Slaves to Sin

Intro: A few weeks ago we studied the image of slavery in the Bible text. We were particularly focused on the use of the term doulos – most often translated as servant, but properly translated as slave in the NT. The Christian is called to be a slave of Christ, His Lord. At the conclusion of the first of three lessons on that subject, someone mentioned to me that I had not referenced Romans 6. Certainly, the apostle is utilizing the image of slavery in Romans 6. I told the person I had not overlooked it. I would get to it later, in a lesson on the slavery of sin.

Read Romans 6:16-23 – Paul uses the word doulos (slave) 6 times in these 7 verses.

The question in view is presented twice in this context.

  • In verse 1 he rhetorically asks, Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound – sin gives more occasion for God’s grace to be exhibited. The answer is immediately NO – those who have been baptized into the death of Christ have died to sin. Verse 6 – The old man (unregenerate sinner) was crucified with Jesus – the sinner identifies with Jesus by dying to the practice of sin through repentance and baptism; and the body of sin is done away, …that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom 6:6-7) Paul says the Christian must reckon (account) himself dead to sin – He can no longer live in it, or allow it to have dominion over him – He has been set free.
  • In verse 15 – he asks again, Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! The answer is the same, but the analogy and reasoning go further. I must not sin because I am dead to sin, but also because I am alive to God (v. 11) I am no longer a slave of sin, but I am a slave to God.
  • Verse 16 – We are slaves to whom we obey… This is as rhetorical as the previous questions. The slave is defined by his submission and obedience. Paul also tells us here how we become slaves – we choose. If we choose to submit to sin we will die; if we choose to submit to righteousness we will live.

I. “But thanks be to God…! V. 17 – Paul breaks out in praise with this liberating message. You were once the slaves of sin, but now you have been set free.

A. The gospel message is a message of liberation: Over 2000 years ago, Jesus stood in His hometown synagogue and asked for the scroll containing the words of Isaiah, the prophet, who had lived seven centuries before. Jesus read: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (Isa 61:1) As God’s Anointed One, Jesus came to earth to set people free. The bible is a story of liberation.

1. The freedom that God provides is not political freedom granted through civil law, but spiritual freedom granted through justification and sanctification of the spirit. It does not come through revolution, but revelation. God liberates us through His word. John 8:31-36 – Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. Jesus’ enemies were unwilling to admit their enslavement, declaring that as Abraham’s children they had never been in bondage to anyone. That statement, of course, was historically incorrect. One of the most pronounced episodes of Israelite history was their 400 years of enslavement in Egypt. Even as Jesus spoke the Jews were under Roman rule. Notice that Jesus says what Paul told us… One becomes a slave of sin through committing sin. He is not born a slave of sin – he chooses to sin in v. 34 “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” God wants me to know the full tragedy of my choice to disobey. Sin is not just a single isolated event. My decision to serve the flesh becomes a commitment. But once one becomes a slave of sin, he cannot free himself. Only the Son can do that through paying the price of redemption.

2. Can a person be enslaved and not know it? That would seem unlikely in the physical sense. But many today are in bondage to sin, captured by Satan, and are not aware of it. Many imagine that they are living free lives because they do whatever they want. But this is Satan’s great lie… Peter exposes the efforts of the false teacher… “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.” (2 Peter 2:18-19) The sinner is captured by his own lusts, and imprisoned in a confining world of serving themselves. In the end, it leads to death (just as Paul told us in Romans 6) separation from God. James 1:14-16 – But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

a. Law is the instrument through which God has made known my position as a slave of sin. The law is designed to condemn those who are guilty. Consider Paul’s words in Rom 3:19-20 – Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Law cannot set me free. I must put my trust in Jesus to emancipate me. A N.T. word that describes Christ’s work to set me free is “ransom”. 1 Tim 2:5-6 – For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, – A ransom is a redemption price, a sum paid to set one free.

II. “Yet you obeyed from the heart…” Although they were once slaves (through their own choice to obey their lusts)… yet know they are free because they obeyed from the heart. Their freedom is the direct result of their choice to obey God. This passage is troubling to those who want to exclude the necessity of obedience from the gospel message. If they obeyed, what did they obey that ended their slavery to sin?

A. “That form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (NKJV) the word form (tupos) means a shape or resemblance, a figure of something – pattern. The word delivered is also translated as entrusted or committed. Paul says that these former slaves of sin obeyed a pattern of doctrine to which they were committed. Notice how HCSB translates v. 17-18 – – But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

1. What is this pattern of doctrine? I believe that it points directly back to Paul earlier statement about the Christian having died to sin and been buried with Jesus when they were baptized. The doctrine (teaching that would set them free is the gospel – death burial and resurrection of Jesus. The pattern of that doctrine is the command to die with Jesus and be buried with Jesus, so as to be resurrected with Jesus. Rom 6:3-6 – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ESV

a. Burton Coffman’s comments here are on target… That form of teaching … which Christians are said to have obeyed and which delivered them into a state of freedom from sin can be nothing if not a reference to baptism mentioned by Paul only a moment before. The great features of the Christian gospel are the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1-4); and Paul had already shown in this chapter that by the means of believers’ baptism into Christ, they were therefore dead with him, buried with him, and risen with him. This, together with the overtones of the confession in this verse, makes it a certainty that Paul here had reference to baptism. Let it be considered that the only way in which the gospel (death, burial and resurrection of Christ) can be obeyed is through obedience to some distinctive FORM of it, or PATTERN of it.

III. Intentional Slavery – Rom 6:19 – For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness. Paul speaks directly to the previous question about continual sin in the midst of grace. You became a slave intentionally through obedience to the gospel message. You must intentionally remain a slave of God through continually obeying God. This is not osmosis.

• Rom 6:19 – I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.

A. Before, when were enslaved to sin, you presented your members as slaves to uncleanness. The verb “present” (paristemi – par-is’-tay-mee) or a form of the word, occurs five times in 6:13-19. It means to stand beside or near. It is used in the OT for the activity of the one who offered a sacrifice to God. He presented it to God on the altar. In this context the word simply means “to put something at the disposal of another”.

B. Paul is affirming that we are always presenting ourselves to another. When we were slaves of sin, one sin led to another sin. You cannot just sin once. This is the definitive view of what it means to be a slave of sin. You do not tell just one lie. You lie to cover up the lie, to cover up another lie. Envy leads to envy leads to envy. Lust leads to lust leads to lust. Bitterness leads to bitterness leads to bitterness. Sin is like that—it is “ever-increasing wickedness” (NIV). The principle is: Freedom to sin means slavery to sin.

C. Paul gets to his first imperative command in the section…so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (6:19b).The image of slavery is in full view. Just as you gave yourself to uncleanness, so now give yourselves to righteousness. Serve God with the same passion you served yourself. Our continual and intentional obedience will result in sanctification. In this context, “sanctification” (hagiasmos) is “the ongoing process of being set apart for God and changed into the likeness of God – Be holy for I am holy.

1. We are not what we used to be. We are not WHO we used to be. We should not do what we used to do. Paul explains that God did not buy Christians out of sin’s slavery to set us free in the world; rather, He bought us to be His slaves!

2. Our former life of serving ourselves, and sin, was “free in regard to righteousness” (v. 20). He does not mean that God did not care what we did. He simply means that our choices had no good end. We had no relationship with righteousness and did not care about righteousness. Paul’s question (again rhetorical) is “What fruit (benefit) did you reap at that time?” Eph. 2:12 – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Conclusion: Paul declares that these Christians should not continue to practice sin because they have been made free from sin. Those who have died have been made free from sin. (old man was crucified with Him). As the sinner dies with Jesus, so he is also buried with Him. – vs. 4 – Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death. This indicates how the sinner contacts the blood of Jesus. He is buried by baptism into the death of Christ. This is not mystical. It is the result of saving faith. As the sinner is buried with Christ, so he is also resurrected to a new life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Are you a slave of Christ or are you still enslaved to sin?