Romans 6:19–23 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
Introduction: The True Nature of Sin in Relation to Grace
God very generously forgives us our sins. However, we should not mistake God’s generousity as toleration for our sins or His simply sweeping them under the rug as insignificant. To drive home this point, St. Paul starts the sixth chapter of Romans with a rhetorical question: “Having heard that grace abounds where sin increases, should we continue in sin that grace may abound all the more?” (adapted from 6:1). He answers immediately: “May it never be so!”
St. Paul wants us to know the true nature of sin in relation to God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Christian, God truly forgives all your sins for the sake of Christ. But do not for a moment think that God’s grace is some soft leniency that overlooks your sins and allow you to continue in them. Of course, that is our problem, thinking we can live without repentance and willfully persisting in our pet sins, expecting God to tolerate our hard hearts and sinful vices. But that can never be.
In Romans 6, St. Paul writes about Baptism so that we may clearly grasp how God’s grace works. In short, grace must rule supreme in the life of a Christian. As Paul says in verse 3: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?. Don’t you know what that means, what that has given to us and made us to be? Don’t you know that grace rules supreme in the believer over sin and disobedience? Remember, Paul says, the righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
No longer enslaved by sin, but free in Christ!
We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too would be raised from the death of sin and walk in newness of life (see Romans 6:4). That newness of life is sanctification, which is God’s gift that leads to eternal life and perfection. If, by Holy Baptism, we have been united with Christ in a death like His— that is, a death by crucifixion, a death in obedience to God the Father—, then we shall certainly be united with Christ in a resurrection like His—which we are in Holy Baptism. In Titus 3 Paul calls this Baptism a Baptism both of regeneration, that is justification, and also renewal, that is sanctification. We know that our old man, our sinful nature, that wicked part of us that still abides in us this side of glory—that old man, the Old Adam in us, hates God and His Law. This sinful nature, the old self, the old man, the Old Adam, was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin for which our old self lusts would be brought to nothing (see Romans 6:6).
Here is the point: we are no longer enslaved by sin. We are free in Christ. Baptism has killed us, and anyone who has died to sin has been set free from sin.
Ruled by grace, we are now free to battle against sin and serve God!
To emphasize this point, St. Paul asks his rhetorical question a second time: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but are under grace?”. And he gives the same answer: “May it never be so!” (6:15).
We are free from sin, not for sin. Being free from sin makes us slaves to righteousness. You are slaves to the one that you obey (see 6:15-16). Either you are a slave to sin, hating God and His Law and seeking your own way, which leads to damnation, or you are obedient to God, loving His Law and His ways, putting the old man to death by daily repentance and contrition in the means of grace, which leads to righteousness. This is what it is to be baptized.
That is the set up for today’s reading. St. Paul proclaims: Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, [you who are baptized] now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
You are not free in regard to righteousness. Oh, you have been freed of the Law’s condemnations. You have been and are absolved of your sins. You are not guilty. However, you have not been freed from the Law’s demands. You have been freed of sin by Baptism which saves. You now belong to God. Free of sin, you become a slave of God. His mark is upon you. You are ruled by grace.
Baptism does not make you your own lord; Christ Jesus, into whom you are baptized, is your Lord. You were born a slave to sin, with no choice but to do sin’s bidding. But now, being baptized into Christ and ruled by God’s grace, you are free to engage in the life-long battle against yourself, the devil, and the world. You are now free to serve God in righteousness and purity.
We live by faith! Baptism saves! Grace rules over sin!
You still sin, but you are no longer a slave to sin. All of this can be a bit confusing – which is why Paul spends so much time on it in Romans and his other writings. If we are not ruled by sin, why do we sin? If we are free from condemnation of the Law, why does our obedience matter? And why does Paul call us slaves?
In today’s Epistle. Paul is telling us what is true and that which we confess by faith, not by sight or reason or experience. We live by faith. We confess that which God has revealed in His Word by His mercy, even when it might seem contrary to our own experience or what we think would be better. Baptism saves. Grace rules over sin. The Law does not condemn those who trust in Christ. He is our Lord and we are His slaves.
We are God’s loved and cared for slaves!
St. Paul knows that no one enjoys being called a slave.And so, it is as if he were saying: “Look, I know what you are thinking. You don’t want to called slaves. But you are a slave whether you know it or not. And to be a slave to righteousness, a slave of God, is to be loved and cared for. It is to have an honoured and valuable place in creation, to be, in fact, in dominion over creation.” This is hard to understand because of the fight that is in us against sin, and the weakness that always wants to fight for its rights, but we don’t live by intellect. We live by faith and by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The Word that God speaks is good and will do what He says.
Christ, God’s Slave, gives us the gift we cannot earn and do not deserve!
Christ is our ultimate example in this. He did not struggle with being a slave of His Father, for He was without sin. And therefore He was happily obedient to His Father even when it was unjust and terribly painful and didn’t seem to make sense, even to the point of death on the cross, where Christ died in our place, to save us. Christ Jesus never doubted that His Father loved Him and would vindicate Him, which is exactly what happen when Christ rose three days later from the dead. Our Lord Jesus knew that His Father would work everything together for good and deliver us sinners to Him as a gift.
Because of the weakness of our flesh which has been corrupted by sin, we detest being called slaves of God. Because of sin, we are prone to mistrust God and to judge Him and His Law. Instead of using His Word to understand the world and our place in it and His goodness, we try to use our faulty and confused experience or reason, with the result that we despise the truth of God’s Word and give into the cravings of our fallen flesh. Because of sin, we struggle to believe that grace reigns supreme, that we were freed for obedience and that obedience is good and worth the effort. We struggle to believe that God is working all things together for our good when we are in the midst of so much sorrow and uncertainty and our lives have not gone the way we wanted. But by grace through faith in Christ, we do believe that God is working all things together for our good. We are baptized, which is not so much a conversion of our intellect or experience, as it is an on-going killing of the old man and a raising of the new, a conforming of us to Christ and not the other way around.
Paul’s ultimate statement in chapter 6 is all of Christian theology and all of our hope in a single summary sentence, all centred and rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ delivered in Holy Baptism, which regenerates and renews us sinners: The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do you see? Wages are earned and deserved. Gifts are completely unearned and undeserved. This is the essence of grace, which fills both the Giver and the gifted with joy. To believe this— that God gives us eternal life in Christ for free without works by Holy Baptism—that is to live by faith. And that is the life into which we are all baptized, to which we have been called. Amen.