Romans 6:15-18 Two Types of Slaves


The point of this study is difficult for most people to accept. The point is this: There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone. No human is free to do everything he or she may want to do. There is one being in the universe who is totally free, of course; that is God. But all others are limited by or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question in this area is: Who or what are you serving? Since you and I are human beings and not God, we can never be autonomous. We must either be slaves to sin or slaves to Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom.

Paul was answering objections to the doctrine of salvation by grace that were coming from two sides, just as they come to us today. On one side were Jewish traditionalists with a commitment to the Law of Moses. They argued that if law is rejected as a way of salvation, which Paul obviously was doing, immorality and all other vices inevitably follow. Paul shows that it doesn’t work that way. In fact, he shows the opposite. He shows: (1) The law does not lead to righteousness, for the simple reason that it is unable to produce righteousness in anyone. The law can only condemn. (2) Paradoxically, it is only by being delivered from the law and its condemnation, through union with Jesus Christ, that we are empowered to do what the law requires. The other objection came not from Jewish legalists, but from those who reject the law not only as a way of salvation but even as an expression of proper conduct. They say, “Since we are free from law, we can do anything we please. We are free to go on sinning. In fact, we can wallow in it. Paul answers both of these errors in this chapter of Romans. Paul writes in verse 15: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” We may ask, “Why not?”

Paul gives five sound reasons in this section: (1) Sin is slavery. The first reason Christians must not sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that sin is actually slavery, and it would be folly to be delivered from slavery only to return to it again. The difficulty here is that sin is rarely seen by us in this way, that is, in its true colors. Instead of being presented as slavery, it is usually described as the very essence of freedom (see Genesis 3). (2) Sin leads to death. The second reason we must not sin, even though we are not under law but under grace, is that sin leads to death. Paul says this several times in these verses (vv. 16, 21, 23). Again, this is not what we are usually told (again in Genesis 3). (3) Christians have been delivered from sin’s slavery. The third reason Christians are not to continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that they have been delivered by Jesus from sin’s tyranny if they are truly Christians. This is so wonderful that Paul actually breaks into“praise to God” at this point (vv. 17-18). (4) The same work that has delivered Christians from sin’s slavery has also made them slaves of God, which is true freedom. The fourth of Paul’s arguments for why Christians cannot continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that the same act of Christ that has delivered us from sin has also made us “slaves of God: (v. 22). By His act of redemption, Jesus has purchased men and women for Himself, that is, to serve Him. (5) The end of this second desirable slavery is righteousness. This leads to Paul’s last point, the fifth reason why Christians must not continue in sin, even though they have been freed from law and are under grace. It is that the end of this second, desirable slavery to God and Jesus Christ is righteousness. True Christianity can never lead to license, the accusation refuted by Paul in this passage. Since it is liberation from sin in order to become a servant of God and of Jesus Christ, Christianity must inevitably lead to what God desires, which is righteousness.

We need to look at one more word: obedience. It occurs in verse 16 and it is amplified by the verb obey, which occurs three more times in verses 16-17. The reason Paul uses the word obedience is that it carries through the image he has been developing, namely that of being a slave either to sin or of Jesus Christ. It is the function of a slave to obey his or her master. But the use of the term goes beyond this, since obedience is an essential requirement of all who would follow Christ, and not just afterward, as if we are called first to believe and then obey. Obedience is the very essence of believing. It’s what belief is all about. There is no escaping it. Either we obey sin, which leads to death, and are enslaved by it, or we have been freed from sin to serve God. If we have been freed from sin, we will serve God. There is just no other option.

Romans 6:15-18 Reflection Questions:

What’s involved in becoming a Christian, and then living the life of God’s renewed humanity, is a change of master. How can we present ourselves to God when we still seem to be under sway of the wrong master?

Paul continues with the idea of slavery here, but exhorts his readers that they are “enslaved to God’s covenant justice.” How do these terms explain a fuller understanding of the life of the faith?

What does it mean that believers are to “become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed” (v. 17)?

Romans 6:12-14 God’s Instruments


I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains. There is a satisfaction laboring up a mountain to the top and then being able to see the beautiful vistas. In a sense, that is what has happened to us during our study of Romans. For more than five and a half chapters we have been laboring up the majestic mountain of doctrine concerning what God has done for us in salvation. Now, for the very first time, we have passed over the highest ridge to verses that tell what we are to do in response to God’s action. To put in other words, after many detailed studies, our tour has at last enabled us to cross from the high doctrine of justification-by-grace-through-faith to the doctrine of sanctification.

Since this is the first direct teaching about sanctification in Romans, it’s important that we understand what is being said. To do that, we need to look at this passage as a whole to see what principles about sanctification are taught. Then we need to apply those teachings in the most practical terms possible.

The principles are: (1) Sin is not dead in Christians, even in the most mature and pious Christians, but rather is something always to be struggled against. We have already said this in a variety of ways in our previous studies. (2) Sin’s hold on us is in or through our bodies. We cannot miss noticing how directly, literally, and strongly Paul emphasizes our actual physical bodies in these verses. In verse 12 he refers to our “mortal body,” that is, the body of our flesh that is dying. In verse 13 he twice refers to “the parts of” our bodies, that is, to our hands, feet, eyes, tongues and so forth. It is through these physical parts of our bodies that sin operates and through which it maintains its strong hold on us. (3) Sin can reign in or dominate our bodies. It cannot dominate or destroy that new person that I have become in Christ. That new “me” will always abhor sin and yearn for righteousness – and it will have it, because God is determined to produce the holy character of Christ is His people. But sin can certainly dominate my body. I can become a slave to its cravings. (4) Although sin can reign in or dominate our bodies, it does not need to. In other words, although it is possible for us to “offer the parts of [our] body to sin, as instruments of wickedness,” we do not need to do this. On the contrary, being now joined to Jesus Christ, we have His new life within and His power available to us. (5) This leads to the last and positive truth: As Christians, we can now offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. This is the thrust of the passage. It is what Paul is urging on us.

There are many ways to approach the subject of sanctification. Paul himself does it in several ways. But I don’t know a more practical, balanced, or down-to-earth way of speaking about how to live a holy life or grow in righteousness than the way in which Paul does it here. He has given us one easy-to-grasp principle in verse 11: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Now he tells us how to give practical expression to that great principle. It is by what we do with our bodies. What does that mean? The answers come by considering the body’s parts and their potential for doing both good and evil.

The first body part Paul mentions is the mind. If you fill your mind with products of our secular culture, you will remain secular and sinful. On the other hand, if you feed your mind on the Bible and Christian publications, train it by godly conversation, and discipline it to critique what you see and hear elsewhere by applying biblical truths to those ideas, you will grow in godliness and become increasingly useful to God. Your mind will become an instrument for righteousness. The mind is not the only part of our bodies through which we receive ideas and impressions and which must therefore be offered to God as an instrument of righteousness. We also receive impressions through our eyes and ears. These too, must be surrendered to God. The tongue is also part of the body, and what we do with it is important. James, the Lord’s brother, must have thought about this a great deal, because he says more about the tongue and its power for either good or evil than any other writer of Scripture (see James 3:5-6). Our hands and feet determine what we do and where we go. So when we are considering how we might offer the parts of our body to God as instruments of righteousness, let’s not forget them. Paul writes of using our hands profitably so we might be self-supporting and not dependant on anybody (1 Thes. 4:11-12). What about our feet? Where do your feet take you? Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

What we are actually engaged in is spiritual warfare, an ongoing battle against sin, for our own growth in grace and for the good of others. And, like all soldiers who are facing some great conflict, we are to train ourselves physically and steel our wills for the enterprise. Paul thought in these terms, sometimes speaking of a warfare in which the followers of Christ are to cloth themselves with God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-18), sometimes speaking of a race. “Fight the good fight of the faith…” he says in 1Timothy 6:12. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he says in 2 Timothy 4:7.

You have been waiting through five and a half chapters of Romans for something to do. Now you have that something. You know what it is. So do it. “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of righteousness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness.” Why should you submit to such rigorous training? It’s not because you are driven to do it. It’s because you have been liberated from sin by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and want to do it. You want to live for Him. This is why Paul ends by saying, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14).

Romans 6:12-14 Reflection Questions:

How can you improve on the use of the parts of your body to glorify God?

How is presenting or offering your limbs and organs to God different from presenting them to sin (v. 13)?

Romans 6:5-11 Living with Jesus Now


It’s a sad fact that many people perceive Christianity as being negative. It’s viewed as a series of don’ts. It is possible that some reader has taken our first studies of Romans 6 negatively, because the emphasis has been on the fact that once a person has been joined to Jesus Christ he or she can no longer go on sinning (vv. 1-2). Death and dying does sound negative, particularly to the non-Christian. If you do not know Christianity better than that, it sounds almost like “no more anything.” But that is not what real Christianity is, of course. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is sin that is negative. So to be freed from sin is to be freed to a brand new life, which is positive. As the believer identifies with Christ in His death he enters into newness of life. For the Christian, death is followed by a resurrection. And not just at the end of time! True Christianity is living out a new, joyful, abundant, resurrected life with Jesus Christ now.

In verse 5 Paul states a thesis which verses 6-10 develop. It has two parts: the first part is; “If we have been united with Him like this in His death…” and the second part is; “…we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.” Paul unfolds the first part in verses 6-7 and he explains the second part in verses 8-10. When Paul unfolds the meaning of the first part in verses 6-7, he isn’t just repeating himself. This is the point at which he is starting to talk about the Christian life, particularly the Christian’s sure victory over sin. Now when he mentions our union with Christ in His death, it is to show this frees us from sin’s tyranny.

The second half of Paul’s topical sentence in verse 5 is explained in verses 8-10, where Paul speaks of a present resurrection. Unless we take these verses together we will perceive the words “we will also live with Him” as referring to our future resurrection, when actually they refer to an experience of resurrection life here and now. Don’t misunderstand. There is a future resurrection, and the same union of the believer with Christ that we have been talking about is a guarantee of it. But that is not what these verses are about.

We have already seen in the case of Christ (Rom. 6:2). They refer to His passage from the sphere where death reigned to the sphere of the resurrection, from where He was to where He is now. In the same way, they refer to our passage – from the reign of death to the reign of grace, to a present resurrection. This is what Paul says of himself in Philippians 3:10. He means that he wants to be victorious over sin. Anyone who has been united to Christ has died to sin, is on the way to God, and can never return to his or her former sphere of existence.

Verse 11 is an exhortation, and it’s the first in the epistle. This is the first time in five and a half chapters that the apostle has urged his readers to do anything. What are they to do? The text says  “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” With today’s “quick fix” offerings we may be wondering why Paul waited until the sixth chapter for the first exhortation. Was Paul not interested in the spiritual growth of the Roman Christians? Of course, he was. But he knew that there was no use rushing ahead to tell them how to live the Christian life until he had first fully instructed them on what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. This is because the work of God in Christ is foundational to everything else about Christianity. Paul wanted us to learn that, we have no more joined ourselves to Jesus in His resurrection than we have died for our own sins. If we are Christians, everything that is necessary has been done for us by God.

In verse 11 Paul says there are two things God has done that we are to count on. First, that we are dead to sin if we are Christians. It doesn’t mean that we are immune to sin or temptation. It doesn’t mean that we will not sin. It means that we are dead to the old life and cannot go back to it. The second reality Paul says we are to count on is that we are now “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This statement completes the parallel to verse 5, in which Paul said, “If we have been united with Him in His resurrection.” It explains how the earlier verse is to be taken; that we are to experience Christ’s resurrection life now. That is exactly where verse 11 has brought us. It tells us that just as we have died to sin (and must count on it), so also have we been made alive to God in Jesus Christ (and must count on that also). That is what has happened to you, if you are a Christian. You have been removed from your former state to another. Your job is to reckon it so, and to count on it.

Romans 6:5-11 Reflection Questions:

The word in verse 11 that is translated as “calculate” or “count” is a word that is used in bookkeeping, in calculating accounts, in working out profit and loss figures. What might be the purpose of Paul using this term in verse 11?

What does “being dead to your old life” mean to you?

Romans 6:1-4 Leaving Sin and being Baptized into Christ Jesus


As we begin Romans 6, we see at once that we are not entering upon a radically new section. This is because the chapter begins with a question that immediately turns us back to chapter 5. In one way or another, the entire sixth chapter is going to answer this question. Paul’s response, after he has asked the question is, “By no means!” (v.2). This expression has already occurred in a similar exchange in chapter 3, and it’s a powerful one. The Greek words literally mean “let it not be,” and they have the force of a powerful negation. They actually mean, “It is inconceivable for it to be thus” or “It is unthinkable,” – “It should not even be considered.” Some translators render the expression, “God forbid!”

By now you should be able to see that there is no possible alternative to God’s path, for those who are truly saved. The life of sin is what we have died to. There is no going back for us, any more than there could be a going back to suffer and die for sin again by our Lord. If there is no going back – if that possibility has been eliminated – there is no direction for us to go but forward! A holy life comes from knowing – I stress that word – knowing that you can’t go back, that you have died to sin and been made alive to God. The secret of sanctification is not some neat set of experiences or emotions, however meaningful or intense they may be. It is knowing what has happened to you.

What Paul says we are to know is in verses 3 and 4. But before we plunge into that we need to think about the meaning of the word baptism, since it is the key term he uses. We gain help from classical literature. The Greeks used the word baptizo from about 400 B.C. to about the second century after Christ, and in their literature baptizo always pointed to a change having taken place by some means. The main idea is that the act of “baptizing” produces a permanent change, not necessarily by immersion in water. Mark 16:16 is well known. Jesus says here: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” Scores of people have wrongly concluded from that verse that unless a person first believes in Christ and then is also immersed in water, he or she cannot be saved. But even the poorest Bible student knows that this is not true. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If baptism in water is necessary for salvation, then the believing thief who was crucified with Christ is lost.

Once we get away from the mistaken idea that baptism always refers to water baptism, the verse becomes clear. For what Jesus is saying in Mark 16:16 is that a person needs to be identified with Him to be saved. He was saying that mere intellectual assent to the doctrines of Christianity is not enough. It is necessary, to use another of His teachings, that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). This last verse is an exact parallel to what the apostle is teaching in Romans 6:3-4, for it means that a true follower of Christ has died to his past life – like a man on his way to execution. Only, in Romans 6, the man has already died and been buried (had permanently changed).It is that we have died to sin: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Union with Christ! And death to sin!

This is what baptism signifies, and in that order. The most important idea is that we have been taken out of one state and put into another. We have had an experience similar to that of the Jews after they had been brought through the Red Sea. They were joined to Moses; we are joined to Christ. Or, to put in the words of Galatians 3:27, we have been clothed with Christ. We are in Christ’s uniform. And what that means, if we look backward, is that we have died to whatever has gone before. We died to the old life when Christ transferred us to the new one. As soon as we see how these ideas go together, we see why Paul’s thoughts turned to the word baptism as a way of unfolding what he had in mind when he said: “How can we live in [sin] any longer?”

When Paul refers to our being baptized into Christ, he is not thinking chiefly of the sacrament of baptism but rather of our having been joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. The very next verses (vv. 5-7) prove this view, for in them Paul speaks explicitly of our being “united with Him in His death [and] resurrection.” This is something the Holy Spirit does. But while emphasizing this, I don’t want to miss the significance of the sacrament of baptism as a Christian’s public renunciation of his past life and a profession of his new identification with Christ.

This is not so obvious to us today perhaps, since baptism is something that generally takes place in an exclusively Christian environment and for many people means very little. But this was not so in Paul’s day. And it’s not so in many places in the world even today. In the ancient world, to be identified with Christ in baptism was a bold and risky declaration. It often put the believer’s in jeopardy. When a Christian was baptized, he was saying to the state as well as to his fellow believers that he was now a follower of Jesus Christ and that he was going to be loyal to Him regardless of the outcome. It meant “Christ before Caesar.”

Baptism was as nearly an irreversible step as a believer in Jesus Christ could take. Therefore, even though Paul is not thinking primarily about water baptism in Romans 6 – water baptism is something we do; the baptism Paul is talking about is something that has been done to us – the sacrament of baptism is nevertheless a fit public testimony to what baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit means: that we have been united to Christ and that the old life is done for us forever. That is what you professed is you have been baptized, particularly if you have been baptized as an adult. You have told the world you are not going back, that you are going forward with Jesus.

I know there are questions on many people’s minds: “But what if I do go back? What if I do sin?” Here are three points to remember: (1) It won’t work. If you are a true Christian, you cannot return to sin in the same way you were in it previously. You can sin. We do sin. But it’s not the same. If anything else, you cannot enjoy sin as you did before, and you will not even be able to do it convincingly. (2) God will stop you. God will not stop you from sinning, but He will stop you from continuing in it, and He will do it in one of two ways. Either He will make your life so miserable that you will curse the day you got into sin and beg God to get you out of it, or God will put an end to your life. Paul told the Corinthians that because they had dishonored the Lord’s Supper, God had actually taken some of them to heaven (1 Cor. 11:30). If God did it to them for that offense, He will do it to you for persistence in more sinful things. (3) If you do return to the life you lived before coming to Christ and if you are able to continue in it, you are not saved. In fact, it’s even worse than that. If you are able to go back once you have come to Christ, it means, not only that you are not saved, but that you even have been inoculated against Christianity (see Heb. 6:4-6). Those verses in Hebrews are not referring to a true believer in Christ being lost – how could they in view of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 and 8? – But rather of one who was close enough to have tasted the reality of Christ and who nevertheless turned back. It teaches that the closer you are to Christ, if you do go back, the harder it will be to come to Christ again. In some cases it will be impossible.

So don’t go back! If you have been saved by Jesus, you have been saved forever. There is nothing before you but to go on growing in righteousness!

Romans 6:1-4 Reflection Questions:

Where do you see echoes of the Exodus story in 6:1-5?

How does Paul proceed to answer the question he raises in 6:1?

What is Paul’s understanding of baptism in 6:1-5?

According to Paul’s argument in these first five verses, a believer has experienced a change of status. What is required of those with this new status?