Romans 6:15-18 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 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? 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. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
An old friend of mine named Bill is the pastor of a thriving church in Liverpool, and often when I have heard him he has begun his sermon by describing a certain type of man or woman to whom he gives a name, and then he analyzes what they say and he shows what’s wrong with their attitudes and how they can put it right. It is an engaging way of preaching. It draws the congregation immediately into the message, and so I am going to do the same today. But I have taken my introduction from a sermon on this subject from a fine American preacher named Ray Prichard. This is how he began this sermon . . .
We’ll call him Dave, but it doesn’t matter. He’s been a professing Christian for three or four years. Although he comes to church, he’s not very faithful and he doesn’t seem very interested in growing in his walk with Christ. In fact, as you think about Dave and as you observe his life, it seems to you that he’s involved in some activities that really drag him down as a Christian. When you mention that fact to him, he says, “Hey, I know I’m going to heaven. Why not live it up until I get there?” What do you say to him?
We’ll call her Susan. She’s been married, I believe, about fifteen years, and has been a professing Christian just about that long. And she’s one of your best friends. You’ve just discovered that she’s getting involved in a romantic relationship with another man. When you confront her, she replies, “I know it’s wrong. You don’t have to tell me that. I know it’s a sin. But I know God understands and I know He’ll forgive me.” What do you say to her?
We’ll call him Jack. He’s been a professing Christian a long time and in the church for years, but by his own admission, he’s never grown as a Christian at all. He’s still wearing nappies or diapers spiritually, he’s still a baby Christian. He says to you, “Look, I’m going to heaven and that’s the only thing that matters to me. I don’t mind taking a back seat up there and let the rest of you sit towards the front of the class, just so long as I make it. That’s all I care about. The rest of it doesn’t matter.” What do you say to him?
So we are asking this question, whether it makes any difference how we live? Those people I’ve told you about are not extraordinary; they give vent to common voices, common words, common thoughts. We hear them a lot. If we’re honest today, some of us have said the same things. “I’m going to heaven. I’m going to enjoy my life my own way until I get there.” “I know it’s wrong, but God will forgive me.” “I’ll take a back seat in heaven and the rest of it doesn’t matter.” What do you say to them? What does God have to say about them? Does the Bible shed any light on this subject at all? The question really is this: Now that I have peace with God, does it make any difference how I live? Yes or no? What does God have to say about this? The answer, of course, is yes. God has a great deal to say about how we live. Romans 6 is the central passage in the Bible that deals with Jack and Susan and Dave and the great question, Now that I’m saved, does it matter how I live?
Paul is asking a question which he has asked almost identically way back in the first verse of this chapter. He’s been answering that question in verses 2 through 14. The question here, in verse 15, is answered in the rest of the chapter. The first question was, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” The second question is, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” The first question is suggesting that by continually sinning and getting forgiveness for those sins don’t we magnify the grace of God. Aren’t we giving the grace of God plenty of scope? The question before us today is more focused; “Does living under grace give me freedom to sin?” In all my moment-by-moment decisions is it OK for me to give in to my feelings, and retaliate, and blow my top because I can always fall back on the mercy of God. Is it OK for me to rubbish a person because I am covered with the blood of Christ? Is it OK for me to go to the web and look at pornography because God has forgiven all my sins, past, present and future? Is it OK to borrow something without permission because who is a pardoning God like my God?
The whole of this chapter is probing me about the subject of my abusing the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Is it all right for me to sin, to say to myself that it’s a small sin, to treat sin lightly? I am going to heaven; more happy than me but not more secure are the glorified spirits in heaven. The law of God no longer condemns me. It has condemned the Saviour in my place and so for me there is now no condemnation. I am under the grace of God, for ever and ever. I am under his determination to save me and glorify me and take me to heaven so that when I see Christ I shall be like him. So the million pound question is this, “Has God given to me a license to sin? Can I be a Christian crook, or a born again pornographer, or a religious burglar, or an evangelical bank-robber, or a Calvinistic drug dealer, or a fundamentalist pole-dancer, or an adulterous church member? Can I receive forgiveness and a passport to glory and God working all things together for my good, and the Holy Spirit abiding in my heart, and God providing all my needs, and nothing separating me from his love, and yet living under the domination of cruel, hurtful, destructive, selfish desires and actions? That doesn’t seem right does it? The Lord Jesus was lashed and crucified. He hung on the cross in the darkness under the anathema of God. Men mocked him while he prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” That was the price he paid for my redemption, to save me from my sin. Did Jesus pay that price for me so that from now on I might do whatever took my fancy? Did he suffer under the condemnation of the law of God that I’d broken so that I could go on breaking the law with impunity for the rest of my life? Is that the freedom for which Christ has made me free?
- WHAT DOES PAUL MEAN WHEN HE SAYS THAT WE ARE NOT UNDER LAW BUT UNDER GRACE?
Let’s clear away some confusion . . .
i] It doesn’t mean that there are no longer any rules. A lot of people believe that. “We are under grace,” they say. They think of rules as things that cramp their style. They say, “The Pharisees had all those rules, but the great thing about Jesus was that he got rid of all the rules. There are no more rules.” That idea that rules are the problem is one of the dumbest ideas of all time. Does the Highway Code make driving more dangerous or less dangerous? The rules of the road make driving less dangerous. Do the rules of a game spoil the game or make the game? The rules make the game. So it is here; when Paul is saying that we are not under law, but under grace then that doesn’t mean that rules no longer exist for a Christian. Look at the anarchy in Baltimore last week as a mob rioted and set fire to cars and looted shops and threw rocks at the police. Who would go out on the street when there is anarchy with no rules? Being under law doesn’t mean, “Oh, you’re under this terrible bondage of submitting to the order of a family and a school and a church and a community. Now thank heavens, Jesus has got rid of all that order, and there are no rules now.” Being under grace does not mean that there are no longer any rules.
ii] It doesn’t mean that in the Old Testament you had to obey the rules, but in the New Testament you don’t have to, but you do anyway because you want to. That’s not what Paul is saying. You know I’ve met Christians who believe that. They say to me, “We don’t have to obey the Ten Commandments any more. Actually we do keep them, but it’s because we want to . . . but we don’t have to.” I’ve even heard people say, “Well, we don’t really have to obey the Sermon on the Mount. That’s about life in the kingdom dispensation to come, in the millennium, after the secret rapture. Today Christians might choose to keep the Ten Commandments because they want to, but they don’t have to.” That’s not what Paul is positing here either. If God’s commands are how we show that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and how we love our neighbour as ourselves, then the ten commandments are not a mere option which some take and some leave. The point of freedom for the Christian is not that godliness becomes optional – “Shall I become godly or not?” – and we may choose to live like that when we feel like it. No! That’s not the freedom that Paul is talking about. That’s a wrong response.
iii] It doesn’t mean that unlike the Old Testament the Ten Commandments are nowhere found in the New Testament. So some people claim, “See, here’s our Christian freedom. In the Old Testament you had these ten commands. In the New Testament those commands are not repeated anywhere.” But how did Jesus deal with the rich young ruler who came running and asking how he could inherit eternal life? He went through the law of God with him, and when the young man claimed he’d always kept all Ten Jesus tested his self-righteousness by applying to him the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” The ten commandments are there in that personal evangelism of Jesus. Of course the man coveted his wealth, clinging to it. He would not be parted from it. Or think of how the apostle tells these Roman Christians about their daily conduct, how they were to live. This is what he writes in Romans 13 and verses 8 through 10; “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”
Well, those verses from the New Testament look to me a whole lot like the moral law of the Old Testament. And Jeremiah in the Old Testament said that the mark of a person who is the ultimate new covenant Christian was this, that the law of God was written on his heart. Which law? God’s moral law. Because God’s moral law is the reflection of his own nature. It’s what God’s like, and he wants us to be morally like him. Yes, it’s true that the ceremonial law has been abrogated, because it has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and yes, it is true that the civil law of Israel no longer pertains because the theonomous land of Israel has gone for ever. Their civil law legislation is no longer binding, but the moral law is a reflection of God’s character. And the freedom that we have as Christians is not a liberation from God’s character. For surely we want to be like him. Our chief end is to be like our heavenly Father.
So if all those things are not what Paul means by not being under law but under grace, what does he mean? Well, some people might say this. It means that we’re not under the condemnation of the law. That’s true, but that’s not what Paul is talking about now. He has talked about that, and he will talk about it again, but right now, he seems not so much to be talking about our forgiveness and our acceptance and our freedom from condemnation, as he is talking about the fact that we are no longer pawns of sin any more. We are no longer dominated by this tyrannical master, Sin. He’s telling us here that we are not under the law, but under grace in this sense, that we are free from the domination of sin, and we freely serve grace, and we are supported by the strength, by the power of grace, in order to become like God. Morality, godliness, holiness, obedience flows from the work of the grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
You see, the problem is not rules. The problem is not obligation to those rules. The problem is not even Old Testament moral law. The problem is sin. And the grievous power of sin’s dominion over men lies in this, that God’s law relentlessly condemns sin. All the holiness of God lies behind his law. The strength of sin is the law of God. God’s law doesn’t forbid us blowing dandelion seeds. God’s law doesn’t fussily forbid us wearing a red tie. That would not be a strong law. Those prohibitions would be unworthy weak laws. But God’s law says, “Don’t worship idols, and honour your parents.” Those are strong commandments forbidding obvious sins. Let me use this simple illustration; here are some boys who play ball in the street against the wall of a little old lady, and she once in a while goes out and says, “Oh boys! Don’t play ball against my wall all the time. The thudding of that ball drives me crazy,” but that’s all she can say and do. She has no power to stop them and she is afraid of them. She raises a weak complain. But when you beak one of the ten commandment do you realize that you are falling under the condemnation of Almighty God your Creator and law-giver? The soul that sins he shall die, says God, and die he will, first physical death and then what the book of Revelation calls the second death. The strength of sin is its condemnation by the law.
But as a believer God has liberated you from the powerful condemnation of sin. In that sense you are not under the law’s punishment. You live under the reign of the grace of the Holy Spirit and the lordship of Jesus Christ. We live like that when the power of the Holy Spirit becomes the dynamic in our lives, and it enables us to say, “How I love your law, O Lord. I meditate on it day and night, and I walk in those ways, because it’s a lamp to my feet, and it’s a light to my path.” So freedom from the condemnation of the law doesn’t mean freedom from God. You live and move and have your being in God. Every breath you take is through God. Christ has freed you from having to obey sin when it whispers to you to ignore Jesus Christ and his Bible and his Day and his salvation. You are freed from that slavery to obey sin. Your whole life is under the mighty grace of God.
- NONE OF US IS FREE: ALL OF US SERVE SOMETHING OR SOMEONE.
Paul engages you by asking you a question: “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?” (v.16). Stuart Olyottimagines Paul inviting us to come with him to a slave market. We go to one of the slaves and we ask him who is his master. He gives an answer, but we don’t know whether he’s told us the truth or not. How can we know whether his answer is honest, or whether he has lied? We have to keep an eye on him, and see which man he obeys. Here comes a wealthy-looking man and he gestures to the slave and immediately he goes to him. He asks the slave to do something. Again immediately he obeys. That man must be his master. You can always tell to whom a person belongs in that way. “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 . . . ?” (v.16).
Paul is telling us in these verses that there are two masters, who demand two different kinds of service, and who give two sorts of rewards. The first master is described in verse 16 as sin, and again in verses 18 and 20 and 22, sin. In verse 19 the master we learn has another name as well; it is impurity. But the second master has another name; he is called in verses 17-20 righteousness, and in verses 22-23 God.
Here are very different masters who demand different kinds of service. If sin and impurity is your master, then you will do those things which are consistent with your master’s nature and commands. You will sin and be impure. He demands that you do impure actions and when you’ve done them, that you go on and do “ever increasing wickedness” (v.19). He demands that you do things that you’re now ashamed of (v. 2l). But 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 form of teaching found in Scripture (vv. 17, 22). Those who have this master live a life of righteousness (v.19), and holiness, (v. 22). The two kinds of service that you render could not be more different. They are as opposite as the work of a surgeon and anaesthetist and nurses in a sterile operating room, in contract to a refuse collector picking up your rubbish and putting it inside the lorry.
These two masters pay different sorts of wages. What will be the outcome if you serve the first master? Death! (vv.16, 21, 23). Three times that stark monosyllable is announced. Death! In the Bible this does not just mean physical death, but alienation from God and everlasting punishment. What does the other master give? Life! Eternal life! (vv. 22, 23).
Ray Steadman tells about visiting Los Angeles during the days of the Jesus People. He saw a strange-looking character walking the streets wearing a sandwich board. On the front of it said “I’m a slave for Christ.” He walked on by and Ray glanced behind him as the man went past, and then he read another question that the man was wearing on his back. It was, “Whose slave are you?” That’s exactly what Paul is asking us here. “I’m a slave for Christ. Whose slave are you?” All of us serving some master. Either I did it my way, or I did it God’s way, but always doing things in someone else’s way.
Every day you’re facing a fork in the road; there are two ways and one of two choices before you. You can go toward sin, or you can go toward God. If you go toward sin, you know what you are? You’re a slave to sin. If you go toward God, you know what you are? You’re a slave of God and of righteousness. One day you will be in a room and there are just two doors of escape. One has hell written on it and one has heaven. No other doors; no other exits. Some people may say, “I want the option of the undecided.” There is no such exit. Jesus said that he that is not for him is against him. You go toward sin or you go toward God. You say, “Well, I want one foot in sin and one foot in righteousness.” It doesn’t work that way. You can’t live in both kingdoms at the same time. There is no joint citizen ship in the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light at the same time. You’ve got to make up your mind which way you are going to go.
So whose slave are you? Suppose I stopped every one of you in the porch as you left church tonight and I asked each of you, “Whose slave are you?” That could be a bit embarrassing for some of you but it’s the question Paul wants us to take very personally. “I’m a slave for Christ. Whose slave are you?”
That’s the issue and from now on you’ve got to deal with it every single day. You see, it’s not good enough to go to church and go through the religious rigmarole. It is a charade unless during the week you back it up with a truly Christian life. Whose slave are you? You don’t answer that question by coming to church on Sunday. You answer that question by the choices you make during the week.
The issue facing us all is which of these masters is your master; which one do you serve; which outcome lies before you, eternal life or eternal death? If you live in deliberate unbelief and selfishness, it is obvious who your master is, and where you are heading. But those who belong to God just don’t live and can no longer live like that. Paul has made it absolutely clear why a professing Christian cannot live without law. It would prove, despite his claims, to the contrary, that he is not a true Christian at all, but Lord Sin is still his master and he is that lord’s slave. It would indicate that he is a person who is eternally lost. A true Christian’s body and soul certainly needs to be urged to be more submissive and obedient to his new master (v. l9) – “offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” Every Christian will have many falls and failings but no Christian lives loose to the law of God, neither any longer is he a slave to unbelief.
So 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. He does not simply cleanse us from the guilt of sin but also from its power. There is always what Toplady calls the ‘double cure’ in salvation, not only delivered from the guilt of sin but also from its power over us. You cannot say to God, “I want you to cleanse me from the guilt and condemnation of sin, but I still want to enjoy the power of sin over me, and I want to stay like that for a few more years.” You cannot choose to partake in just some of the saving work of our Lord. Or again in the great hymn “Love divine all loves excelling,” we sing “Take away the love of sinning . . . set our hearts at liberty.” Every justified heart longs for that deliverance from the love of sin. If you have a new record in heaven then also you’ve got to have a new life here on earth. This is very different from much teaching being given today, where men and women who have ‘made a decision’ concerning Jesus Christ are certainly assured, “All is now well with you and God”, even if after a few weeks their lives are no different from how they’ve always lived, with small regard for the Ten Commandments and for the form of doctrine contained in God’s Word. Yet they are still assured by many ‘spiritual’ teachers that they are God’s children. This is not so. Our Lord declared, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). The law of God declares to me the will of my Father in heaven.
- THE GLORIOUS ACHIEVEMENTS OF GRACE.
The apostle Paul says three things in these last verses of our text. He’s explaining here that God’s grace is the thing which liberates, and true liberation is found in obedience, not in doing what we jolly well please. He’s telling us here that God’s grace brings power for whole-hearted obedience. He says, “But thanks be to God . . . You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (vv. 17&18).
i] Paul is thanking God for causing the conversion of these Christians. What’s my point? It is this, that if we are the ones who ultimately save ourselves – if God’s hands are tied and he is helpless and he can do no more, so that the final choice of heaven and eternal life is ours alone to take, then we will lack any deep and sincere gratitude to God. We did it. We saw the issues. We made the choice. So we go to new Christians and we say to them, “Thank you for believing in Jesus . . . thank you for opening your heart and letting Jesus in . . . thank you for believing the Bible . . . thank you for choosing heaven.” We give praise to these sinners for making their wise decisions! However, if it is God’s grace alone that saves us, if he is the one who provided a Saviour who became our substitute and sin-bearer, if God makes our dead hearts come alive and if it is God who grants us the faith to believe, and if God imputes to us the works of righteousness of his Son, and if God keeps us by his power and brings us home, then those are tremendous reasons for us to cry “Thanks be to God for his great salvation!”. In other words, even in those four opening words of verse 17 – “thanks be to God” – we see Paul’s conviction that salvation is by the grace of God alone. Thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, now you’re slaves to righteousness. Salvation is by grace alone. For what other reason would you give thanks to God?
ii] Secondly, Paul is so grateful that they whole-heartedly obeyed the teaching that came to them. Notice what he says. “You whole-heartedly obeyed.” You did this. Yes you did it by grace, and you did it with the strength that the Holy Spirit provided, and you did it constrained by the love that Jesus Christ has for you, but you did it. And that is human responsibility. Salvation is 100% the work of God and 100% the work of men. 100% plus 100% equals 100%. You became obedient to the gospel that was preached to you. It was not that you screwed up effort and said, “Um . . . I’m going to do this. It’s hard, and I hate this, every step of the way, but I guess I’ll do it. I’m just going to bite the bullet and go for it.” No. Grace had overcome your reluctance. There was whole-hearted obedience whereby you said, “For to me to live is Christ . . . Love so amazing so divine demands my soul my life my all . . . What would it profit me if I gained the whole world and lost my soul?” Grace makes us whole-hearted disciples.
Remember the initial obedience of Adam. There was the creation mandate that God gave to him in the garden. I mean, first God comes to Adam, and he says, “Now Adam, here’s the situation. I want you to replenish the whole world and subdue it. Take dominion over the entire known universe. I want you to be my vice-gerent, and I want you to command creation, bring order to it, make it fruitful.” “Whew!” said Adam blowing out his cheeks, “Right!” That was command number one. Okay. Next one.
The second command was this: “Eve, I want you to fill the earth with your offspring.” “Yes? Well I know that if you command it than I can do it.” This is command number two to be fruitful and multiply. And then God tells them that there’s mandatory rest for them both every single week. “I don’t want you buzz like bumble bees each day of the week from dawn to dusk. Every seven days you rest on my day, following my pattern.” So that meant a mandate to Adam and Eve for 52 days of rest and peace every year. Right.
The third command was this; “Now, next, I want you to get married.” That’s the command? Right? Yes. God’s commands are good, and it’s only sin that makes us think that they are burdensome and are cramping our style. God’s sovereignty over us as his servants is always not only for his glory, but in our best interests. But the sensibleness and wisdom of God’s command wasn’t what motivated Adam and Eve to obey God. He didn’t say to them, “Just do it.” God their Father had made them in grace with such loving kindness. That’s why they relished the challenge. They did what he said because God was at work in them day by day. They did it because it was their delight to please him. He was the centre and focus of everything in the world, from the sun, moon and stars to the blades of grass beneath their feet and the birds that sang in the trees and the animals that looked at them. This was their Father’s world and he gave them grace to live in it to his glory.
So the initial response of Adam and Eve to God was whole-hearted obedience, and at that time they knew nothing of the extraordinary love of God in Jesus Christ that was going to take men and women and make them godlike men and women. Did they guess that they could do all things through Christ who strengthens his creatures to serve him? All he asks you to do he can also enable you to do. They could be more than conquerors through his love. God could make all grace abound to you.
iii] Finally, Christians have a new status with new resources and new ambitions. They have become slaves to righteousness. See what he says in verse 18, “You have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness.” We have been hearing of the anniversaries of the liberation of the prisoners of war and the inmates of the concentration camps 60 years ago this spring. What a transformation of status and what new liberty. Before that day they did what the camp commander and the guards told them to do. Then the allied troops arrived and they were free at last. God has delivered every Christian from obedience to the sins that beset him. We have a new loving master, the Lord our Righteousness. Sin was a tyrannical, dominating, cruel enemy. He wrecked our lives telling us that only what we see around us is the real world; there is nothing more, and this is what life was all about. Then our great Liberator came, the Captain of Salvation and he made us free at last, free at last! Praise the Lord God Almighty that we are free at last to serve this loving Lord who at such cost has freed us from sin henceforth to serve righteousness all our days in this world and then after death to serve God in a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells
I think that a lot of religious people think that freedom is getting to call their own shots and do it their way. They think of it as freedom from obedience, and freedom from obligation. Paul says that it’s the most liberating activity to work for the Lord, to be a slave of the Lord – what an honour! And we slaves love to obey. But Jesus refuses to call us slaves. He calls us sons and so we reciprocate; to be a child of God is to obey. To be a servant of most high God – what a privilege. You remember what Satan said to Adam in the garden? “If you want to be like God, disobey.” Do you remember what the author of Hebrews teaches in Hebrews 5, verse 8? “Although he was a Son, yet he learned obedience through the things he suffered.” In other words, if your aim in life is God-likeness, if you want to be like his Son, then what did his Son do, he obeyed his Father from his heart. Paul is saying the freedom of grace is for obedience, and that’s what it means when it tells us that we are not under law, but under grace.
3rd May 2015 GEOFF THOMAS