Romans 6:15-23
Either A Slave Of Sin Or A Slave Of God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In January 2000

1.  Our humble church will be conducting Sunday evening services at seven o' clock in Sasayama in the prefecture of Hyohgo.  One day I was driving my car going to Sasayama on the highway towards evening.  To get to Sasayama from Toyonaka where I live you must enter from Chugoku Expressway onto the Maidzuru Expressway.  But, on that day while I was driving I was busy thinking.  I wound up inadvertently missing the junction.  Completely unbeknownst to me, I was heading in the direction of Okayama and before I knew it my car was running further and further westward through scenery unfamiliar to me.

2.  It would never arrive in Sasayama no matter how far west [my car] might go down Chugoku Expressway.  Because it was the wrong way.  If the direction [I am] going in is wrong, then the destination that [I] arrive at will also be wrong.  Well, in the passage we read during our last installment in this series, we had the phrase "slave of sin" in the text.  (6:6).  In the location we read today the phrase "slave of God" appears.  (6:22).  The roads on which one lives either as "a slave of sin" or as "a slave of God" are unmistakably different in their directions.  Consequently, their final destinations will be altogether different.  Furthermore, just as we cannot go down a road in two directions at the same time it is not feasible that we can live simultaneously as "slaves of sin" and as "slaves of God."  In today's worship service, I would like us to put forth our deepest attention to the message of this scripture which we are given and to think hard about these two lives with their different directions which Paul has contrasted and so described.

From A Slave Of Sin To A Slave Of God

3.  So then, please look from verse fifteen to verse eighteen.

"What then?  Because we are not under law but under grace, does it mean we should [go ahead and] sin?  It should never be so.1  Don't you know?  If you follow someone as a slave, you become the person's slave you are following.  In other words, which are you, a slave serving sin and going to death or a slave serving God in obedience and going to righteousness?  But, I give thanks to God.  Though you once were slaves of sin, but now you have accepted the example of the teachings passed on to you and have come to obey them from the heart and are set free from sin and have come to serve righteousness," (verses fifteen through eighteen).

4.  In verse fourteen Paul wrote "You are not under law but under grace."  Then, Paul hypothesizes a question which probably emerged out of that [statement] and says, "Because we are not under law but under grace, does it mean we should [go ahead and] sin?"  The phrase varies but it repeats the same question as chapter six and verse one.  If it is speaking of freedom from the law that requires penalty for a person's sin and if it is speaking of God's grace, wouldn't that lead people to self-indulgence and depravity?  There were people thrusting this type of question at Paul and criticizing him for this.  Also, there were probably some who used Paul's words to justify their sin, claiming "Since we are under the grace of God, no matter what we've done we'll be forgiven."  How deeply rooted in them was the idea that speaking on God's grace would lead humanity to sin?  I think that Paul was very much aware of this.  For that reason he went out of the way to repeat this question and firmly repudiated it.  He said, "It should never be so."

5.  After Paul says that, he shows the two ways we might go on.  There are two paths with totally different destinations.  One is the path where a person lives as a slave in service to sin.  He says its destination point is "death."  The other is the way one lives as a slave in service to God.  Its destination point is "righteousness."  "Death" and "righteousness" are contrasted as conclusions [to a road's path.]  "Death" is a state where one is separated from life.  That is, it means ceasing to exist with God who is indeed very life himself.  The flesh does not simply decay.  "Death" is present even if the body is not rotting.  Then, in the judgment of God [the body] will be completely cast away from God and will arrive in hell.  This is what "death" means.  The final goal of the way that serves sin is "death" as in hell.  Since that's so, "righteousness" which is on the opposite polarity of "death" should mean perfect salvation:  a  perfect salvation where we share in life eternal and live with God.  This is "righteousness," the final goal of the way where one lives as a slave in service to God.  Furthermore, these two ways will never become one and they are two paths heading in two completely different directions.

6.  Well, please recall what is given in the first half of chapter six.  Paul speaks on baptism there.  He sheds light on what it means to live as a believer.  Paul says it is "to participate in the death of Christ."  Christ is the one who died for our sin, but by taking part in his death we are [considered] dead.  What is the reason we are made dead once like that?  It says it is so that we might live in a new life.  Then, it is our self-awareness that is important.  We must see ourselves as God does.  Therefore in verse eleven Paul writes like this:  "In this way, you yourselves have died to sin, but please realize that you are joined to Christ Jesus and alive unto God."

7.  Even what is written in verse seventeen is based on this awareness.  "However, I give thanks to God.  You were once slaves of sin, but ... you are set free from sin and begun to serve righteousness."  Since Paul frequently uses these same words with different meanings, this portion of the text gets complicated, but as far as the substance of this section goes it is simple.  Because "serving righteousness" is given in contrast to "slave of sin," you'd expect the meaning "serving God."  In other words, it means [one's] master has changed.

8.  What does it mean to live in a new life as a person who once died?  It [means] precisely that a person who used to be a slave of sin is living as a slave of God.  Because the person has died to sin, sin is no longer his or her master.  We should not consider sin [our] master.  When a person is a believer it means he or she dies once and changes masters, or rather is given a change of masters.  We should recall that the person is no longer walking towards death with sin as his or her master, but is going towards righteousness with God as his or her master and has begun walking towards an ultimate and perfect salvation.  This is the substance of what has been said so far up to verse eighteen.

Living And Heading For Eternal Life

9.  With that, let's read on what's up next.  I am reading from verse nineteen.

"As I consider the weakness of your flesh, I will make it easy to understand.  As you used to live in sinfulness once as slaves of lawlessness with impurity of your bodily members, now offer them up as slaves of righteousness and live out a holy lifestyle.  When you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.  But, at that time what fruit did you have?  You now feel shame over [those things.]  Their destination was nothing but death.  You are now set free from sin and become slaves of God and are yielding the fruit of a holy lifestyle.  The destination is eternal life," (verses nineteen through twenty-two).

10.  It seems Paul acknowledges that giving an explanation by taking the relationship of a master and a slave as an example does not necessarily express the situation fully.  [In] using the illustration from humanity such as he gave he adds to what he said with "as I consider the weakness of your flesh."  Though hesitating, he continues his talk and even still uses slavery for an example.

11.  Paul further reminds his readers of two things here.  He reminds them of two things that have to do with their past.  The first thing was how they were using their bodily limbs for defilement and for unlawful sin.  We have been so fervent in doing what the master called Sin requires of us!  At one time we gladly used to use our bodies just as sin asked of us.  While reminding us of this fact, he says that with the same fervency in which we used to serve sin "now please offer [your bodily limbs] up as slaves of righteousness and lead holy lives."  By the way, this phrase "please lead holy lives" is not a phrase that expresses a perfected state but the process that moves towards perfection.  Therefore, in one translation it is translated as "sanctification (making holy)."  As we used to use our bodies and lived from defilement to defilement and from sin to sin, now please present your bodies to God and serve God by using them for him.  Furthermore, Paul says head for the perfection of salvation, aim for living perfectly as [one of] God's people and advance in the way of sanctification.

12.  Then, he reminds us of one more thing, which is, the fruit of the sins of [our] shameful past. The text says, "When you used to be slaves of sin you were free from righteousness."  People think not being under any restrictions and being able to live just as they please is freedom.  Surely they are free with respect to righteousness.  That is, they can live freely with respect to God.  However, those would live in the way they please as a free person with respect to God will soon come to see themselves not [really] living as they please.  That's how it is; a person cannot live completely without any restrictions of any kind.  The person who lives as he or she pleases will discover before too long a self that is a slave of sin.  Also, sin will bring forth fruit.  [The person] doesn't usually notice what kind of fruit he or she has while he or she is a slave of sin.  [A person] will first notice it when sin no longer is [his or her] master.  What shameful fruit [you and I] have had!  Ooh, so much shameful fruit!

13.  It's only natural that we want to forget shameful things.  But, Paul gives us a reminder.  He asks, "So then, what kind of fruit did you have in those days?"  Then he says, "you now feel ashamed of them."  Why is that?  Because you mustn't forget.  Because by knowing that shame you can certainly see "their destination points are nothing but death."  Then, as it is recorded in verse twenty-two, you can know the grace that brings one to life as a slave of God.  The one who knows shame seeks the fruit of a holy life.  The one who doesn't know shame will never even seek sanctification.  The person who does not know shame begins to say things like "Since I'm under grace, I should sin."  We should not forget the shameful fruit of the sins from our past.

14.  The other day I was going with my wife to Tokyo.  Tokyo is my wife's home town and mine, too.  It is also a town that brings to mind all of our past ways.  It indeed is a town that causes us to remember shameful and embarrassing things.  My wife put it quite well on the train to Haneda [Airport] on the return to Osaka; she said to me:  "You know there are things we had better not forget."  There is in the lyrics of a certain song the words "Good-bye forever to memories I want to forget," and while she touched on those lyrics she said:  "Though there are things we want to forget, you know there are things we had better not forget." -- While reading this passage of scripture I thought again how true that is.

15.  One way is actually a way to live as a slave of sin though claiming "I'm free."  The fruit it bears is a person filled with shame.   While it bears out a lot of shameful fruit, its final destination is "none other than death," says Paul.  However, there is really no need to walk all the way through such a shameful road.  There is no need serving sin to the point of going to an ultimate eternal death.  [There is no need to] because Christ already died that ultimate death and because he hung on the cross and died in our place.  In truth, although we should have gone to death, he took the judgment of God and died for us.  Therefore, a person should just participate [by faith] in his death.  After participating in his death, one should begin living anew as a person who died once and has already received judgment.  Thus, you should change directions and start walking towards a different goal.  You should begin walking in that direction which [the Bible] states as, "the destination is eternal life."  Furthermore, in reality, the Roman disciples had begun to walk like that.  That's what it means when it says they are Christians.  When we are in tune with that, we shouldn't be able to make statements like "Because we are not under law but under grace, we should [go ahead and] sin."  Paul is making this point clear.

16.  Well, I go back to the first story, I had been driving my car in the wrong direction and suddenly came to and noticed the scenery was different than usual.  Then, basically, I got off the next exit and changed directions. When I noticed it, I had already gone way too far.  But, somehow, I arrived in Sasayama safely and quietly.  That part was normal.  Unless I changed directions, I would never arrive at my original destination and when the direction was correct I would arrive at my destination for sure.  The problem was not "Where am I?" but "Which direction am I going in?"  It's the same in a person's life also.

17.  "The wages which sin pays is death.  But, the gift of God is eternal life based on our Lord Christ Jesus," (verse twenty-three).  The Bible says if we continue serving sin with our lives "death" is to be obtained as payment for it.  The Bible teaches that payment [for sin] consists of losing God the source of eternal life and only going to eternal destruction.  When we face ourselves without self-deception in regard to that grim reality, we know the magnitude of the gift that God prepared for us through the Lord Christ Jesus.  The gift of eternal life is not a payment for our works because we cannot even ask for eternal life as if we deserved it nor can we pay its price.  We just walk on that way which [the Bible] speaks as, "the destination is eternal life."  Truly, the important thing is not "Where am I now?" but "Where am I heading?"

End Note

1 As indicated previously, this is very true to the Greek New Testament and the Japanese Version of the New Testament, but in English we normally translate this as "God forbid."

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