Our title this morning is TRUE FREEDOM. We are continuing our series in the book of Romans. And this morning it is Romans chapter 6 verses 15 to 23. True freedom as we will discover is not a self-willed independence but rather a desire to submit to Christ’s lordship and live under his rule. Specifically Paul in this passage talks about God as our new master. He contrasts our past slavery to sin with our new slavery to righteousness.
But each of us comes to this passage this morning from a variety of different experiences and positions. Some of us feel as if we are in a battle against sin and temptation. We feel as if we have failed very significantly in the past, or we feel as if we keep falling into sin. We don’t want to but our temper gets the better of us, or we rush past someone failing to adequately love them, and we feel remorse and regret afterwards. You wish you could be something else. You wish you felt free of sin.
Others of us however don’t really experience any of that regret or remorse. Either because we don’t care about living God’s way, or because we think that any sins we commit are so small and insignificant that it doesn’t really matter. After all you haven’t committed murder. God doesn’t really care about the odd lie at work, or the spreading of a bit of gossip, does he? OK it would be better if I looked after my parents but hey, I live under grace. I am a Christian, I am forgiven, as long as I am reasonably good then it will be OK.
Paul in this passage has words of encouragement for those who are struggling and words of challenge for those who are comfortable. I want to try and make that distinction clear as we work our way through this passage. So I want to begin this morning by looking at the contrast between being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness, before then thinking about the reason for the transformation and the expected result of this transformation.
First, ONCE WE WERE SLAVES TO SIN
So my first heading, ‘Once We Were Slaves to Sin’.
Take a look please at what Paul writes in chapter 6 verse 16.
“16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Paul uses the example of a slave. He is thinking of a slave who has a choice about whom they serve. Perhaps a man who has become poor – his crops have failed, or his business has collapsed, and he needs to find relief. He needs food to live on. In fact his situation is so bad that he approaches someone and offers to serve him as a slave, presumably in exchange for paying his debts or providing him with food. When that man offers himself to a master he becomes a slave, he is a slave to the one whom he obeys.
In a similar way, human beings can be thought of as having a choice about who they serve. There are two possible masters in this world. There is sin. Or there is obedience. There is impurity or there is righteousness. It is one or the other, no middle ground.
Paul describes the first master in verse 19 as
“slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness”
Slavery to sin, or slavery to impurity just leads to ever-increasing wickedness. Those who follow sin as their master just end up in more and more trouble.
And look at verses 20 and 21.
“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!”
Those who are slaves to sin are free from the restraining influence of righteousness. It is like if you go to do something stupid or reckless and a friend holds you back, he or she restrains you from an action you would regret. Well those who are slaves to sin do not have the controlling influence of righteousness. They rush head long into sin and ever increasing wickedness.
Paul is able to write and remind these Christians of their past sinful life. He is able to point to it as an example and say look you didn’t benefit from living such a life. In fact you are now ashamed of the things that you once did. Now that you live in the light you can see just how wicked and pointless was the way you used to behave.
In fact the consequences are more serious that mere embarrassment. The result of living as a slave to sin is death. Paul says that if we serve sin as our master, if we are slaves to sin then the end result is death, verse 21, – eternal spiritual death as well as physical death.
It is a bleak picture. And it is meant to be such. If you became a Christian later in life you may well be able to acknowledge the truth of what Paul is saying. Your former lifestyle is something you are ashamed of. You know that a life lived for pleasure and self does just lead to ever increasing wickedness. Paul doesn’t know the personal stories of all the people to whom he is writing, but he is able to speak in this way with confidence because he knows it to be true in general that being in slavery to sin leads to ever increasing wickedness.
If you have yet to become a Christian, then Paul is here challenging you to open your eyes and see the truth of what he is saying. A little bit of alcohol leads to a lot of alcohol. A small lie leads to bigger and bigger lies. A little bit of stealing leads to more and more stealing. We are either slaves to sin or we are slaves to righteousness and if we are slaves to sin then our lives are increasingly characterised by impurity and increasing wickedness and eventually we will face God’s judgement and death.
Secondly, NOW WE ARE SLAVES TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
But of course Paul also contrasts that strongly with the opposite position. The alternative to being a slave to sin is to be a slave to righteousness. That is my second heading. Now we are slaves to righteousness. We were once slaves to sin but the Christian is now a slave to righteousness.
It is as if we have been brought to the slave market, and our new owner has bought us. He has paid the necessary price, we are free of our old master sin, and we now belong to our new master righteousness.
Look at what Paul says in verses 17 and 18:
“17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
It is not freedom to do whatever we want. It is not that we are just freed from past sin. No as Christians we are set free from sin and serve a new master – righteousness. We have become slaves to righteousness, or to expand Paul’s imagery, we have become slaves to God. We have transferred owners.
And what are the results or benefits of this new master? Well verse 19, Paul says that slavery to righteousness leads to holiness. Holiness instead of ever-increasing wickedness. Purity instead of impurity. It is a complete transformation. Slavery to sin resulted in nothing of benefit. The past behaviour was a cause for shame and the end result of continuing in that path was death. But look down to verse 22.
“22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
The end result says Paul, is eternal life. Being a slave to righteousness or a slave to God brings a change of orientation, a total change of direction. Instead of walking along a path to destruction the Christian is walking along a path to eternal life.
Thirdly, THIS IS THE GIFT OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS
I am going to come back in just a moment to what that transformation looks like in practice, because it doesn’t always feel as if we have transferred masters. But before I do that, I want first to ask ‘how does the transformation come about?’ How does one attain the benefits of a new master? Well Paul attributes the Christian’s freedom from sin to God. Paul understands this change as being the gift of God in Christ Jesus. That is my third heading. This is the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
Take a look at verse 23. Paul writes these famous words:
“23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You know wages are something you earn. If you get a summer job as a student picking strawberries at a fruit farm you get a wage packet at the end of the week. You get paid according to what you have done. Or if it is employment as an adult you receive a salary for working for the company. Wages are something you deserve because of how you have used your time.
Well Paul says again that what we deserve in and of ourselves is death. Before turning to Christ you and I were slaves to sin, we served sin as our master and but for Jesus, we would receive what we deserve. Our pay packet would have been death.
But and it is a big but, the contrasting situation is receiving the gift of eternal life. As Paul makes clear. He says
“but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23)
Now gifts are not something you earn. You don’t receive a birthday present because you have worked hard in the house all week, keeping it tidy, looking after the children. No, you receive a present or a gift independent of the service you have done.
And that is why the Christian message is such incredibly good news. That is why Paul declares “thanks be to God” in verse 17. The transformation, the change of ownership is brought about by God himself. We do not earn this new relationship with God. It is not ‘the wages of living a good life is eternal life’. No says Paul, it is the free gift of God that means that you and I receive eternal life. It is a generous gift. Something not earned.
Paul is able to write to these Christians in Rome saying that they have been set free from sin (Romans 6:18). They didn’t set themselves free rather they were set free by someone else – namely by God. They were slaves to sin but now have been set free so that they can be slaves to God. And this transformation is brought about because of Jesus.
It is a precious and generous gift that is found
“in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
It is he who pays the price, who redeems us from our old slave master. It is his death on the cross that deals with our sin and means that we no longer deserve death. His death in place of our death in order that we might go free. No wonder Paul says, thanks be to God.
Thirdly, THEREFORE DO NOT KEEP ON SINNING
But what is the nature of our new freedom? Are we free to live any way we want? Well that is the question that Paul is actually addressing in this section of Romans and that leads me to my fourth and final heading. Paul says that we are not free to go on sinning. Once we were slaves to sin. Now we are slaves to righteousness. This is the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not keep on sinning. Heading four: ‘Therefore do not keep on sinning’.
Now this is where we get to the practical implications for the Christian. Given the transfer of ownership, how are you, how am I going to live my life? Well Paul says that freedom for the Christian from slavery to sin, is not a freedom to go on sinning. Freedom from sin is not a freedom to sin. In fact true freedom is not a self-willed independence from any control or restraining influence. Rather true freedom is the freedom to live in the way God wants us to live. True freedom is submitting ourselves to Jesus as Lord – submitting ourselves to our new master, being slaves to his righteousness.
Take a look back up to verse 15
“15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? . . .”
That is the question that drives Paul’s content. If the Christian is forgiven and lives under God’s grace, they are no longer bound by the requirements of the law, so is that a freedom to live in any way one pleases?
For instance a Christian today might say, ‘I don’t really need to be concerned about the fact that I have just lost my temper again while talking to my mother. Sure, it is only a small thing. And I know I am forgiven, after all I live under grace.’ Or the Christian who goes out with his friends for the evening and drinks too much, who knows that it is not what God really wants, but basically doesn’t care much about it, because after all he is forgiven, he is going to heaven, he is under grace.
Now, I am very conscious that this probably applies only to a few people here today. Many of us are taking sin seriously and have the opposite problem – we are not living under grace. But if this is you that Paul is addressing, then hear Paul’s exhortation, ‘therefore do not keep on sinning’. Maybe you have been a Christian for a long time, you are approaching the end of your life, you have basically given up on striving for any further transformation. You can be a bit grumpy and unpleasant with your family, but really you don’t think it’s worth the effort to change.
Or maybe it’s that you are living with your partner, or you are having sex outside marriage, and you know it is not what God commands, but you basically aren’t too worried. You don’t care.
“…Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?...” [And his answer?] “By no means!” (Romans 6:15).
Absolutely not! No way! May this never be! Paul can’t stress this strongly enough. Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin, no matter how small a sin. In fact Paul is saying because of your freedom from slavery to sin do not sin. What happens to the Christian is a transfer of allegiance. Once we were slaves to sin but now we are slaves to righteousness. We are slaves to God. Jesus is our new master. He is our Lord.
Being a Christian means not only accepting God’s free gift and offer of eternal life, it also involves submitting to Jesus as Lord. You and I are now in slavery to righteousness. Once we were pursuing sin and ever increasing wickedness, now we are pursuing righteousness and ever increasing holiness.
In fact the language that Paul is using is so strong that it is as if he is saying that we cannot help but pursue righteousness. The transformation that has taken place is so great that we cannot help ourselves but to desire to live with Jesus as Lord and serve our new master. And we are to live fully in that new relationship.
Now for the Christian with a sensitive conscious who is struggling with sin, that sounds almost unbelievable. For the person who knows that they have failed yet again to control their tongue, for the person who knows they have failed yet again in what their eyes have looked at, for the person who knows yet again that they have failed to act in the right way, it just doesn’t feel that we are free of sin. It feels at times that we are still slaves to sin.
And that is when we have to take what Paul is saying seriously. If you are feeling like you are just loosing a battle, then you need to know that you are under grace not under the law. The transfer has taken place. Past tense. You and I are to take comfort in that and trust in God to help us increasingly live under our new master. It is like a promise. You are no longer bound by sin. Whatever sin it is that has got its hold on you – you are no longer bound by it. You are not a slave to that sin. Jesus is your master not the sin.
I suppose I have found it helpful when I am struggling with a sin that just keeps getting the better of me, to realise that my situation is not helpless. I don’t give up, rather I ask for forgiveness each time and strive again to obey Jesus wholeheartedly. I strive again to
“offer [the parts of my body] in slavery to righteousness” (Romans 6:19)
Sometimes I find that it even helps when confronted with the temptation to think to myself, I am not in slavery to this sin, I do not have to yield, Jesus is my master, and then cry out to him asking that he deliver me from temptation and the evil one.
I suppose in some ways we just have to believe this promise by faith. Even if it doesn’t feel like it we need to think of ourselves as under a new master. Just a few verses earlier, Paul says,
“count yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11).
In this life we are not going to be completely free of sin. That is something we are looking forward to when Jesus returns. In this life sin is alive and kicking, but we are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ. We are under a new master.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body . . .” (Romans 6:12).
Often as a Christian we actually become more and more conscious of our sin as the years go by. It’s probably not that you are getting more sinful, rather God is putting his finger on more things in your life and my life. As an older Christian you are more aware of what it means to follow Jesus as your master and you are more conscious of the ways in which you fall short. Being conscious of your sin is not in and of itself an indicator that you are loosing the battle.
Sometimes as Christians we are more conscious of our sinfulness because the situation in which we are in has become tougher. You end up in a very frustrating work situation, or the pressures of caring for a family build and you feel as if you are frequently failing to be loving or patient. Again that is not necessarily an indicator that you are loosing the battle with sin. Rather it is just that God is at work transforming your character through that difficult period.
But what is clear from this passage is that as Christians the transfer has happened. Like the person who leaves one sports team and joins another. There is a time in the past when they played for one team. Now they play for a new team. In a similar way, if you are a Christian, then Paul declares that you have transferred teams. You are under a new master. Therefore get on with living out that new life. It is supposed to be an encouragement, a source of strength as you battle with temptation. Jesus is your new master, you are now a slave to righteousness, therefore do not keep on sinning.
As I have conversations with people investigating the Christian faith, I sometimes have had people who have been hesitant about this idea of having a new master. They haven’t wanted to give up control of their lives. They haven’t wanted to have someone else taking control of them. It sounds almost spooky. And in our society today there is a lot of talk of my rights, my independence, my freedoms.
But the Bible makes it clear that we are not truly free as human beings. There is no middle ground. Either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to God. And if we place our trust in Christ Jesus and accept God’s free gift of salvation then we move from a position of sin to a position of obedience. Paul says that when that transfer happens, we cannot continue to live in sin because we no longer serve the old master. Rather we will be living in righteousness, and must live in righteousness, because we serve our new master, the Lord Jesus Christ.