Pastor David B. Curtis


You Gotta Serve Somebody

Romans 6:15-23

Delivered 07/31/2011

I'd like to begin this morning by having an old friend of mine introduce our subject for today with a song. Bobby Dillan, "You gotta serve somebody." I believe that this is the heart of what Paul is saying in this text, everybody serves someone.

We have been looking at Romans 6 for three weeks now. It is generally conceded by students of the Bible that Romans 6 is Paul's normative passage for Christian living. In fact, it is probably conceded by most Bible teachers that this passage is the biblical normative passage for Christian living. I do not think this passage deals with practical sanctification, but with the believers position before God.

Let's back up a bit and get the context. In verse 1 of chapter 6 Paul's Jewish interlocutor asks:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Romans 6:1 NASB

Since Paul had just connected the Law to the sin in 5:20, I see the question here being: Shall we continue living under Torah so sin will be increased thus causing grace to abound? We must understand that Paul's audience here is Jewish. Paul's answer is: No way! Then in verse 3 thru 10 Paul tells them how they died to the sin as he goes over the doctrine of their union with Christ. Paul ends this section with:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14 NASB

If you were under Torah, living according to the written code, sin would have been your master. And it was a cruel master, all it brought was condemnation and death. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul calls the Law, "the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones" and "the ministry of condemnation." But if you have trusted in Messiah Jesus, you have been put to death in Christ, and therefore the written code has no dominion over you. You now walk in the newness of the Spirit.

They are now "under grace." The phrase "under grace" is not used anywhere else in Paul's writings (or the New Testament) except here and the next verse. The word "grace" means: "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment." Grace is God's free and unmerited favor. If you have to work for something, it is not free, and it is not unmerited, it is earned. Our relationship with God is not based on merit, it is based only and completely upon grace.

To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God. Many Christians base their standing with God on their performance. Due to this, they never really feel like they are accepted by God. Their performance is never good enough. All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace. Believers, grace truly is amazing!

I want to caution you this morning. Some of the views that I'm going to share with you are not views that I can find others to agree with me on. So be a Berean and take what you hear with a grain of salt, and study it out for yourself.

S. Lewis Johnston writes, "I don't like to go against the majority of the commentators; that is the majority of the believing commentators because generally speaking, the majority of the believing commentators are right. If you listen to a Bible expositor and he's always differing from the majority of the believing commentators you can usually put it down that he's a weirdo in that biblical exegesis."

He may be right. I'm not trying to be different, I'm really not, I'm just trying to let the text speak in context, no matter what everyone else says. I don't want to follow the calf- path just because it's there:

For men are prone to go it blind, Along the calf-paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun, To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue, To keep the path that others do.
(This is an excerpt from "The Calf Path" by S.W. Foss)

What did it mean to a Jew to be told they were not under the Law? That would be to make them like the Gentiles. The Gentiles did not have the Law. How did they view the Gentiles? They viewed them as sinners. So they respond to Paul's declaration that they are not under the Law by asking:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Romans 6:15 NASB

Most commentators say, "He's talking about living in sin." By that they mean can we do whatever we want? The majority of the commentators take this question in verse 15 to be essentially the same as that in verse 1. Most see this question as: Now that I am saved, does it make any difference how I live?

But I see the question being asked as: Doesn't that make us sinners? Isn't it a sin for us to not keep the commandments of the Law? Isn't it a sin not to keep the Sabbath? Aren't I going to be a sinner if I stop obeying the written code? Notice what Paul writes in Galations:

"We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; Galatians 2:15 NASB

To the Jews Gentiles were all automatically in the category of "sinners" in the sense that they neither knew nor kept the rigorous legal requirements of Jewish life. So what Paul is saying in verse 15 is that he and Peter were brought up as law-keeping Jews, not as law-neglecting Gentiles, but now both he and Peter have come to "know" that no one can gain a just standing before God on the basis of efforts to keep the Law.

"But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! Galatians 2:17 NASB

Who are the "we," who are "found sinners"? The answer is found by looking backwards from this verse for the proper antecedent. It is found in verse fifteen: "We who are Jews by nature." From this statement, we can legitimately gather that Paul is referring to himself and Peter.

The criticism of Paul, Peter, and the other Jewish Christians in that conflict was because of their practice of breaking Jewish purity laws by eating with Gentiles. When we keep this context in focus, it becomes clear that the term sinners refers to their breaking the Jewish written code. The Jewish Christians in Antioch were accused of sinning because they were no longer keeping the written code. They were not accused of all kinds of immoral behavior: sexual immorality, deceitfulness, stealing and so forth. They were accused of a specific sin: breaking the Torah by eating with Gentiles. Such behavior put them on the same level as Gentiles; they were "sinners" outside the covenant people of God.

This interpretation makes sense of the accusation that Christ promotes sin. The accusers understood correctly that the Jewish Christians were eating with Gentile Christians, because of their common faith in Christ. Therefore, their faith in Christ led them into the supposed sin of breaking Jewish purity laws. If identification with Christ promoted unlawful identification with Gentiles, then, it was argued, Christ promotes sin.

Paul responds with, "May it never be!" Paul refuses to accept the conclusion that Christ promotes sin. From the perspective of his accusers, eating with Gentiles is sinful, because the Law forbids it. But from Paul's perspective, eating with Gentile Christians is not sinful, because the Gospel demands it. Withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile Christians was hypocrisy; it was a violation of the truth of the Gospel. The conclusion that Christ promotes sin is wrong, because what was judged to be sinful (eating with Gentiles) according to the Law, is not really sinful according to the Gospel.

We need to understand that it was really hard for a Jew to not see themselves as under the Law. They wanted to be under Law:

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? Galatians 4:21 NASB

Paul is arguing with those believers who want to go back to Judaism and take Jesus with them. He is addressing people who want a hybrid religion that is part Jewish and part Christian. They intend to believe in Jesus, plus they want to live under the Law as a means of pleasing God and winning His favor. Everything in this passage is aimed at these confused believers who were sorely tempted to go back to the Law of Moses. His point is: Have you considered the implications of what you are about to do?

The folks in Galatia had been toying with the Law for far too long. The false teachers had been very persuasive. Their arguments had been convincing. They said, "We, the Jews, are the chosen people of God. We are of our father Abraham. The sign of the covenant people is the sign of circumcision. If you Gentiles really want to be part of the people of God then you must do something, submit yourself to circumcision and keep the Law!" The people in Galatia wanted to do what's right, they wanted to be right with God, so they were moving toward the Law.

Well, the Jewish believers in Rome were having the same problem. They were thinking: If we are not under Law, won't we be sinners just like the Gentiles? Paul says: No way. In the New Covenant there is no Jew/Gentile distinction. You are not a sinner because you are not under Law; you are a sinner or righteous depending on who you serve, the letter or the Spirit:

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? Romans 6:16 NASB

Paul lays down a very axiomatic principle in verse 16, and that is that we become the slaves of whatever we choose to obey.

Slavery is a touchy issue in our day due to the past history of our nation and the years of practicing slavery. Yet as touchy as it is even today, it was a far more sensitive issue in Paul's day. In the church at Rome there were likely slaves and slave-owners gathered to worship. With as much as half of the empire in various degrees of slavery.

I think Paul's use of slavery ties into the Exodus motif. Just as Israel was freed from slavery so believers have been freed in the second Exodus from sin.

"Slaves"--is from the Greek word doulos. This word meant "slave" in classical Greek. It was a word used to describe slaves who had no rights. Their masters owned them, and their only justification for being allowed to live was that they fulfilled the wishes of their owners. Doulos has normally been seen as a reference to a bond slave, someone without legal standing or personal claims, someone owned by another, since that is what the doulos was in Graeco-Roman Society. Most students see this meaning and would say a Christian has no rights. He is owned by Christ who has absolute claim upon him.

But the term doulos has at least two meanings in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the LXX it was used to translate the Hebrew word ebed. An examination of the First Testament Hebrew text, particularly that of Isaiah, shows that ebed was a title for pious men. It was applied to Abraham, Moses, Joshua or David, and to the Servant of Yahweh.

The essential difference between the Hebrew slave, who is sold into the possession of another, and the slave of Yahweh is not merely the status of the owner. The essential difference is one of covenant.

In the LXX doulos described a relationship within the covenant that God had made with Israel. This is also the case in the New Testament, where the context normally shows it to describe a relationship within the New Covenant, which God has established through Christ. This covenant use does not speak of someone who has no rights, but of someone who is showered with honor and privilege as a result of being a servant of the living God. We see this use in:

"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 NASB

In our text in Romans 6:16, the church is the servant of the Lord. The status of "servant" confers on the church and her members the highest honor as she and they are called to serve the living God. Following the exodus type, Israel was Pharaoh's slave, but through her redemption she became Yahweh's servant. In this verse there is a play on words: Once, they were slaves (doulos) to sin (or Pharoah); now, servants (doulos) to Yahweh. What a contrast!

Your slavery to Christ results in a right standing with God. You are in union with Him who satisfied eternal justice on your behalf, so your union with Him results in full acquittal of your sins, and God's declaration of righteousness. Christ accomplished all that was necessary for you to be declared righteous by God.

In our text Paul talks about the enslaving aspect of sin, Peter also talked about it:

promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19 NASB

Let's be clear about this, sin enslaves. It puts you in bondage. Pornography does that, doesn't it? Some of you men know this. Pornography puts you in bondage. You hate it, but you can't break it. You're in bondage to it. That's what sin does. Same way with alcohol. Same way with drugs. The same way with a critical spirit, bitterness, a hateful word. The same way with lust--It never satisfies. It just enslaves you. Sin is destructive, it ruins lives.

Paul talks about being "servants of obedience" and this "obedience resulting in righteousness." What do you think about that? Do you see righteousness as coming by obedience? I think that this is the same thing that Paul talked about in chapter 2. Paul talked about an obedience of Torah that will be declared righteous. How do you obey Torah to bring righteousness? Through the obedience of faith.

for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13 NASB

Paul says, "The doers of the Law will be justified"--this is the first of Paul's fourteen usages of the term "justified"--dikaioo. It is from the legal realm and means: "a declaration of righteousness." To be justified by God is to be declared righteous in regard to His Law.

Paul says the doers of the Law will be justified--does that bother anybody? It should if you are familiar with the book of Romans. Look at what Paul says in chapter 4:

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, Romans 4:5 NASB

Here it clearly says that it is faith that justifies, but he seems to be saying we are justified by works in 2:13. Is he contradicting himself? No, there are no contradictions in the Bible.

for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13 NASB

Paul clearly says the doers of the Law will be justified. What does he mean? We know he is not pushing a works righteousness. And I don't see it as hypothetical. So, who are the "doers" of the Law? Is it the Jews? Notice what Peter says:

"He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:11-12 NASB

Peter sites here from Psalm 118:22 with a slight difference. He adds "by you"--referring to the Jewish leaders. The rulers, the "builders" of Israel, have rejected Jesus, therefore, they were NOT doers of the Law. They rejected the Christ, but God has made Him the cornerstone of the new Israel, which holds the whole building together.

Listen carefully, to be a doer of the Law, to be obedient, is to believe in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Moses told the Israelites:

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. Deuteronomy 18:15 NASB

Moses urged the Israelites to accept and believe in the promised Messiah. Faith is required by the Law, and faith is the sole means of union with Christ whose righteousness vindicates us at the judgment. Peter, quoting this verse in Acts, says:

"Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 'And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Acts 3:22-23 NASB

Peter identifies the true Israel, the true Law doers. It is those who follow Messiah. If you reject the Messiah, you will no longer be "the people"; that is a technical designation for Israel. If you reject Christ, you are not a doer of the Law.

Notice what Paul says in Romans 8:4:

so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4 NASB

The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in Christians. All the Law required, I did in Christ. To walk according to the Spirit is to be a doer of the Law and to be justified, it is to be obedient, which results in righteousness.

So everyone serves somebody, who are you serving?

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of the sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, Romans 6:17 NASB

Who gets the thanks for your salvation? "Thanks be to God"--Why? Because He's the author and finisher of our faith. Because He is the only One who can break our slavery to sin. Salvation is all of God.

The Gospel is: "God saves sinners." GOD--the Triune Yahweh; Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power, and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people; the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing.

SAVES--does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory; calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies.

SINNERS--men as God finds them: guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual condition. This is the Gospel, God saves sinners. So all the thanks, all the praise, all the glory go to God.

"You became obedient from the heart"--this heart obedience for Paul is usually connected closely to the New Covenant work of the Spirit. Paul is contrasting the heart to outward conformity.

"To that form of teaching"--"form" is from the Greek word tupos. It's the word from which we get the word type. It referred to the mark that a blow made. So when Paul talks about the form of teaching, he means that mark that the teaching of the Gospel has made.

Then Paul says, "To which you were committed"--this sounds like you were committed to the teaching of the Gospel. That's not what it is saying. The word "committed" is from the Greek word paradidomi. This same word is used negatively by Paul in Romans 1 of handing the nation of Israel over to judgment. But here it is used of God handing them over to the Gospel. God in mercy and grace, handed you over to the Gospel.

and having been freed from the sin, you became slaves of the righteousness. Romans 6:18 NASB

They have been freed from "the" sin. This is their position. Their obligation to their old master is now gone because they have, in their representative, died. They have been buried. They have been raised up together with Him. They have been set free from the sin, or Adam, and have become servants of the righteousness. The term "righteousness" here is a synonym for God.

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to the righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Romans 6:19 NASB

Evidently, the apostle considered the illustration of slavery to be ultimately insufficient to explain everything, but it serves the purpose of an illustration in the light of the infirmity of humanness.

"Members"--is from the Greek word melos, which means: "a part of a body." The members of their body, the body of Moses, had been presented as slaves to impurity.

Paul's use of "impurity" here takes us back to chapter 1:

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. Romans 1:24 NASB

This was referring to Israel and so is our text in Romans 6. Then Paul says, "So now present your members as slaves to the righteousness, resulting in sanctification"--just as they had presented themselves as slaves to impurity and lawlessness "so now" they were to present themselves to righteousness. The term "righteousness" is a synonym for God. This is an exhortation! This is what they are to be doing.

"Sanctification"--is from the Greek word hagiasmos. The words holiness, saint, and sanctify all come from the same root, and so it would be possible for us to render this: Present your member as servants to God unto holiness.

The goal of this exhortation is that the Church will live in practical holiness, because to serve sin is to be enslaved by it. Paul is reflecting the exhortation of Yahweh to Israel to be holy, as he is Holy. Peter gives this same exhortation:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." 1 Peter 1:15-16 NASB

As believers, our conduct is to be holy. We are to be like our Father:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; Ephesians 5:1 NASB

We, as God's children, are to imitate our Father. When people see us, they should see a reflection of our Father. How do we imitate God? Next verse:

and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:2 NASB

We are called to walk in love. People will know that we are Christ's disciples by our love:

in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8 NASB

We are called to be servants of righteousness. We are to live holy, loving lives. Notice what Titus says about why they are to walk in a holy manner:

not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. Titus 2:10 NASB

Our life is to "adorn" or make attractive the doctrine of God. By our lives we can beautify the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We bear the Father's name and must be consistent to live a life that will speak well of the name we bear.

For when you were slaves of the sin, you were free in regard to the righteousness. Romans 6:20 NASB

Paul reminded his readers that when they were slaves of the sin, that did not gain them any righteousness. They did not become right in the sight of God from their former position:

Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. Romans 6:21 NASB

His readers reaped no benefits from their slavery to sin. Shame was its immediate result, and death its final fruit:

But now having been freed from the sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. Romans 6:22 NASB

Now, in contrast, they were free from sin's tyranny because of their union with Christ. The benefit was holiness and in the end eternal life. The word "outcome" here is the Greek word telos, which means: "goal or conclusion."

For the wages of the sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NASB

One commentator says, "When it says, 'the wages of sin is death,' it is not talking about hell, because it is written to Christians. This is written to people that are redeemed: The wages of sin in your life is death--emptiness, barrenness, worthlessness! That is what is taught here. The wages of sin are paid out right while you are living."

There is a definite article here, it is "the sin," which is the sin of Adam. The wages of being in Adam is death. This is spiritual and eternal death. Yes, he is talking to Christians and reminding them of the wages of the sin. They are no longer in Adam and no longer under the sin, and they are therefore not to be enslaved by sin.

They have received the free gift of God, which is eternal life. Being in Adam brings eternal death, being in Christ brings eternal life. They have been set free from the sin. They are alive to God and are not under the Law. They are not to try to live by Law, but by faith. They are not to be slaves to the sin, but servants of Yahweh.

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