Romans 6:20-22 “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 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.”
What is so helpful about these final verses in Romans chapter 6 is the fact that Paul summarizes what he has been saying throughout the chapter to ensure that we his readers understand and remember his words because they are very important. You have to remember that in our text Paul is talking about ordinary people, what their status is, ordinary housewives, ordinary teenagers, ordinary scientists, ordinary authors and composers and artists, ordinary members of the royal family, ordinary millionaires. He tells us some things that are true about every single ordinary person.
1. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT ALL MEN AND WOMEN WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
i] They are all slaves to sin. Hear Paul’s exact sentence, five words of one syllable each, “you were slaves to sin” (v.20). You actually are doing what you’d never have chosen to do if you were being honest. Our teacher asked our class one day what each of us wanted to be when we grew up. One said, “A banker,” others said, “A pilot . . . a millionaire . . . a football player.” But few attained those ambitions. When a teacher asked me I had my answer prepared. I said, “A personnel manager”! And I didn’t become that either. None of us answered, “A slave,” but that is exactly what everyone in my class in school became. Doesn’t hearing me say that make you feel angry? I am insisting that that is the status of ordinary people in Aberystwyth – and that is exactly what you are – today you are in a state of bondage and servitude to sin. You are doing what sin tells you to do, to please yourselves, and never think of God your Creator and how he wants you to live. Sin says to you “Live apart from God’s Son, apart from God’s will, apart from God’s law, apart from God’s Spirit, apart from God’s book, apart from God’s Day, without any regard for those things,” and you are doing exactly what sin is telling you to do, aren’t you, and have been doing so for years? Freedom, as far as you are concerned, is doing your own thing, fulfilling your own desires while singing your favourite song, “I did it my way.” That’s not real freedom at all. It’s a life of servitude of the most real and dire kind. You’re slaves to your own selfish desires.
There are some people we know whom we’d recognize to be in a state of slavery. There was a very great football player named Paul Gascoigne, and he became a slave to alcohol, and he lost his athletic skill, and his health, and his marriage, and his money because he was a slave to that sin. What an enormous talent and potential he had. Another such soccer player was George Best, in bondage to his desires, and utterly self-destructive even with a new kidney. Such men initially had the money to follow out their own desires and addictions, but that didn’t make them free. They were prisoners to their addictions. Consider a couple of the most famous Welshmen of their generation, Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton. How brilliant and charismatic they were. Fame and influence and women they had – everything but freedom. They could have had such joy in life, but they threw life away because of addiction to alcohol. How would we describe them? “Out of control.” That is the phrase Paul uses in our text. Not controlled by the conscience of our age that says addiction to drink is crazy. Out of the control of our own conscience that says you are ruining everything. Free from the control of what is right (v.20).
And what are the benefits? What benefit do you get from being a slave to alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or pornography? What are the benefits for yourself or your loved ones? Paul insists that you ask this question, “What benefit did you reap at that time?” (v.21). What can you say? Nothing at all. You got more sick, more poverty, more headaches, more regrets, more broken relationships and less satisfaction and less peace. You nod your heads. Isn’t that right? “Yes. That person is enslaved,” you say, “but not me,” but Paul is saying, “Yes, you – apart from being addicted to alcohol.” You choose to live apart from God, living without the Son of God, you are precisely in that situation, enslaved to self and to unbelief. The difference is that you are hiding your slavery from other people in a way that Paul Gascoigne and George Best couldn’t. You are a slave to Sin with a capital ‘S’ and the symptoms are slavery to television, to gambling, to pornography, to greed, to unbelief, to boring Sundays, to keeping God out of your life. It can be any number of sins that are all the mere symptoms that show that it’s Sin that’s in charge of your life. The whole population of our town, I say, is in slavery to sin and to sins, and all of them thinking of themselves as being free, yet they are locked into patterns of life that they keep and nourish every week, and just as long as they can do that, whatever they want to be and do, then they think they’re knowing liberty, but they are captives to the things they serve. I give you four tests to show you this.[i] If you prefer anything above God then you are under the dominion of sin. [ii] If you are not living better by the troubles God sends into your life then you are under the dominion of sin. [iii] If you feel the law of God is oppressive then you are under the dominion of sin. [iv] If you scorn the humble invitation of the gospel to trust in Christ then you are under the dominion of sin.
So you need deliverance from enslavement to sin, and true freedom is found outside ourselves in the power of the love and grace of God, delivering and elevating and enriching and liberating us, But you are under pressure from the men and women surrounding you to give up any desire to know true freedom. They are justifying their slavery to a life of unbelief, to living without God, by saying that everyone is the same. No. We are not. We have known deliverance. You are the slave to sin because you are without Jesus Christ the Son of God. He said once, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” Again he said, “When the Son of God makes you free then you are free indeed.” Do you see the irony of it all? We are driving around in our big cars barely making it from one petrol station to another, sipping designer water that costs more that a gallon of petrol, and talking on our phones to one another about the recession and how much we are suffering. Yet we’re showing that we are really slaves. We’ve become a nation of whingers and whiners. We’re so addicted to the things we have that when just a little bit is taken away from us – or if we have to wait for something – we go berserk. Men and women! You don’t have to be addicted to alcohol or drugs in order to see addiction to sin. All you have to do is look around you. Then another thing is true about men and women.
ii] They are all now ashamed of how they’ve lived. Paul speaks here of “the things you are now ashamed of” (v.21). An Auschwitz guard is on trial this week and he freely acknowledges that he is deeply ashamed of all he did there. Then why didn’t he go to the authorities years ago and acknowledge his shame and pay the price the law demands? Here are the people of our town and they claim to have discovered true freedom. They don’t have to go to church any more, or read the Bible, or pray to God, but with all their claims to freedom they’ve not discovered freedom from shame have they? At 2 a.m. lying awake in bed why do they sigh and groan? Every fallen son of Adam knows shame, ever since our first parents defied God by taking the forbidden fruit then its inevitable first consequence was shame. They hid themselves from God. They made aprons of leaves. Their guilt resulted in shame. The difference between guilt and shame is this; guilt is when I acknowledge that I’ve done something wrong. I took the forbidden fruit. Shame is being aware that there’s something wrong with me. It is a feeling of personal unworthiness and regret. Adam’s reaction in hiding from God is typical. A child will hide his face with his hands; we do the same.
You remember how the apostle Peter one night, was warming his hands by a fire with no other Christians around. He was questioned by a young woman whether he was also a companion of Jesus because he spoke with a country accent. He denied that he had anything to do with him, repeating the denial a number of times, with oaths, and then the cockerel crew twice and Peter remember the warning of Jesus that he would deny him three times and he wept bitterly in his shame at denying such a wonderful Saviour. You remember how Judas betrayed Jesus for some money with the sign to the thugs of kissing Jesus, and three days later, when they had beaten and crucified and killed Jesus, then Judas was full of remorse and shame and he threw away the money and hanged himself. A sense of shame is a powerful feeling. I am saying that you are a slave to your bad habits, and the proof of that is your pervasive sense of shame. It is a terrible state of affairs when men become like animals and lose their sense of shame. As Hamlet cries, “O shame where is thy blush?” Think of King David and how it was that his shame drove him to God, crying for forgiveness, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:1-3). So the people of this town are all slaves to sin and all have a sense of shame at the mess they have made of their lives and the people whom they have hurt.Then another thing is true about ordinary folk.
iii] The result of such lives is death. That is what he says. Five plain words; “Those things result in death!” (v.21). That is your future. In other words you defy God and there are fearful consequences. You serve sin and the wages you get are destruction. We live in a moral universe over-ruled by the law of God. Your conscience bears witness to your life. You sow the seed of sin and you reap the harvest of judgment. You sow a wind of defiance and you reap the whirlwind of destruction. You sin, and you answer, because there’s always the harvest. There’s never just the sowing. There is always the problem of what you are going to reap, the moment when God sends in the bill. There’s going to be the account to be rendered for your life. The wages of sin is death for the whole generation who hate Christ and who defy the offer of liberty and freedom through him.
There is the solemnity and unavoidability of physical death, of breathing one’s last. Woody Allen, the film producer, has a new film and so there’ve been inevitable interviews with him. He is so aware of his own mortality now that he is almost 80. He quoted the poet W.H. Auden about the thought of death. “It is like the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.” Have you heard it? Death approaching, nearer and nearer, and then there’s the judgment, what Revelation calls ‘the second death’ or the lake that burns with fire, the bonfire of the vanities, the cesspit of the universe, the cosmic incinerator into which, one day, God almighty will gather all the refuse of this world. Jesus spoke about it. He spoke tenderly of it. Jesus warned and wept over the place of eternal shame, where the false prophet is, and where the dragon and the beast are, and where everyone will be unless they deal with their sin in the divinely provided way.
I am not going to analyze it, but those symbols surely are eloquent and moving enough. This is a place where the smoke of their torment ascends day and night for ever and ever. And that is the logic of sin. That is the divine response to persistent impenitence and final disobedience. God delivers to us our final account. We are weighed in the balances and found wanting. And you check out that divine diagnosis. You read the papers and you’ll see what four men did to college students in Kenya, how they murdered 150 Christian students whom they’d never met before that day when they got in the sites of their rifle and they shot them dead, boys and girls, without shedding a tear. Or you see what is presented to us from the Isis murderers in Syria and Iraq – their abominable deeds, or there is the mutilation of millions of young girls, or closer to Europe, the fact that we have lived when gas chambers wiped out millions of Jews, and the perpetrators were those men who sang Christmas carols and listened to Bach and Beethoven. Let me come closer in time to the domestic violence found in too many homes in the UK, the grooming of young girls for sexual exploitation, the murders of unborn children, thousands of them every month in England and Wales, and not one word to be spoken in its defence, because if there is then we stand where Paul says the depraved and the abandoned ultimately stand – we are worse than those who do such things, if we take pleasure in them or if we admire them.
But there is not only the defiled history of my generation, there is my own history, my life, the file that God has kept of each person. There is my biography. What do I mean? Am I saying to God, “Yes . . . but . . .” Would I dare hear God speaking and reply to him “. . . yes, but . . .” That every mouth is stopped and the whole world be guilty before God. My life is inexcusable, my thought life, my fantasies and imaginations, my emotions, my resentment, my self-pity to those who love me the most. My words, hard words, silly words, hateful words . . . by our own mouths we are condemned. What a barometer of the state of our hearts are our words. And my actions, what I have done, done to my nearest and dearest, to those I depend on for a contented home life. And I did those shameful things and I said them, in this body. I don’t need to look at my generation, and at Isis, and Boko Haram, and Belsen to discover what sin is and why I must be saved from it. It is all on my record.
My only plea, “Lord, I’m a prisoner to sin. My life is indefensible. Lord, cover it. Lord, save me!” The dilemma so great that just one way of deliverance was possible to reconcile God to a sick and rebel race, that he would come, the Son of the highest, come on that long journey from glory to be pitching his tent in our vale of sorrows where the groaning is and the evil abounds. He came and took our frail flesh and blood, into our low condition he came and he gave his life as a ransom. The Lamb of God came to take away the sin of the world. That is why he came; that is the very nature of who God is, that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. He took our shame and blame and bore it to the bottomless pit and the lake of fire, in our place and as our substitute. He stood in the naked flame of the majestic rectitude of the Holy one in his burning destruction of all that defiles us and opposes God. Christ suffered the wrath of God against us. He entered the very holy revulsion of God as he considers the spectacle of cosmic sin, and Christ paid its wages, not me, but in my place, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, he purged my sins all by himself. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He was delivering up and sparing not his beloved Son that we might be spared, and at last go to heaven saved by his precious blood.
So what is my plea as I hear the words of warning and entreaty to be saved? “Guilty! Lord cover my life! Save me through Jesus Christ.” That is all. And when God gives me permission to speak all I can say is, “I wish it wasn’t me.” And can we get away for ever from our excusing our sins, and our attempts to rationalize them, and plead some excuse, telling God that if he only knew all the circumstances that he’d know that this or that demeanor was justified and that we couldn’t help it. Can we get back to what is the sinner’s only plea . . . every mouth stopped, every single one and I hang my head and I say, “I abhor myself.’ I abhor those who betrayed and lashed and crucified and mocked my Saviour. I abhor those who kidnapped 200 teenage girls in Nigeria. I abhor the pilot who deliberately flew his plane into the Alps and killed 150 people, but most of all I abhor myself.” Have we ever got to that point, when we say to God in the glory of his being, “Guilty, Lord. Wash me, and make me whiter than snow.” So those words of Paul are true for all the unregenerate world today.
2. WHAT IS TRUE FOR EVERYONE WHO IS DELIVERED.
This is the second great reality that is the Christian’s privilege. The old unbelieving unregenerate person you used to be has died to sin’s dominion over you, and you are now united with Christ in his death, his burial, and his resurrection. He lives in you and you in him. These truths are facts that God has established in your life. If you are a Christian they are true. They are true not because of any feelings or heightened experiences you’ve had but just because of what God has done for you in joining you to his Son Jesus Christ.
God’s intention for you is that you be freed from sin and become a slave to righteousness and have eternal life. That is your brand-new life; it’s not just new life. There’s a difference. A man says, “I’ve got a new car.” “Brand new?” you ask him. “Well, it’s done 20,000 miles,” he replies. New for him, but not brand new. But there is brand new life direct from heaven for you who believe. It’s a newness of a different kind. God’s intention is that every Christian should have a completely different kind of life from the one you once lived.
Three things are brand new for every single Christian without exception, for the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ, for the youngest Christian, for the believer who is backsliding just now, these three things are true. They are not true merely for the Christian who’s had the second blessing, or who’s spoken with tongues, or who has ‘laid all on the altar,’ or ‘got the victory’ but for every mere believer.
i] He has been set free from sin. Paul again, with the simplest words, sets out the Christian privilege, “you have been set free from sin” (v.22). You understand what this means? The Christian has not been set free from the presence of sin. He has not been set free from the temptations of sin. He has not been set free from sinning. He has been set free from the dominion and the lordship of sin over his life so that sin by curt commands and insinuating suggestions gets him to go on ignoring God and doing things sin’s way. That has ended for every Christian. We are free to say “No!” when sin tells us ignore Jesus Christ.
You see the implications of that for you – a little Christian boy or girl? All this business of going with the in-crowd, and behaving in that dire way you used to behave with your gang – all that is now over! This business of experiencing subsequent shame, and fearing the judgment of death – it’s all over! It is totally unnecessary to a believer. There is nothing inevitable about the consequences of a powerful temptation coming to a Christian. When Joseph was tempted by his boss’s wife he didn’t say, “Why not? She wants it and I want it. It can’t be wrong ‘cause it feels so right.” No. You have been set free from inevitable defeat in temptation, with accompanying shame as a consequence. Of course we may fall like those true believers, Noah and Lot and Abraham and David and Peter and Paul fell – though few of us as spectacularly as they did. There will still exist the tragedy of sin in a believer’s life until the end of the world, but those were the result of choices that we made. Christians are not conditioned to fall. Christians are not victims. We chose to bite it off and spit it out and do it our way. What fools and slow of heart we are to believe our glorious privilege and provision and status in Christ.
There is a boy who is learning to ride a bike. He has learned to balance on the two wheels and to pedal down the street, and he is doing very well, but so far the only way he has found out how to stop is to put his foot on the ground or run into something. So his father has said to him, “You know you don’t have to run into the curb, or into a bush, or into the garage door to stop. There is another way to do it. Provision has been made by bicycle manufacturers not only for the bike to go but also for the bike to stop. That lever there is the brake, and that lever on the other handle is another brake. You lift them up and the bike slows down.” And the boy looked up at his father open-eyed and said, “Oh! I’m really glad to know there’s another way to stop.” I hope he was not being sarcastic. But it was no good for him knowing that there was another way of stopping unless he used the brakes.
It is like that in the Christian life. Everybody wants to know about power, about getting more power to labour and witness and persuade and influence and go on and on. O.K. That is fascinating, but you also need power to put the brakes on doing things and stopping going places and ceasing saying things. God has provided some brakes. One is in weakening the power of remaining sin by killing it – mortification; that is one brake. The other brake is looking more to Jesus Christ for his presence and power and for his love to constrain us in our lives. Use those brakes! God has done everything necessary for us to go on and also to stop. Our part is to believe what he says and to act upon it. To count on our true status in Christ, to reckon on it and to act upon its truth.
ii] He is a blessed slave of righteousness. Paul says, you “have become slaves to God” (v.22). You know the fascinating provision that God made to Old Testament servants who were given their freedom by their masters, but didn’t want to be freed from serving them because they loved them deeply. “Please don’t put us out of your house and family. We want to be slaves in your home for ever,” they said. Have you seen that? It is in the book of Exodus in the chapter that follows the 10 commandments; it’s in chapter 21 and verses 5 and 6; “If the servant declares, ‘I love my master, and my wife and children, and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the door-post and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” Every Christian says to King Jesus, “I want to spend the rest of my life as your servant, doing your will. That is where I find the greatest freedom.”
If you’re slaves to the God of righteousness to live righteously, let me tell you about your benefits. Look at the package. Our new wage, our new benefit, our new income is what? A life of love, joy and peace, being adopted into the family of God, being an heir of God, enjoying an inheritance that will never be taken from us, and so on. The apostle is saying, it’s a package deal. Sonship equals life, and God grants to us in Christ Jesus, by his grace, adoption and eternal life. Sin, on the one hand, leads to misery, and eventually to death. Grace, on the other hand, leads to holiness and eternal life.
Grace not only leads to forgiveness, but grace leads to the blessed life of being a son of God. But when the world looks at the Christian, and it sees a man living in sexual fidelity in his marriage, it might say, “Oh, but think of what you’re missing. Think of all the women I can have.” But it is the man who is faithful who is blessed, not the rake who is doing whatever he wants to do. And when the world looks at the Christian and it says, “Look what you could be doing with your money instead of giving all that stuff to the church, and to Kenya. You could be having fun for yourself.” The world doesn’t see that it is the man who gives who is blessed and to whom much more is added. When the world says, “But look how much fun you could be having on Sundays instead of being in church with those people and hearing all those boring preachers,” then it is the one who is honouring the Lord’s Day who is blessed.
It is the man who is a slave to righteousness that knows true blessedness, and it’s false freedom that boasts, “I can do anything I want to, anytime I want to, any place I want to, any way I want to.” That slavery is not freedom at all. Remember what the Lord Jesus said? “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he said that immediately after he’d said this, “Whoever wants to become first among you, must become the slave of all.” It is the man who dies who lives. It is the man who is a slave, who is free. If you want to become free, Paul says, become a slave. If you want to live, die to your sinful desires. If you want to become first, become a slave. Robert Murray McCheyne, that young Dundee minister, once prayed a very simple prayer. You know it. It went like this: “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.” Lord, make me as holy as a forgiven sinner can be. That beautifully sums up what Paul has been saying in Romans 3 to Romans 6.
So it ought to be every Christian’s desire not only to experience the forgiveness of God, but also to be a slave of righteousness. And it is in that happy slavery that we find true freedom. That is what we pray for when we consider our relatives, our children and grandchildren and our parents. There was a Christian lady in Africa in the fourth century named Monica who had a brilliant son named Augustine who was far from the Lord. Monica prayed for her son, Augustine, for many years during which he lived a life of infidelity, with muddled religious views, and cohabitated with a woman. As she prayed for him, her prayers to God were not only for his forgiveness, but for his transformation, that he be set free from sin and become a servant of righteousness. She wanted to see his life turned inside out. And God in his mercy answered the prayers of that woman. He caused Augustine to hear some children playing in next door’s yard. They were perhaps skipping and chanting, “Take! Read! Take! Read! Take! Read!” And the incessant drumming of those words became the voice of God to him and he hurried into the house and opened the Bible at Romans and began to read and came under conviction and into liberty of faith in Christ. Then let us go on praying and lifting one another up, that God would grant us and our loved one to be as holy as pardoned sinners can be?
iii] He has eternal life. Paul makes it so clear; “The result is eternal life” (v.22). Saturday afternoon is the great time for results isn’t it? How did your team do? How was the game? What was the result? Was it defeat and relegation? Or was it victory and triumph? Every Christian is more than a conqueror. If God be for us then what hope do our enemies have of defeating us? The result of God beginning a good work in us is that we receive eternal life! “The result is eternal life.” Shouldn’t we all be interested in results? Once upon a time a couple met, and they fell in love, and what was the result of that courtship? Was the result marriage, and children, and a long happy life together, or was it that they grew apart, and fell out of love, and quarreled about who was to have the cat and the DVDs and the photographs? What is the result of your choice concerning Jesus Christ? If you have the Saviour then the result is eternal life.
We say it so easily – “eternal life.” We are so familiar with it. It drops off our tongues. It is there in the most well known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Every believer is given eternal life! Think of the great words that end John chapter 3, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Another famous verse ends this sixth chapter of Romans, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23).
What is eternal life? It is not a life sentence, life as you know it today just going on and on and on, no improvement, or deliverance, never changing. Not that. Eternal life is the life of eternity, the life of heaven, the life of God. So it is the life of love, joy and peace . . . it is the life of holiness; it is Christ-likeness. In God’s presence is fulness of joy from his right hand where there are pleasures for evermore. It is the removal of all that drags and bores and wearies and grieves. It is the life of God. Can you imagine God ever getting fed up, ever twiddling his thumbs and wondering what to do? Can you imagine God ever sighing with frustration because time was so heavy on his hands? The life of God is 100% love, and 100% peace, and 100% joy, and 100% contentment, and 100% fulfillment, so that whatever the challenge there is always strength enough and ability enough and time enough to accomplish it with all one’s might and to God’s glory. That is the life of eternity and it is the free gift of God to all who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Then take it! This is a gift. It is being offered to you today. Then take it! Here is someone who loves you dearly, and they have purchased a gift that is commensurate with their means – and they are very rich – and so it is unimaginably glorious, and they now are offering this gift to you – eternal life. There are no strings attached. It is their gift for you because they dearly love you. Won’t you take it? Won’t you say, “Thank you so much . . . what can I say . . . you are so kind . . . I am so unworthy . . . Thanks so much . . . eternal life! Wow”
17th May 2015 GEOFF THOMAS