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Slaves to Righteousness February 24, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 6:15-23.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses an objection that could be raised to his main point at the conclusion of the preceding passage – namely, believers are not subject to God’s law (either the Mosaic law or the natural law that is written on men’s hearts) but live under a gracious dispensation. The objection in question states that believers are free to sin since they are not subject to God’s law; of course, Paul strenuously opposes this point. To show that believers do not have a license to sin, Paul brings up the example of slavery, which was not uncommon in the Roman Empire. By definition, slaves are continually compelled to obey their masters. Now it turns out that men only have two choices in life – either they can be slaves to sin, which is guaranteed to result in death, or they can be slaves to God, which is guaranteed to result in life. Paul is thankful that though his readers had made the former choice, they have now turned to the latter option; he also notes that his example of slavery is quite relevant to them, since their sinful natures keep trying to “re-enslave” them. He then exhorts them to show the same fervor in obeying God – being sanctified in the process – as they showed when they obeyed sin – and became more wicked in that case. Paul concludes this passage by noting that just as obeying sin results in death, obeying God results in eternal life, since believers serve a risen Savior.

Thoughts: As noted in my previous post, I struggle to understand the nature of our slavery to righteousness; why do truly regenerated believers need to strive to obey God? Hodge notes the following:

Similarly, the more completely God reigns in us, and the more completely we are subject to his will, then the greater our freedom – that is, the more we act in accordance with the laws of our nature and the end of our being.

To me, this smacks of predestination, and not so much of free will. Yet somehow we are commanded in verse 19 to “offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” Why would we need to willfully enslave ourselves to righteousness if we are truly subject to God’s will? Does this relate to the free will that we exercise in being justified in the first place?

In verse 17, we see the phrase “the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.” Hodge clarifies this phrase as follows:

Form of teaching means the Gospel, either in its limited sense of the doctrine of free justification through Christ, of which the apostle had been speaking, or in its wider sense of the whole doctrine of Christ as a rule both of faith and practice. The former includes the latter. He who receives Christ as priest receives him as Lord. He who comes to him for justification comes also for sanctification. Therefore obedience to the call to put our trust in Christ as our righteousness implies obedience to his whole revealed will.

It is clear that genuine justification must be followed by sanctification. That is, it is not sufficient for someone to merely claim that they trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior; their subsequent life must reflect the truth of this statement. Of course, this is an incredibly difficult and challenging endeavor. Most, if not all, of Jesus’ commands in the Gospels are extremely demanding and involve denying oneself and solely depending on Him. Even mature Christians struggle to live a life that is worthy of His calling.

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