The Epistle to the Romans – 14 (“Who is your master?”)

The Epistle to the Romans – 14 (“Who is your master?”)

In the previous paragraph from Romans, Rom.6:1-15, we saw that only by realising that he is dead to the condemning power of sin and alive to God “in Christ” can a sinner truly love or trust God. Only as the believer sees what Christ has done for him can he find a motive to do what God requires of him. Once he sees God’s love for him “in Christ” he no longer wants to “live in sin.”

Because those who are justified by faith and who are not “under law” (i.e., saved by keeping its commandments) but “under grace” (i.e., saved by the free mercy of God) are therefore called upon to yield (Afrikaans = “toewy of oorgee”) themselves to God as His obedient slaves.

Paul calls upon believers to yield themselves, not to sin, but to God and as a motive for such action, appeals to the fact that they are under grace, not under law, and thus are free from sin’s dominion (power to damn or to destroy them).

We also took note that believers are not under law as a way of salvation, but they are saved by grace through faith – Eph.2:8-10. This, however, does not mean that they are free from God’s law as a rule of duty – they are under the law of Christ!

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.”

3. BELIEVERS AND SIN (vss.15-18):
We have seen that we are not under the law anymore, but that poses a very important question that we as believers must answer, or at least find an answer too. The question is, “shall Christians who are not under the law anymore, have the freedom to keep on sinning – do we have the freedom to sin, or are we now ‘so holy’ that we cannot sin anymore?” That is also the question that Paul is starting this paragraph with. In fact, he also started this chapter in vs.1 with the same question, when he asked ~ “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

The second question in vs.15 has however a little twist in it. In 6:1 the question anticipates the false inference (Afrikaans = “afleiding, gevolgtrekking of aanname”) that if grace increases where sin increases, then why not continue in sin? In 6:15 Paul’s question anticipates another false inference, namely, that if a Cristian is no longer under the law, but under grace, then why not sin freely? This question makes even more sense when we look at what Paul wrote in Rom.5:13 ~ “…for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” In other words, where there is no law, sin is not taken into account, i.e. there is no punishment. So, if there is no law and no sin and therefore, no punishment, how then can something be punished if it does not exist? On the surface it sounds, as if Paul is saying, “Christians, there is no law, and no punishment, therefore, carry on sinning.”

However, that is not what he is saying, in fact, he says “by no means” are we allowed to sin and he feels very strongly about this. The fact that Christians are not under law, does not diminish the validity of it in the Christian’s life.

Paul gives acknowledgement to the Lord for the fact that He is the One who saves. He says, “thanks be to God” (vs.17). Paul does not praise the Roman church for having turned to God; he thanks God for having brought them where they are today. This fact is also a repetition of what Paul told the Corinthian church ~ “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Also 1 Pet.2:9 ~ “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” You are a chosen race! God gave righteousness to them, they did not accept the teaching of the Gospel; the Holy Spirit opened their hearts – God delivered them.

Because they are saved by the grace of God and declared righteous, they now enjoy true liberty, namely, freedom from sin. That does not mean that they will never commit any sin, it means that sin is no longer their master, but righteousness is. It further means that they as believers are free from the condemning power of sin, and from its enslaving power. Sin no longer has dominion.

In vss.17-18, Paul told the Roman church that they were transferred from one master to another. He explains to them in vs. 19, what this means as he fears that some of the believers in Rome did not readily comprehend spiritual truths. Yes, they had made remarkable progress, intellectual, moral and spiritual. But although this progress was encouraging, they were still far from having reached the goal of maturity. We see this in the broader context of this passage (e.g. Rom.9-11 where the Roman Christians needed more instruction with respect to God’s promises to Israel and 14:13-18 re. clean vs. unclean food).

Paul uses an illustration from familiar human relationships. The Roman Christians were familiar with the practice of transferring the ownership of a slave from one person to another. In a similar fashion, Paul wanted the believers in Rome to understand that they were slaves transferred from one master to another. They needed to be loyally obedient to their new Master – the Master of righteousness (vs.18).
In vs.19 Paul refers back to their former state and their former master. He explains to them that when they were in sin, they were wholeheartedly serving the Master Sin, thus now in similar fashion after their transfer to their new Master, they must serve Him wholeheartedly.

In Rom.6:13 Paul says ~ “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Here he was talking about the Romans previously presenting themselves as “instruments for unrighteousness” and here in vs 19, as “slaves to impurity;” as “lawless people.” But, because they are saved and declared righteous, they must now act differently – they must become “slaves of righteousness.” Their lives must reflect their full commitment to the service of God.

5. THE FRUIT OF OBEDIENCE (vss.20-23):
Jesus said in Matt.6:24 ~ “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” In similar fashion, Paul tells his readers in vss.20-23 that they cannot serve both God and Satan – it is either the one or the other and because they have received God’s imputed righteousness through the atonement (Afrikaans = “versoening”) of Jesus Christ, they ought to hold themselves free from the slavery of sin.

He drives this point even further by asking them in vs.21 ~ “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” In other words, those previous things (sins) that was part of your service to Satan and which you are now ashamed of, things like evil thoughts and deeds, were of no advantage to you, in fact the final result of serving sin (those things that you are ashamed of now) is condemnation and eternal death.

What is this eternal death? More precisely, what is death without Christ Jesus?

In the O.T. death was accepted as the natural end of life. The goal of an Israelite was to live a long and full life, produce many descendants, and die in peace with the children and grandchildren gathered about. 

Death, although a natural ending to life, was never viewed as pleasant. Death cut one off from human community as well as from the presence and service of God. God may offer comfort in the face of death (Ps.73:23–28), but he is rarely portrayed as being present with the dead, only in later Biblical literature (Ps.139:8). Death was never generally viewed as the threshold to a better life.

In the N.T. death is seen as a theological problem, rather than a personal event. Death goes beyond the simple ending of physical life, which the authors accept almost without difficulty. Death is seen as affecting every part of a person’s life. God alone is immortal, the source of all life in the world (Rom.4:17; 1 Tim.6:16). Only if human beings are properly related to God’s life can they live. But it’s been unnatural for people to be in personal communion with the Divine Source of life since sin was introduced to the world (Rom.5:12, 17, 18; 1 Cor.15:22). Adam separated himself from God and that separation brought death. Each human being has followed in Adam’s footsteps (Rom.3:23; 5:12), bringing death to everyone as the absolute necessary result (Rom.6:23; Hebr.9:27). Death, then, is not merely something that happens to people at the end of their lives; it is also the living out of their lives apart from fellowship with God.

The extent of death’s domination is vast. It affects every aspect of culture. All of human life is lived under the shadow of the fear of death (Rom.8:15; Hebr.2:15). Death reigns over all that is “of the flesh” (Rom.8:6). Anyone not living in a relationship to Christ lives in a state of death (Joh.3:16-18; 1 Joh.5:12). The devil, who rules the world, is the lord of death (Hebr.2:14).

Christ died, was buried, and rose again on the third day (Rom.4:25; 1 Cor.15:3-4; 1 Thes.4:14). Through that historic event the power of death was broken. By accepting death, Christ (which He did not deserve) had broken the power of death for His followers.

The Christian is thus delivered from “this body of death” (Rom.7:24) by the power of Christ. Salvation comes through being “baptised into his death” (Rom.6:3-4), and “dying with Christ” to the world and the law (Rom.7:6; Gal.6:14; Col.2:20). That is, the death of Christ is counted by God as the believer’s death. The rebellious world’s sin (Rom.6:6) and self-idolatry (living for oneself – 2 Cor.5:14-15) becomes part of the past – their master is not sin anymore, but righteousness. The death of Jesus for His people is the means by which his life is given to them (2 Cor.4:10). The result is that believers are separated from the world just as they were once separated from God. From the world’s point of view, they are dead; Christ is their only life (Col.3:3).

On the other hand, for those who do not belong to Christ there is a final, total separation from God. At the last judgement, all whose names “were not written in the book of life” are consigned to a lake of fire, in the company of death itself and Hades. That final separation from God is the “second death” (Rev.20:14). Christians, however, have been saved from death (James 5:20; 1 Joh.3:14). The second death has no power over those who are faithful to Christ (Rev.2:11; 20:6). Instead they will live with God, in whose presence there can be no death, for He is life itself (Rev.21:4).

Vs.23 is then, a conclusion to the former, and as it were an epilogue of it. Paul does not, however, in vain repeat the same thing again, but by doubling the terror of death, he intended to.

“Shall we continue in sin?” That is the question with which both sections of this chapter began; a question posed by Paul’s critics who intended to discredit his Gospel; a question that has been asked ever since by the enemies of the Gospel; a question that is often whispered in our ears by the greatest enemy of the Gospel, Satan himself, who seeks to entice us into sin. Paul answered this question with an emphatic “NO!” because sin leads to death (vs.23) and he uses an illustration from daily life in the Roman Empire, where slaves were transferred from one person’s ownership to another. In similar fashion, those people who were bought by the blood of Christ were transferred to a new Master, namely Jesus Christ, thus their Master becomes righteousness.

We as Christians; we as believers, we must live lives of holiness. We must grow in sanctification (Afrikaans = “heiligmaking”). Our Lord and Master must be that of righteousness – that of Jesus Christ.

What does a holy life and sanctification for a Christian mean – a Christian who still sins, but not serving the master of sin?

We can sum up sanctification as follows:

〈 What Sanctification is not:
o Sanctification does not consist in talking about religion.
o Sanctification does not consist in temporary religious feelings.
o Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance of correct actions.

I realise that much more can be said about what sanctification is not, but I think that these three points are a good summarisation. An excellent book to read on this topic is “Holiness” by J.C. Ryle.

〈 The Visible Marks of Sanctification: We must realise that sanctification is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration ~ “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 Joh.2:29). In Christ Jesus, the process of sanctification will follow and the following are aspects that we will receive – thus a summary of the most important points:
o A vital union with Christ will take place which true faith gives to a Christian.
o Sanctification is the only certain evidence of the indwelling Spirit of Christ which is essential to salvation ~ “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom.8:14).
o Sanctification will always be seen – it cannot be hidden in other words “for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:44).
o Sanctification causes a great deal of inward spiritual conflict – a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new – the flesh and the spirit “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal.5:17).
o Sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life.

In his book, “Holiness,” Ryle writes in the last part of his chapter on sanctification, the following words: “Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man.”

Kobus van der Walt

Shall we continue in sin? Shall we make sin our master? NO! Instead of sinning, we shall rejoice in Christ Jesus!

The question that we must answer for ourselves today, is: Who is your master? Sin or righteousness?

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