Tonight we’re going to return to the sixth chapter of Romans. What I’m trying to do in this series is sort of pick up 35 years of ministry and condense the main doctrines that we have talked about in these four decades of time together here at Grace church. My goal is not to go into some sort of an esoteric detail or elevated understanding of these things, but merely to give you the basic comprehension of the important doctrines. These are the things that we build our Christian life on: a proper understanding of what it is that the Scripture affirms that relates to us and our relationship to the living God through His Son.
We’re talking now about the issue of spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation began for us with the great doctrine of regeneration when in our deadness we were given life. It included conversion when we were transformed into a new kind of person. That launched us into a lifelong experience of sanctification. Sanctification, you remember, is being separated from sin – being separated from sin.
And I think most helpful for us to understand the nature of this sanctification is to look right with the apostle Paul at what the Spirit of God revealed to him in this regard, and it is given to us, I think most notably, in Romans 6 and 7. And all I really want to do is follow the flow of Paul’s argument. I’m not even interested in preaching a sermon, as it were, on a few verses and developing the details and launching off into various areas of related material and application. I just want to help you to follow the flow of Paul’s argument because I think it’s so critical for us to understand the marvelous spiritual transformation that’s going on all the time in the life of a believer.
And we find ourselves, in chapter 6, looking at the second half of the chapter tonight, verses 15 to 23. Now, obviously, this is a text of Scripture to which we could give our attention for a lengthy period of time, but let’s embrace it all, if we can, tonight or maybe in two sessions at the most.
Verse 15 - let me read it to you – “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I’m speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore, what benefit were you then deriving from the thing of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now, Jesus Himself said, back in John chapter 8, verse 34, “Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin.” Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin. Jesus introduced us, at that point, to being a slave to sin, having sin as a dominating master. That is true of every person who comes into this world; every person who is born is born under the tyranny of sin. Sin dominates to the degree that it controls all thought, all words, all motives, all speech, and all action totally. “And there is none righteous,” says Paul back in Romans 3, “no, not one. There is none that seeks after God; they’re all gone out of the way of righteousness.”
Jesus said, “If you commit sin, you’re a slave of sin.” And that is the characteristic definition of every human being before salvation.
Verse 17, he mentions that you “were” slaves of sin. Verse 20, you “were” slaves of sin. Twice in this section we are reminded that we were slaves of sin. Back in verse, the indication is that sin “was” our master. And the effect of this, verse 21, the outcome is death. Verse 23, “The wages of sin is death.” The whole human race is born into slavery to sin, with the ultimate outcome of spiritual and eternal death. Sin is that internal force in everyone that clings and corrupts the whole person. It is like rampant cancer in every organ of a body. It is incurable; it is terminal. And worse, death provides no relief. It only casts that sinful soul into an eternal condition not only of sinfulness, but of punishment for that eternal sinfulness.
There is no relief. Sometimes you hear people say, when someone’s ravaged by cancer and they die, “Well, at least the suffering is over.” Apart from Christ, the suffering is only just begun. Those of us who understand the power of sin; those of us who understand the depth of sin, the pervasive dominance of sin; those of us who have come to grips with its debilitating presence, its devastating effects; those of us who understand its potential to doom us to painful suffering forever; those of us who understand all of that, and those of us who desire to be rescued; those of us who desire to be delivered, and those of us who want to have sin’s bondage broken should be drawn to this text like metal filings to a magnet because this text makes an amazing offer. Amazing.
Verse 18, having been “freed” from sin. Verse 22, having been “freed” from sin. That is the promise of this passage. This is God’s promise to those who are in Christ, to those of us who have come to faith in Him. The greatest gift, the gift that has no equal: freedom from sin, its penalty, its power, and someday its presence.
So, the text before us is all about being freed from sin. Nothing is more wonderful to those who understand the reality of sin, both in time and eternity.
Now, backing up a little bit in Romans, just so we understand how we got here, Paul is presenting the marvelous story of salvation. He starts out, of course, in the first few chapters – chapters 1 through chapter 3 – talking about our sinfulness, that whether we have the Law or don’t have the Law, we are still guilty before God. Jew or Gentile, all of us are bound by sin, dominated by sin, and headed for eternal punishment.
And then in chapter 3, verse 21, he talks about salvation and unfolds that great passage, in chapters 3, 4, and 5, on the doctrine of justification, how it is that God declares us to be righteous through faith in Christ.
Having completed the section in chapter 5, in which he discusses justification, he then moves in chapter 6 to the companion reality of sanctification, which is the inseparable twin of justification. Whoever it is that God justifies, He sanctifies. That is to say whoever it is that God declares righteous, He also makes righteous, and that is the theme of chapter 6.
And the first 14 verses, which we already looked at, say that in Christ the power of sin is broken because we have a new life - we have a new life. We have died to sin. We have been united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and risen to newness of life. We have a new life. The penalty for sin is paid, and the power of sin is broken, and we walk in a new life. We will not go on sinning so that grace may abound because we can’t; it is contrary to our new life.
And then in verses 15 to 23, he points up that we have a new Lord, or a new Master. We cannot go on sinning because we have a new Master, and whoever is our Master we obey. This argument is important because the legalists are going to say – the ritualists, the works righteousness people, the folks who thought you earned your way to heaven – “Well, if you come along with this grace message, and you say salvation is all by grace, and it’s not by works, it’s all a gift of grace, then people are going to run amok. You can’t just preach grace or you’ll set people on a path of sin.”
This is an old argument, and it’s an important one. In fact, I’m convinced that that conclusion should be the natural result of preaching the gospel. I think that you should, by preaching the gospel of pure grace, raise that question; otherwise, you somehow mucked up grace. People should automatically say, “Wait a minute, if this doesn’t depend at all on what I do, and if all my sins past, present, and future are covered, and if I now live in a condition of grace so that where my sin abounds, grace much more abounds, doesn’t this set me free to do whatever I want? If what I do makes no contribution to my salvation, then am I not free to do whatever I want?”
I think you should raise that question. Good gospel preaching of grace inevitably raises that question. And Paul’s answer is, “No! First of all, you’re not going to go on sinning because you have a new life. Secondly, you’re not going to go on sinning because you have a new Lord; you have a new Master; you have a new dominating force.”
And so, as we come to verse 15, and Paul comes to the second argument that he makes here – first one about a new life, the second about a new Master or new Lord – we find his words very reminiscent of verse 1. Verse 1 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” Verse 15 says, “What then? Shall we sin because we’re not under law but under grace?” And in both cases, the answer - verse 2, “May it never be”; verse 15, “May it never be.”
Now, this tells us the chapter is divided into these two sections. First a question, then an answer, then an explanation. And the question is posed by the imaginary antagonist. Paul knows what the true preaching of grace should produce. It should produce some confusion about, “Wait a minute, if it’s all of grace, then are we free to sin and let grace abound? If it’s all of grace, then we can go on being slaves of sin. Is that what this is saying?”
The parallel, by the way, between verse 1 and verse 15, between verse 2 and verse 15, tell us clearly that Paul is giving two arguments to the same query. The issue is now that I’m a believer, what is my relationship to sin? And the bottom line is you have died to it. You have died to it, and you have risen to a new life, and you have risen to a new Lord, a new Master.
The prevailing question – I’ll say it one more time – does the doctrine of salvation by grace alone give freedom to sin in an unrestrained way? Does the message of grace free the believer to sin without restraint? In view of the fact that where sin abounds grace abounds, shall we not then continue in sin and let grace do its abounding? Or as he puts it here in verse 15, in view of the fact that we are no longer under the Law – verse 14, we’re not under law but under grace – if we’re no longer under the Law but we’re under grace, then we can do whatever we want and pay no attention to the Law.
In either case, the idea is that the doctrine of grace in salvation leads to lawlessness, either because your sin makes grace abound or because you’re now fee from the Law and no longer does it have any constraint upon you. And this would be the criticism of the typical legalist. Grace preaching and grace teaching always is libel to this charge. It always exposes itself to this criticism and it should. So the question what then? Shall we sin deliberately, persistently, continuously, habitually? Shall we sin because we’re not under law but under grace? That is in the sense that the Law can no longer punish us because in Christ the punishment has been paid. Since the Law has no power to punish us, shall we just go on living any way we want to live? Does grace free us to do that? And as I told you last time, there are groups of people who actually advocate that. Freedom to sin, no problem under grace - is that what Paul is teaching?
Well, that’s the antagonist’s question. Let’s look at the answer in verse 15. “May it never be!” Mē genoito again, “God forbid! Absolutely not! It is absurd; it is utterly unacceptable, wholly to be rejected!”
And you go from the question of the antagonist to the very short answer, and then to the axiom, verse 16. Here is the general truth; it’s not even theological; it’s just an axiomatic self-evident statement that doesn’t need any proof because it’s obvious, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
What does that mean? Well, simply this: “Know you not” starts out by offering this as such an obvious statement that you can’t not know it to be true. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it self-evident? Can’t you see this principle, that when you yield yourselves servants to obey, you then become the servants of the one to whom you’ve yielded yourself? I mean isn’t that what service is? If you give yourself to any master, then you become the slave of that master. And when you commit to obey a master, then you go on obeying the master to whom you’ve made the commitment. Once you choose your master, you’re bound to obey.
The fact is, if your master is sin, then you’re going to obey sin. If your master is righteousness, then you’re going to obey righteousness. This is a universal law. Everybody lives with a master. There are two families in the human race: the sin family and the righteous family. People are either in Adam or they’re in Christ. They’re either under the reign of sin and death or they’re under the reign of righteousness and life. They’re either under the reign of iniquity or they’re under the reign of grace. There is no middle ground, and that’s the axiom. You know that. I mean everybody knows that. You present yourselves to someone and say, “I’m going to be your slave and obey you,” then you’re going to obey the one to whom you made the commitment.
If you are the slave of sin, you obey sin, and you die. If you’re the slave of righteousness, you obey righteousness and you live. This is the axiom. So, the antagonist raises the question. Paul gives a very brief answer, “Impossible! No, no, no!” And then he articulates a simple axiom, “Once you have chosen your master, it is self-evident, axiomatic, by the very definition of that fact that you become bound to obey your master. And either it is sin resulting in death, or it is obedience resulting in righteousness. You either serve sin or you serve righteousness. And that’s just the basic understanding of what it understands to be a believer. When you came to Christ, you died – past tense. Your old man - as we saw last time, your old self died, was buried, and a new person arose. And you now have a new Master, and your Master is the Lord and righteousness. You are not only ethically bound to obey, you are creatively bound to obey. It is now in the fabric of your being to do what once you could not do.
You came into the world fit only to obey sin. You have been recreated to obey righteousness. This is a – this is not an “ought to”; this is a fact. Even in the presence of his sinfulness and yours and mine, even in the realization of our unredeemed flesh, even knowing that our sanctification is progressive and our holiness is far from perfect, it is characteristic of us to obey righteousness. “We formerly were hostile and evil,” says Paul. But that is the past. Everything is now new; the old self is dead and gone.
Salvation is not addition. Some people have the idea that you are who you are, and when you get saved, something gets added. The Bible never teaches that. Never. I grew up hearing that all the time, that you are an old man, and when you got save, you got a new man, and then the old man and the new man fought all the time on equal ground; and the black dog and the white dog, and whichever one you said, “Sic ‘em,” to wins. You’ve heard that.
While there is certainly a battle, that is a wrong way to understand the reality – the spiritual reality – of what’s going on. Salvation isn’t addition, it doesn’t leave the old unchanged; it is transformation. And internally, you are a whole new being. In fact, in some ways, when you die and go to heaven, that’ll be less of a change than your conversion was.
You say, “That’s hard to believe.”
But it’s true. You already have a new creation in you created by God for righteousness. It is debilitated by the presence of the flesh that incarcerates that new creation. When you die, you don’t need new creation; you just need to get rid of the flesh. You’re only waiting, Romans 8 says, for the redemption of your body. You have already been made completely new on the inside. You are now no longer the slave of sin, but you are the slave of righteousness.
So, first part of the chapter, verses 1 to 14, we don’t go on sinning because we have a new life; we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection. We have died to sin; it has no power over us. We live in a new life. Secondly, in verses 15 to 23, we have risen to have a new Master – God, righteousness rule in our lives, and we obey His commands.
Now, in verses 17 and following, Paul moves to one other step, and we’ll just call that the argument. He starts out with what the antagonist would say, gives a short answer, states an axiom that you obey whoever your master is. And now he sort of unpacks his argument, and it’s pretty clear, as you flow through the argument, what he’s saying. Let’s just take it a little bit at a time and see if we can’t understand it. This is where he kind of explains and extends this axiom or the principle that we saw in verse 16. And he does it by contrasting the two slaveries.
First of all, look at verse 17, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” “God be thanked,” he says. Why? Because He’s the Author and Finisher of our faith. Because He is the only one who can break our slavery to sin. It is all of God as we well know.
And he says, “Thanks be to God because” – verse 17 – “you were servants or slaves of sin.” “You were” is an imperfect verb meaning continually in past time. The tense suggesting this is what you were by nature, what you have always been; this is natural condition – involuntary, forced dominance by sin.
But all that changed – verse 17 – “when you became obedient from the heart that form of teaching to which you were committed.” There’s so much in that statement. It all changed when you became obedient from the heart, not a superficial thing, not an external thing, not religiosity, but heart obedience, when from deep down inside you began to obey God. This indicates a change in the nature, a change of the will, motivation. You became obedient from the heart. How? By the miracle of regeneration, the miracle of conversion through repentance and faith. And that obedience was launched when you responded obediently to that form of teaching to which you were committed.
This is such a rich statement, “You heard the true doctrine.” What he means - “that form of teaching” – what he means by – that’s the word tupos. It is the word basically that means mold. It’s a mold. And what he really is saying here is you were poured into a mold of saving truth like molten metal is poured into a mold. The idea is that there is a – that gospel truth is a mold into which a person is poured like hot metal. And when the metal is cooled, it can be lifted out in solid form exactly in the shape of that mold. You were molded in the shape of the gospel. It’s just a great thought - rich thought. You have been poured into biblical truth, and you have come out in the very image of that truth. You’re like living patterns of what you believe. You are like models of holiness and models of righteousness. Another way to say it would be that the teaching to which you have submitted has reshaped you, has stamped you with its image. God saves you; He pours into this mold of gospel truth, of regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.
This time the melted-down and metamorphosed slave of sin, who has been living his whole life in the image of deception and satanic lies – this time, poured into the mold of gospel truth, comes forth in a brand new image. Not just understanding a new doctrine, not just understanding or believing new truth, but literally being shaped by that truth so that you are transformed.
The great Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, “Scriptural teaching is not a vague, formless, impression of truth, although you would certainly think it was today. Scriptural teaching,” he says, “is a definite body of teaching, a hard mold of truth into which the Christian is to be melted and poured until he takes on its shape which is the Lord Jesus Christ living in him and controlling him. Because they are part of this divine mold, all the doctrines of the Christian faith are closely related. Therefore, if one of them is destroyed, the mold is shattered. We are shaped by sound gospel doctrine.”
To understand the righteousness of God and the holiness of God, and the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement He provided, and the great doctrine of regeneration and repentance and conversion and justification and sanctification – to know all of those things, they are all part of the hard mold of the gospel into which we are shaped, and we cannot remove one without shattering the mold.
A true understanding of sound doctrine related to the gospel is foundational. It is into that mold that we are poured and genuinely transformed. And once you come out, you come out totally different. You come out to live a life of obedience to your new Master who is God, your new motivation which is to pursue holiness, your new desire to be righteous, your new love to love God and His Word and His people.
Justification then starts the process of sanctification. We are, in every sense, men and women made completely new. Everything has changed. We come into this new life, according to Titus 2:12, having been “instructed to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purity for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” That’s who you are. That’s who you are.
The old is gone; the new has come. And the Bible defines you as one who denies ungodliness, denies worldly desires; lives sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looks for the return of Christ; one who purifies his life as belonging to God and is zealous for good deeds. This is the new casting of the Christian, and it’s a hard cast. It’s not malleable and flexible; it’s firm.
And verse 18 describes that, then, as having been freed from sin. What a statement. “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” This is what characterizes the newly molded believer.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re free from temptation. Of course not. You’re going to be tempted. It doesn’t mean you’re free from sinning; you’re going to sin. And if you say you have no sin, you make God – what? – a liar - 1 John 1. But you are free from the absolute tyranny of sin. You are free from the absolute mastery of sin. You no longer have to sin; there is no one in the future to blame but yourself. And before that, you could certainly blame Adam, and if you feel more like it, you can blame Eve. But you are no longer an involuntary, forced slave. You now are free from the tyranny of sin. And God has planted in you the incorruptible seed of righteousness, and righteousness is defined by God in His character and in Hs Word and in His Son. That righteousness is what you desire.
It doesn’t mean that we simply admire righteousness. It doesn’t mean simply that we desire righteousness. It doesn’t mean simply that we are trying to be righteous; it means that we are dominated, controlled, empowered, influenced by righteousness. As once we were tyrannized over and ruled by and governed by sin, we are now tyrannized over and ruled by and governed by righteousness as defined in the character of God in the pages of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ.
These are such glorious realities that they almost carry us away. We are now slaves of obedience and slaves of righteousness and slaves of God. Are we then going to continue in sin and lawlessness? Ridiculous.
You show me someone who says they’re a Christian and because of grace and because they are no longer under the consequence of violating the law, it having been satisfied in the death of Christ, they are just free to go on sinning so grace may abound, and free to go on sinning since the law has no tyranny, and I will show you someone who’s not a Christian. And your new Master, your new mold doesn’t let you do that. Your new life won’t let you do that, and your new Lord won’t let you do that.
In fact, your freedom is, for the first time in your life, the freedom to do what pleases God. Your liberty in Christ is not to do wrong, but for the first time to do right. Jesus said it, John 8, “Whoever continues in my word is my real disciple” - whoever goes on doing what is right, pursing righteousness and holiness.
So, there are two slaveries, as Paul kind of unfolds his argument here. There is one that began at birth, a slavery to sin, and one that began at new birth, the slavery to righteousness. Their progress is indicated in verse 19. These two slaveries – “I’m speaking” - he says in verse 19 –“in human terms” – or in using a human analogy – “because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so no present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
What he’s saying here is, “Look, I’m using this human analogy; I’m talking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, simply meaning I’m using a slave-master analogy as an accommodation in conveying this profound truth made necessary by our human limitations.”
When he says because of the weakness of your flesh – because you’re human, because you’re mortal, because even your thinking is, to some degree, still corrupted. You’re not yet glorified, and you need some help to grasp these great spiritual truths. And so, I’m talking to you in simple, analogical terms to accommodate the limitations of our fleshly faculties. The point he wants you to see is this, “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which resulted in further lawlessness, so now you present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
So, he goes from the statement of fact in verses 17 and 18, “You were slaves of sin, you are now obedient from the heart to the form of teaching the gospel to which you were committed, having been freed from sin, you’re now slaves of righteousness.” Secondly, he moves to the progression of that reality, “One results in further lawlessness, the other results in further holiness.”
So, having described our state or our condition, he now goes on to discuss our progress, our practice. Once our lives went from lawlessness to further lawlessness, now our lives go from righteousness to further righteousness. “Once we yielded up our members.” What does that mean? Anything that’s part of our mortality doesn’t just mean our physical body, fingers, and hands, and arms, and eyes, and those things. It refers to all of our mortality, and that means our minds. We know our minds are not perfect because they think corrupt thoughts, whatever is left in us that is fallen.
It used to be that all of that was yielded to sin. In fact, in verse 19, he uses the word impurity – akatharsia – pollution, defilement internally - and lawlessness – anomia – rebellion eternally. Once we were vile on the inside and vile on the outside. And all that occurred was lawlessness and further lawlessness. No choice. The body and all its members, including the mind, in complete harmony with the unredeemed spirit and soul, agrees to pursue sin and nothing but sin and evil – only do evil continually and nothing else. Even their good is bad good; and that is even their philanthropy. Even their kindness - and there’s a lot of that – is bad good because the motive is less than to glorify God and honor His Son. Self is the motive, and that is the ultimate evil.
So, all that ever came out of it was lawlessness and further lawlessness. But now present your members as slaves to righteousness resulting in further righteousness or sanctification. In your prior life, your members – you’re whole self – 100 percent yielded to sin. Now yield your 100 percent to your new Master. And again, this new man, this new creation is created in the image of God, and it is holy and righteous. And it produces holy longings and a hunger for what is righteous.
This is the marvel about being a believer. There is now in you a newly formed new man, and that new man is holy and righteous, but it is incarcerated in your mortality, your corruptible humanness which you then must yield to the impulses of the new creation.
It’s very much like Romans 12, which is familiar, I think, to all of us who know this book, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Be not conformed to this world, be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
One of the things we have to keep doing is taking our unredeemed flesh and putting it up on the altar of sacrifice and yielding it up to God. This is where the battle is fought. But it will be our most natural thing to serve righteousness. It is most consistent with the new life in us, to present our members as slaves of righteousness.
What the apostle is saying is that as you yield all of your life – your thought life, your actions, your words, your motivation, your emotions – as you yield all of that to righteousness, as you follow the driving impulse of that new and holy creation that is in you, as you go in that direction, you’re going to find that you will go from righteousness to righteousness to righteousness to righteousness, and that’s the purest and truest progression of your new life. Higher levels of holiness just as sinners go to lower and lower and lower levels of sinfulness.
Are you saying that Christians don’t sin?
No, because we don’t always yield up that fallen part of us. That’s why we’re told here, “Present,” because you have to do that. It’s not going to happen automatically, because of the presence of that evil flesh. Paul says it’s so hard. Verse 21 of chapter 7, “I find the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good.” That sorts it out right there. Who am I? I’m the one who wishes to do good. I am the new man who hungers for holiness and righteousness. But there is a reality, and evil is present in me. And verse 22, “I joyfully concur with the Law of God in the inner man.” The real me longs for the Law of God, “but there’s this other operative power in the members of my body, and it wages war against the law of my mind. And it succeeds, makes me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am!”
We will always feel that wretchedness. I tell young people this because they ask me all the time – they ask me, “Will I ever get victory over sin?” Young people can be tempted pretty intensely, and they want to know if it’s going to be like that their whole life.
And I’ve said so many times to them, “Yes, you will progress as a true believer from righteousness to righteousness to righteousness as you yield your members, and the spirit does the sanctifying work, and you’ll go from one level of glory to the next, to the next, to the next. But I have to remind you that when Paul said that he was a wretched man, he was a very mature believer.”
And the point is this, you sin less, but you feel worse. Why? Because you have grown to a deeper and deeper love for righteousness and a greater and greater animosity toward sin; so, even though you sin less, you feel worse. If you are without Christ, you go from bad to worse, and you become more wretched and more wretched. If you are in Christ, you become cleaner and cleaner and purer and purer and holier and holier and more and more conformed to the image of Christ as the power of that new life and the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word operating within you move you down the path of sanctification.
So, he contrasts the position – a slave to sin, a slave to righteousness. Contrasts the progression – lawlessness to more lawlessness, righteousness to more righteousness and sanctification.
And then in verses 20 to 23, he contrasts the end; listen to what he says. Verse 20, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. Now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome is eternal life. For the wages of sin is always death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And he looks to the ultimate promise. You go from the position to the practice or progression and then to the ultimate promise. And he answers the question, where do these slaveries end up?
Sin, which is noted in verse 20 as being free in regard to righteousness – that is sin being void of any righteousness - sin, verse 21, being void of any benefit, produces only the outcome of death. That’s all. “You look back on your sinful life,” he says, “now and you’re ashamed.” The fruit of sin just fills people with shame. Lawlessness to lawlessness to lawlessness, a life of shame that ends in death.
John Calvin, commenting on this verse, said, “As soon as the godly begin to be enlightened by the Spirit of Christ and the preaching of the gospel, they freely acknowledge that the whole of their past life, which they live without Christ, is worthy of condemnation. So far from trying to excuse themselves, they are in fact ashamed of themselves. Indeed, they go farther and continually bear their disgrace in mind so that the shame of it may make them more truly and willingly humble before God.”
And all there ever was in that life was shame, and all it ever produced is death. Not just physical death, but the death that is eternal, the death of the soul in a hopeless and everlasting hell.
But on the other hand, “Now” – verse 22 – “being freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive a completely different benefit; you derive sanctification and its outcome: eternal life.” Eternal life. Literally he says you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end of it eternal life.
Look, can we sin? Willingly, happily, gladly because where sin abounds grace more abounds? No. We won’t; we have a new life. Can we sin because we’re not under the tyranny of the law? Its penalty having been paid, it can lay no claim on us; we’re not under condemnation. No, because we have, in this new life, been shaped into a brand new mold which is consistent with the teaching to which we have given ourselves, and we have now come out with a new Master.
We understand that our position is different, our practice is different, and the promised end is different. If you are one with Christ, and having died with Him have now risen to new life, you have a new Lord. You could never ever have the same relationship to sin. You have died to sin; you’re alive to God. You have died to the dominance and slavery of sin, and you have a new Master so that justification is linked to sanctification, and sanctification is defined as real and true holiness of nature. We are holy.
Salvation, then, is the making of believers into holy people and then calling for them to live up to that holiness which is in them, which is who they are, by yielding up their members as instruments of righteousness.
Most people are familiar with the Benedictine monks, and they had a policy that a man accepted into a monastery came there for a year on probation. During that time, he was given a little cell and the clothes that he wore when he came there were hung in his cell. Any time, in that first year, he could put on those worldly clothes and walk out. Only at the end of the year were those clothes thrown away. They wanted them to take time to count the cost; after that, it was for life.
Jesus is not looking for people who want to add Him to their sin. He’s calling for people who want to step apart from the world and stay apart and progress in the path of holiness all their life. Grace covers sin, it doesn’t condone it. Grace also transforms the sinner. Let’s pray.
Father, we have covered so much rich truth tonight and are so thankful for the miracle that has been wrought in our lives. We literally are miracles, and the world doesn’t know who we are because the glorious manifestation of the children of God hasn’t yet occurred. They look at us and think we’re just normal people. They have no idea that we are new creatures who, in the inner man, are holy and righteous and godly, that we are the temple of the Spirit of God who dwells in us in, as it were, that holy place that You have made in us.
Help us to understand the reality of this miracle and to know that the manifestation of it is that we long for obedience to dominate our lives and not obedience to sin, but obedience to righteousness. And from the heart that’s our longing because You’ve changed us. And we want to go from righteousness to righteousness to righteousness. We want to progress from holiness to holiness to holiness, from one level of glory to the next as the Spirit conforms us more and more into the image of Christ. And this is the mark of true salvation.
We thank You that You’ve already made us new on the inside and we are already fitted for heaven. There is that part of us that is ready to go into Your glorious presence without an alteration, and the battle comes because we’re still in this human flesh. And that newness is incarcerated in sinful and unredeemed flesh, and that’s why we cry out, longing for our house not made with hands which is eternal in the heavens. We don’t want to be unclothed, but clothed with perfect, holy immortality.
Until that time, may we so live as to manifest Christ, and may we constantly yield up our members as instruments of righteousness. May we give our body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto You, which is our spiritual act of worship.
We thank You for the ongoing work of the Spirit who does this in us, even imperceptibly to us. And as the Word does its work and the Spirit, we will rejoice to see the increase of righteousness, even as we sorrow over the ever-present reality of our sin.
Give us victory and give us hope for that day when we’ll escape the debilitating effects of our remaining sin and enter into the full and eternal joy of being like our Savior. And we pray in His name, amen, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.