The Epistle to the Romans – 13 (“Willing Slaves to God”)

The Epistle to the Romans – 13 (“Willing Slaves to God”)
Part 1 – “Justification by Faith Alone” (Chapters 1-8)

Two important and noticeable points from last week’s message are…
〈 The positional truth about our salvation, is that all those who are in Christ are seen by God as being dead to the guilt of sin, because we have died with Christ and have risen with Him.
〈 We are dead to sin and must therefore respond to temptation as a dead man would.
〈 The doctrine of justification by faith does not give us permission to sin, it gives us power over sin.
〈 We must realise that conformity to Jesus Christ is a lifelong process, and the goal will never be attained completely in this life.

Rom.6:15-23 (ESV) ~ 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 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 For 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? For 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.”

Before we start looking at today’s text, I want us to first do a short Greek lesson. In the English language, we are very familiar with three tenses, the past tense, when we refer to an action in the past, the present tense, when we refer to an action occurring in the present, and the future tense, addressing an action in the future.

In the Greek language however, we find additional tenses, and one of those tenses are called the aorist. When a verb occurs in the aorist, it is usually the author’s intent for us to understand that a certain action occurs only once, at a specific point. This tense is far more focused on the “point action” of the verb than it is interested in its past, present, or future status. For example, when Paul says in Rom.5:1 ~ “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was using the aorist tense. We should properly render this “Therefore, having been justified by faith…” because Paul was referring to a single action which occurred at a single point in time, once and for all. Believers are not justified on an ongoing basis. It happened once, at the Cross, when we were placed into Christ. Make note of this additional tense, the aorist, and the meaning thereof, as I will refer back to it regularly.

4. THE LAW OF GOD (vs.15):
Romans 6 asks one question in two different ways. In vs.1, we see the question stated as it relates to grace (vss.1-13) ~ “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer, of course was a resounding “No!”

We find the same question in our passage of today – vs.15 ~ “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” The question here in vs.15 remains effectively the same ~ “Shall we sin?” However, in vs.1 Paul asked the question as it related to grace. Now, he is answering the same question as it relates to the law.

Paul says that believers are not under the law as a way of salvation (they are saved by grace through faith – see Eph.2:8-10 ~ “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”). This, however, does not mean that believers are free from God’s law as a rule of duty – they are under the law of Christ!

In order to understand what Paul is saying about the law, we have to look at what the law is and what our relation to the law is:
〈 A Definition of God’s Law: What then is the law of God? The law of God is that rule of action which He has prescribed for mankind. In the broad sense of the term, it includes all the commands, regulations, prohibitions, etc., which God has imposed upon the human race. It is important to note, however, that there are many of God’s laws that do not apply to all men, everywhere and for all time. God has, at various times, given particular commandments to certain people that were binding only upon them and were of limited duration. For example, the commandment to circumcise all male children was not given until Abraham’s day and it only applied to his descendants, the Jews, and it ended with the coming of Jesus Christ.

〈 Various Revelations of God’s Law: We must also realise that there are various revelations of God’s law.
– The Law of Conscience: First, we have the law of conscience, i.e. the law written on man’s heart. Man was created with the requirements of God’s law written on his heart. Before the fall this law was clear and legible, but as the result of Adam’s sin it was defaced and marred (spoiled). Man’s spiritual understanding is darkened by sin (Eph.4:17-19 ~ “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity”). Jeremiah says in Jer.17:9 ~ “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Consequently, the law written on the heart is no longer an adequate or reliable guide for fallen man. But this law is still sufficiently clear to make sin known and therefore rendering men guilty when they are broken. All men have in their own nature, to some degree a knowledge of what is right and wrong.

– The Law of Moses (the law under the old covenant): Second, the law of Moses or the law under the old covenant which was given by God to the Jews at Mt. Sinai through Moses (Ex. 19 and 20), was established as a covenant by God with the nation Israel and had no written reference whatsoever to the Gentile world.

As we’ve seen during the past couple of months, the law of Moses is sometimes divided into three parts:
1) The 10 Commandments (called the Decalogue) which formed the heart of the covenant made with Israel (Deut.4; 9; 1 Kings 8).
2) The ceremonial laws which regulated the religious life of the nation, and…
3) The civil laws which regulated their national life.

It must be remembered that all of these laws stood as a single unit and together formed the covenant made with Israel. This covenant, including all of its parts (laws), was abolished by Christ at His death and replaced with a “new” and better covenant under which God’s people now live (Jer.31; Hebr.8-10; 2 Cor.3; Col.2:14-16, etc.).

In most cases when the word law occurs in the Scriptures it refers to the law of Moses. The reason for this; until Christ came the law of Moses was the most complete revelation of God’s law, given to any people since the fall of Adam. Therefore, when those acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures thought of God’s law, they usually thought of it as expressed in the writings of the great lawgiver Moses.

– The Law of Christ (the law under the old covenant): Third, The New Covenant brought still another expression of God’s law: the law of Christ, which consists of the teachings, commandments, etc., given by Christ through His own ministry and through the ministry of His chosen apostles and their associates. These laws or principles of conduct are contained within the New Testament (Covenant) Scriptures.

The law of Christ contains a clearer revelation of God’s law and a higher standard of conduct for His people, clearer than the law of Moses. And the New Covenant provides certain blessings which the Old Covenant was unable to do: the assurance of sins forgiven, the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc. These blessings supply the motive and strength needed for greater obedience to God’s law.

〈 Man’s Relation to God’s Law: Now that we have more background in regards to the Law, we must answer the question, what is man’s relation to God’s law?
– As to salvation: First, we must realise that the unsaved sinner is under God’s law regardless of how it is revealed to him (whether written on his heart or revealed in the Scriptures). Lost men are faced with the prospect of being saved through Christ or else suffering the penalty of breaking the law. Every unbeliever is obligated to do all that the law commands or to suffer the consequences ~ “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jam.2:10). The more “light” a lost man lives under, the greater will be his condemnation on the day of judgement.
– As to duty for God’s people: Although all of God’s people (believers of all ages) have been freed from the law in relation to salvation, they have never been free from God’s law as rule of duty.

The rule of duty for believers living during the period between Adam and Moses have been primarily the law of conscience (written on man’s heart).

The rule of duty for God’s people living during the period from Moses to Christ, was the law of Moses.

The rule of duty for believers today is contained in the New Covenant (or the New Testament).

With this in mind, let us look at the rest of our text.

5. THE TWO MASTERS (vss.16-22):
In the beginning of our text for today, Paul asked a similar question that he started the previous section with ~ “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Once again, as was the case with 6:1, Paul’s answer is “By no means!”

In order to motivate his answer, he compares his statement with the answer that a slave will give when asked who his master is. His answer might be the truth when he says, this man or that man, but we will only know which man really is his master, when we see who this slave is obedient to ~ “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…” (vs.16).

Paul however goes on and tells us that there are two masters to which a slave can be obedient, or belong to. The first master is described in vss.16-18, 20 and 20-23 as ‘sin,’ and in vs.19 as ‘uncleanness.’ The second master is described in vss.17-20 as ‘righteousness,’ and in vss.22-23 as ‘God.’ These two masters (sin/uncleanness and righteousness/God) demand two different kinds of service, and who give two sorts of reward.

〈 The Slave of ‘Master Sin’: If ‘sin’/‘uncleanness’ is your master, you will do those things which are consistent with its nature. You will sin and do acts of uncleanness, in fact when you have done it, you will according to vs.19, commit even more sin, because your master, ‘sin’ demands it from you. Vs.21 says that this master will also demand that you do shameful things.

Paul says in vss.17-18, “that you who were once slaves of sin.” The tense of the verb here, is imperfect, meaning that this is what we are by nature, what we have always been. And if ‘sin’ remains our master, the tense will not change to the aorist tense. In other words, it will not be said of us, that we have become obedient to the ‘other Master.’

〈 The Slave of ‘Master God’: The other Master’s demands are completely different. The God of righteousness ensures that His servants do His revealed will as it is contained in the doctrinal teachings of Scripture ~ “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (vs.17, also see vs.22). Those slaves who have this Master, live a life of holiness ~ “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” (vs.19, also see vs.22).

The two kinds of service could not be more different. They are opposites.

The two masters pay different sort of wages. What will be the outcome if you serve the first master? Death! (vss.16, 21, 23). In the Word of God, this does not just mean physical death, but alienation from God and everlasting punishment. What does the other Master pay? Life! Everlasting life (vss.22, 23).

The issue, as I have already mentioned, is that one of these masters is your master; one of these services is your service; one of these outcomes is your outcome. If you live in deliberate sin and uncleanness, it is obvious who your master is, and where you are heading. But those who belong to God just do not live like that. Paul has made it absolutely clear why a professing Christian cannot live lawlessly. It would prove, despite his claims to the contrary, that he is not a true Christian at all, but that sin is still his master. It would prove that he is a person who is eternally lost. A true Christian certainly needs to be urged to be more submissive to his new Master. We have already seen this in vs.19 ~ “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.” A true Christian has many falls and failings. But he does not live loose to the law of God.

The proof that you are a true believer does not lie in your words, but in the life that you live. The New Testament teaches that whoever God justifies, He also sanctifies (Rom.7:4; 8:30; 11:29).

Last Sunday we looked at the fact that believers are positionally holy (“set free from every sin” by the blood of Christ, Acts 13:39), but we know that we still sin (1 Joh.1:10). That’s why the Bible also refers to sanctification as a practical experience of our separation unto God our Master. “Progressive-” or “experiential” sanctification, as it is sometimes called, is the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life. It is the same as growing in the Lord (2 Pet.3:18) or spiritual maturity. God started the work of making us like Christ, and He is continuing it (Phil.1:6). This type of sanctification is to be pursued by the believer earnestly (1 Pet.1:15; Hebr.12:14) and is effected by the application of the Word (Joh.17:17).

6. THE FREE GIFT (vs.23):
Paul ends our passage for today in vs.23 with two inexorable absolutes (Afrikaans – “onverbiddelike waarhede”). The first is that ~ “…the wages of sin is death.” Spiritual death is earned. It is the just and rightful compensation for a life that is characterised by sin, which is every life apart from God.

The second inexorable absolute is that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Salvation cannot be earned by works; by human goodness; by religious rituals, or by any other thing that man can do ~ “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph.2:8-9).

If a person wants what he deserves – eternal death – God will give that to him as his just wages. And if a person wants what he does not deserve – eternal life – God offers that to him as well, but as a free gift, the only source of which is Christ Jesus our Lord. And can I get hold of this free gift? “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). There is, however. A second command that you must keep in mind ~ “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’” (Acts 2:37-39). Believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour, repent of your sins and be baptised.

The question today is, have you chosen your master? Whose slave are you – Sin or God’s? Once you have chosen your master, you have no more choice but to obey that master. Yes, “we are not under law but under grace,” but that does not mean that we have a free pass to do whatever we want to do. We are still slaves of one master – in our case as believers, our ‘Master God’ and we must obey Him in everything – our rule of duty is contained in the New Covenant (or the New Testament).

Kobus van der Walt

We need constantly to remind ourselves of all these truths. We need to talk to ourselves about them, and ask ourselves, ‘Don’t you know?’ … ‘Don’t you know that you are one with Christ? That you have died to sin and risen to God? Don’t you know that you are a slave of God and therefore committed to His obedience? Don’t you know these things?’ And we must go on asking ourselves these questions until we reply, ‘Yes, I do know, and by the grace of God I shall live accordingly.’

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