.
In the same manner that before you used you hands, feet, mouth and heart to serve sin, now you are to employ all you have to honor the one who redeemed you by grace. Just as in your past life of planning sinful opportunities, you need to plan for righteousness, spend time doing it, longing for, looking for, the next opportunity. Now that you are bound to serve your new master, Paul is saying that you must put forth your energy to use your hands, feet, mouth, and hearts to serve righteousness.
It is easy to get confused here. Many confuse what God does, with what we are called to do. One of the most destructive deceptions is the “Let go, and let God” mentality. It often makes holiness into a mystical state where we are just passive observers waiting for God to make us do what we should, rather than striving to live for his glory in all things. People sometimes excuse spiritual laziness with the deplorable excuse, “the only really important thing is to be born again.” In contrast with that, Jesus called us to “disciple all men”, to “teach them all he commanded.” We are called to live holy lives, to “be holy as he is holy,” not just to have forgiven lives.
Those taken in by this view believe they should not be concerned about doing good works or obeying law, since we are saved by grace and not by earning eternal life by the law. This is a total misunderstanding of the work of grace.
First of all, our hearts are changed by God’s work of grace alone, and not by our works. In fact law was never a means by which anyone could earn salvation from his fallen condition.
However, it is also true that after we are regenerated by grace we are made able to obey. We are commanded to do so. We are not only declared to be innocent by Christ’s righteousness being credited to us. We are also told to conform our lives to his righteousness. If we are saved from condemnation, our hearts are changed by becoming bound to a new master. We will not feel comfortable about our sins any more. The true believer is not the one looking for excuses, but the one looking for ways to change out of gratitude and love for his Redeemer.
Not striving with all our might to be holy is not Biblical. It is typical of the spiritual laziness of our apathetic world. It minimizes the offense of continuing sins, and looks for something to stop them without much personal effort or sacrifice. If the sins continue, they see it as God’s will for their lives and dismiss the issue from their minds. “No pressure Christianity” is a destructive illusion.
This kind of thinking turns the grace of God into a license to sin. Jude 4 warns about such dangerous influences in the church, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is the very problem Paul was dealing with here in Romans 6. Saving grace does not liberate us to sin, or to have a careless attitude about our offenses to God. It’s just the opposite. Grace liberates us from bondage to sin so that now, by the power of Christ living in us, we have the strength to overcome our sins and to be progressing in holiness for God’s glory and honor.
Gardens are beautiful places when they produce lush, healthy plants. We know that God makes the seeds germinate and grow. He provides the sunshine and rain. If that is all that is required for a nice garden, they would fill up our lawns and fields. God produces gardens by means of gardeners. He told Adam to cultivate the land and to work to bring forth the fruit of the earth.
The gardener cannot make seeds germinate, grow and produce fruit. His job is to dig up and aerate the soil, plan for good sun exposure, irrigation and drainage. He may have to add nutrients to the soil and protect the plants from freezes or insects. The gardener cannot cause the fruit to be produced. God does not do the work of the gardener. He created us to carry out that work here on earth to demonstrate what he is.
In our spiritual lives, we cannot regenerate or empower spiritually dead souls. However, God has ordained to use means to accomplish his plan. He calls us to pray, to be instructed out of his word, and to strive to obey. He warns us to flee temptation and to pursue holiness. To accomplish this we draw from the power we have promised to us in Christ. We are enabled by changed hearts. God calls us to consider ourselves to be dead to the mastery of sin. We do this by resting upon the work Christ did as our substitute. This is not just an idea to simply inspire us emotionally. It is a God-revealed fact we need to relay upon. By grace he makes a change in the condition of our moral nature.
Our rewards will differ,
depending upon the master we serve
Romans 6:20-23, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Those who remain as slaves of sin earn its just reward: eternal death. The Bible is filled with alarming descriptions of the pains of eternal hell and unending separation from God. It also points out how our present spiritual death is at the root of pain and depression. Sin is no real rewarder of men. It is a lying employer who gives out death as its paycheck. The temporary pleasures of sin only produce shame and continuing isolation from their Creator. The anticipated rewards of sinful pleasures are lies. What we earn is not what is deceptively promised by our tempter, nor what is expected by the lost human soul.
When we become slaves to righteousness, we are given the gift of life. This wonderful slavery spoken of in verse 22 is the only real freedom. Those who serve righteousness as their master learn of the satisfaction that can be found in honorable things. Loving, God-centered obedience of the redeemed soul is not only found in the peace and strength promised for here and now, it is also ours in the eternal union with God in glory.
Paul puts it quite bluntly in verse 23. When we sin, we earn a wage. The paycheck is death. When we are in Christ Jesus, we are given a gracious gift which is not earned. The paycheck is eternal life. This eternal life works in us now to change our attitudes about sin and holiness. We demonstrate the truth of it by striving to be obedient to that which pleases God in all things.
What a wonderful master we serve! Psalm 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.”
As we grow in Christ,
sin ought to be detested, not defended.
When we continue in sin, we show an immature understanding of two things:
1. We fail to appreciate the deep offense of sin in the eyes of God. When the Bible’s description of sin is seen as a mere set of religious rules for earning salvation, the whole point has been missed. God gives us his word, his law, so that we might understand how offensive some things are to the Creator who made all things to reveal his nature and glory.
When we begin to comprehend how God is disgusted by our transgressions, we will have a new motive to stop sinning. We strive to obey not merely to avoid consequences for ourselves, but more importantly to show gratitude and love for our God. When the prophet Isaiah became aware of his sin, he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5)
2. We fail to appreciate the wonder and power of what Christ has accomplished. He did not just die as an example to us, or to inspire us to religious living. He died to actually satisfy divine justice in our place, taking that awful offense upon himself. He died to set us free so that we can become bound to a Master of Righteousness and life.
When we justify certain sins (as if we are set free from moral law to do what we please) we pervert grace into license, and cast doubt that we have been liberated to serve a new master. We live in a world where even so called “Christians” steal God’s Sabbath Day for themselves, and excuse it by imagining that the 4th Commandment given as Creation was completed has somehow expired. Many take the tithe of their income which God commands to be brought to the Elders, and they spend it themselves, making excuses by doing some good things with it. Many abandon marriage as the only moral setting for sex and family. Many kill their unborn to avoid unwanted responsibilities. They lie to serve themselves, and cheat to become rich and powerful. They cultivate the attitudes of the world. These are the socially “accepted” sins. The list in Galatians 5:19-21 includes the sins of sexual impurity, improper worship, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, envy and such things.
In the next verses (Galatians 5:22-23) God commands that we cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
The Bible calls all these things “sin.” The wage is death. They deeply offend God and cast doubt that the soul is converted and bound to a new master.
These are our enemies. They are not the way to success as the world pretends. Do not give place to them! Do not let their cruel mastery continue another moment! If you try to pull against the chains of cruel oppression in your own strength, it will only gives you sore wrists. Come to Christ if you have not been set free. He will give you a new master.
Once you are liberated in Christ, trust in and act upon the promises God has given. You have the power in Christ to really progress out of sin and into holiness. It is not just a promise to some select few fortunate believers. It is a promise of grace to all who are in Christ. You are liberated! Live that way!
Keep striving in prayer, trusting in the change God promised he has made in you. Never let sin become less than the greatest enemy in your life. Make holiness your greatest goal.
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)