Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one 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 have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 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 renew ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:12-23 Read the whole chapter here.
Last week we started in the first part of chapter 6 in Romans where Paul gave us that very simple message: if you want to live you have to die. It seemed kind of contradictory. Yet we kind of worked our way through what it was that Paul was talking about when he says we have to die. Well, we die to our old self. We die to our old way, our old passions, our old ways of living and being, and probably of even sinning. So that we might be fully alive with Jesus through the resurrection. Well, now we continue to move forward into this week's text because as if Paul didn't give us enough to think about last week he now basically says you need to shake off the shackles of slavery to sin and embrace slavery to a new master: righteousness and obedience to God. And we say: WHAT?
Because right now we live in a time where we're being reminded and having to confront the oppressive nature of slavery in our country. And not just ripples but significant waves that we still feel in our society around us because of the brutality of the slavery that existed from the early days of our country. Now slavery in that fashion hasn't existed but yet we're still dealing with the consequences of it. So when we hear Paul begin talking about saying you need to give up slavery to one master and embrace slavery to another master, even though most of us are people who have never had to deal with the consequences or the repercussions of that, it still doesn't sound like a good thing. So what is it that Paul's talking about here? How do we make sense of a passage like this? One way we can look at this is to say that well Paul is using hyperbole, that he is exaggerating a point. It's kind of like when someone makes a statement that the other day I was at the store and something happened and I was so embarrassed I just died. Well, no you didn't because you're standing here talking to me right now. We over exaggerate and emphasize points sometimes. So we could say well that's what Paul's doing. He's saying that we need to be so under the authority of God that's it is as if we're slaves.
But there's no 'as if' in here. He says those of you who have presented yourselves. That this isn't just like the type of slavery where people are possibly captured and imposed into this life of slavery. Rather Paul makes it sound like it's a choice. So part of it is we need to understand the context and the culture that Paul is speaking to. That yes there were very brutal forms of slavery that existed in the Roman world but there were also forms of slavery in which a person may have incurred such a debt that they had no way to pay it off. So they would come to an agreement with a person that they were in debt to and say alright I will come and be your indentured servant, or your slave, for a set period of time so I can work off this debt that I've incurred. That was a choice on the part of the person that was entering into that agreement. With the history of our country and the understanding we have of slavery prior to the Civil War, that's not a choice that anybody made at that time in our history. So Paul really pushes this issue though. I think that while we Sercould say that he's overstating the point, he's touching on something very human and very real in the midst of this.
In the Gospels, particularly in Matthew, I want to share with you a passage. You can find it in Mark and Luke as well, but in Matthew 6 chapter 24, Jesus himself says, "No one can serve two masters for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other." Now the context here is he says you cannot serve God and wealth but the truth of it is that Paul recognizes that everybody serves somebody or something. Jesus even referred to it. The iconic rock artist Bob Dylan in 1979 released an album that was titled "Slow Train Coming." That album came out at a time in Dylan's life when he had gone through a conversion and would have been identified as a born-again Christian. So a number of the songs on that album that he released related to the kind of the journey that he'd been on and some of the things that he'd been experiencing. I borrowed the title of my sermon a little bit from one of the songs on that album, which was "Gotta Serve Somebody." Now Dylan through his conversion came to realize much of what Jesus was talking about: that you can only serve one master. The same thing that Paul is really pushing us toward as well through this message that he's presenting today. Dylan says in the lyrics "You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble. You may like to dance. You may be the heavyweight champion of the world. You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you've got to serve somebody. Yes indeed, you have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you're gonna have to serve somebody."
Now for us, who is it that we serve? It's not always easy to put our finger on that. When it comes down to it, there is somebody or something that we all serve. It may be the God in Heaven who spoke to us of His love through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are times where there are a lot of lowercase little G gods that demand our time, our attention, and our resources that are the focus of our lives. What might be those things that have pull in your life? Well, maybe it's the pursuit of a particular job. Maybe it's gaining financial position. Maybe it's making sure that your kids have that right opportunity: so they need to be on the right dance team, the right marching band, or the right travel soccer league. All these are things that our lives become wrapped and oriented around. Paul was saying look you have to make a choice: are you gonna be obedient and a slave to sin and your old life? But you know what, sometimes it's not even sinning. Sometimes it's just those things that pull us away and separate us from God. Or you can choose to be a slave to righteousness and obedient to God.
Well, how do we live that out then? What difference does that make in our lives and how we go about living our daily life? Well if you're so wrapped up in getting ahead in your job, you want your faith to matter. You want to be that person that God is calling you to be. But then you find yourself in a position where you have to make a decision. The boss that you report to takes you to lunch. Here's an opportunity to look good. Here's an opportunity to rub elbows with the person that might help you get ahead and be where you want to be. They start telling an off-color joke or a racist joke, do you laugh? Because this is the person that you need to help you get a leg up. Or do you do the right thing and say I'm not sure that's a good one to be telling. The life that we are called to live in God will often put us in a position where we find ourselves at odds with the demand, the pull, and the pressures of the world around us. As Bob Dylan said, "You got to serve somebody."
We get to choose Jesus said we can't serve two masters though. Because we can't be divided people. Paul says you get to make this choice, is it going to be the choice to continue living in your old life or is it going to be the choice to live as God is calling you to live. It's not always easy but Paul uses this image in this metaphor in a way that I think is significant because whether it's Dylan, Jesus, or Paul: the point is it's an all-or-nothing prospect. How serious are we about serving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength? Are we willing to walk away from everything and submit fully and completely to God, His plan, and His authority in our lives? We can't go halfway. God is welcoming us and calling us to come completely. Paul is saying you need to go all the way, submit yourself, be a slave to righteousness, and have no choice except to live as God is calling you to live.
Last week if Paul was saying that we have to die to live: this week we could say that he's telling us we need to be a slave to be free.
We need to submit to and fully accept God's authority in our lives in the way that we live that we might truly be free. The good news is that each and every day is an opportunity to continue to make that choice. We're gonna stumble and fall. We're gonna make mistakes. There are going to be times when we choose those little G gods that pull us in and get our attention because the truth of it is the life that we've been called out of is an addiction. If you've ever talked to, had anybody in your family, or close to you, that struggles with addiction: that pull is constantly there. Sometimes they are strong and are able to confront it. Sometimes by the grace of God, sometimes by the help of friends or the love of family, that old life continues to call and pull us back and away from God but each and every day is an opportunity for us to say: I choose God and His way for my life. Paul says it's pretty obvious what road doing our own thing leads to for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. As difficult as it may be to hear this word slavery brought up and mentioned seven or eight times in this passage, it's a pretty good prospect to offer our lives to God to accept to embrace His way. The road we were on was headed for a wreck: the wages of that life were sin and death. The advantage that God offers is sanctification: holiness that ends an eternal life.
Thanks be to God who offers us this gift and calls us to this life, that through slavery to righteousness we can truly discover what true freedom is.
What in your life demands your time, attention, and resources?