Which Road Are We Taking: Romans 6:15-23

Thoughts from Passage

Life is full of all kinds of things. We all travel various roads and the journey takes us to all kinds of places. But, what if at the end of the journey and all the roads, there really are only two choices? What if at the end of the day we either serve God or our own sinfulness? What if all of life comes down to whether or not we accept God’s grace and enter into relationship with him through the resurrected Jesus?

This really is Paul’s point. Paul is trying to say that all of us live as either people who have been transformed through the gift of God’s grace or we live as people who are enslaved to sin. True freedom comes in obedience to Christ. True hope comes in the sacrificial love of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul is asking which road we want to take because there are really only two choices.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul is once again reminding his readers that there is no real love or relationship when we live as if God’s grace is there so we can live however we want. Paul wants his readers to know there is a way of living that leads us away from that kind of life. Paul is quite certain that all of us serve someone.

Before you disagree with me in this idea let us think about the idea that there really is no “self-made man.” It is a myth that much in our world have bought into. Everyone has a boss or a manager, or there is a board that holds them accountable. Even if someone owns their own business there is no way around the fact that there is a customer of some kind. We could even go so far as to say that someone could not work and live off the land in the middle of nowhere and the individual owns the land. However, that individual would still reside in some country and be under the laws of that country.

Even if we don’t like Paul’s use of slavery we are left with the idea that we really cannot escape is that we all serve someone. What Paul is saying is that in Jesus we don’t have to serve our sin nature, but in fact we can be freed from the sin nature and take part in Jesus’ resurrected, new life.

This new life begins to transform us into new beings, but only as long as we allow God to lead. As God leads we truly become new, different beings. It is as William Greathouse writes, “Even after the issue of sovereignty has been settled, victory over sin is not inevitable. For this reason. It is a mistake to speak of a “state” of holiness; it is always a maintained “condition.” Since it exists only by virtue of a sustained relationship of loving obedience to the holy God, it can never be conceived of as a human possession.”[1]

Paul goes on to contrast sin and obedience and show how they cannot be compatible. Sin is more than ““missing the mark”; it is rebellion against God. It is such a serious affair that believers who willfully disobey God find themselves enslaved once again to sin.”[2] This move away from sin and moving toward righteousness is a move that goes so deep inside an individual that Paul uses an analogy of us following our heart. He is not saying that if we follow our heart we will end up righteous. Following our heart in that way seems to always lead to sin not righteousness! But, if we follow our hearts that are tuned to Christ and the right relationship that brings we may find ourselves so transformed that we move towards holiness. This holy life is the one that God calls us all to live.

Paul’s use of the slavery analogy only goes so far and he knows that as he writes it. He is trying to use some type of analogy that shows a total commitment to something. However, there is no analogy that does this well enough. There is no analogy that shows how our whole lives are either totally turned toward right relationship with God or they are totally turned toward sin.

In other places Paul talks about a growth in grace, but even that growth must be wholly turned toward God. There is no way that the growth happens if we are turning towards sin. Paul is wanting us to know that choosing Jesus impacts all of our life. “Slavery to sin makes us “instruments of wickedness.” Slavery to God makes us “instruments of righteousness.” Slavery to uncleanness and lawlessness leads only to more lawlessness, but slavery to righteousness leads to holiness, or better to sanctification.”[3]

“Our choice, in fact, is not between slave masters. It is whether or not we will put ourselves fully and unconditionally at God’s disposal. Will we volunteer to be used as he sees fit in the cause of right? Apparently, only volunteers will do. In justification God sets us free from our involuntary slavery to sin, but he leaves it to justified believers to decide how we will use our freedom. Only as we submit to slavery to God do we find real freedom. To serve anyone or anything other than God is to rejoin the rebellion against him…God has an earthly mission for the former sinners he has salvaged from their headlong plummet to certain death. He has things he wants done in this world, and he wants the church to do it…If we make ourselves fully and exclusively available to God, he will not only set us apart for his purposes but also set us within a holy community that will equip us with the holy character we need to accomplish these purposes. Under these circumstances neutrality is impossible.”[4]

What Paul points out and what other scholars I am quoting point out is this. We either choose to be all in for Jesus or we choose to be all out. We either live desiring to be God’s holy people, here and now, and in the life to come or we choose to be slaves to sinfulness. We either live the resurrected life now or we live into death. The resurrected Jesus brings a gift and the gift is new life.

This really is the idea behind what Paul is saying here at the end of this section, that we have earned from our sin is death, but through Jesus we are given a gift. Our wages bring death, but the reward is better than what we have earned! This gift or reward is eternal life. The eternal life starts now. This is the part that we so often miss!

Jesus did not teach about how to die, Paul does not teach on how to die, but they teach on how we are called to live! If we live into this resurrected story of Jesus then we begin to be brought into the future now. Is it possible that living as Jesus calls us to will lead to death? Of course! But, the focus is never on the death and the eternal reward as much as the focus is on living as one of God’s redeemed holy people.

[1] Greathouse, 187.

[2] Greathouse, 190.

[3] Greathouse, 193.

[4] Greathouse, 195.

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