“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness” (Romans 8:17-18 NET).
The picture the apostle Paul gives us of our lives before becoming a Christian was that we were a slave – we were slaves to sin. The word slavery brings to mind all sorts of negative thoughts due to the history of slavery in the Western World, particularly in the 1800s. A slave was a person who served someone else – totally. What they said to do they had to do, where they said to go they had to go. They served a master who might be cruel or who might be lenient, depending on how he felt.
This is what our lives were like before we became Christians. We were slaves to sin. We used our bodies to pursue impurity and even more sin (Romans 6:19). We had nothing to do with what was right. The only thing we had to look forward to was death – that was the wages we would earn for being the slave of sin. That is quite a depressing picture!
But people have a choice of master, of whom they will serve. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). We do not have to serve sin, who is a cruel taskmaster! We can be set free from sin by “obey(ing) from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to.” As Paul has been pointing out in this chapter, this is what happens when we are baptised into Christ. We put to death and bury our old life of sin and we are raised to live a new life, no longer dominated by sin (see Romans 6:4-11). We are now freed from sin!
Although we have been freed from sin, we are still enslaved to a master. As Paul pointed out in verse 18, “you became enslaved to righteousness.” We are still slaves! But the difference is our master. Rather than being involved with sin, we now do what is right, which leads to our “sanctification.” The word “sanctify” is one of those words we don’t use much anymore, but it speaks of becoming free from sin, of being purified, of becoming acceptable to God. Serving this master doesn’t lead to death but to life, to eternal life. This is given to us as a gift from God himself (v.23).
Throughout the New Testament, Christians are referred to as being slaves of God or slaves of Jesus. This does not come through most of our translations because our society does not like the idea of being a slave. Most of our translations will water down the Greek word duolos (which means “slave”) and put in the word “servant” (which comes from a different Greek word, diakonos). After presenting a lesson on Romans 6 several years ago, a young Christian was quite upset – she told me that she was the slave of no one and we didn’t see her again. Sadly, this is not what the Bible says.
The question is not whether we are a slave or not – we are. The question is, who is our master? Are we serving sin, which results in death, or obedience, which results in righteousness and eternal life? If we are serving obedience and righteousness we are really serving God.
Readings for next week:
16 March – Romans 10
17 March – Romans 11
18 March – Romans 12
19 March – Romans 13
20 March – Romans 14