Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 9, 2010

Sermon on Romans 6:15-23

WHO IS YOUR MASTER:  Sin or Righteousness?

Text: Romans 6:15-23


A Lutheran pastor was teaching a Bible Information Class to a young couple.  The first lesson was on law and gospel—the two basic messages in Scripture.  The pastor explained the law: God demands us to be perfect, but we are sinful and can never reach perfection, and so we deserve God’s punishment for sin now and forever.  The pastor explained the gospel: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world, took our place under God’s law, lived a perfect life for us, suffered the punishment for our sin on the cross, died and rose again from the dead to open heaven for us.  There’s nothing we can do to get right with God; Jesus did it all for us.  After the pastor explained the gospel to this young couple, the woman said, “Then why does it matter how we live?  This sounds like a ‘Get out of hell free’ card!”

That’s a great question.  Scripture is clear that Christ has done everything to make us right with God, and that gift of forgiveness is something we receive only by faith in Jesus and not by the things we do.  If that’s true, does it matter how we live our lives?  Does it matter if we fight our sinful nature, or give up and give in?  If faith is all that matters, why should we bother to live a godly life and listen to God’s commands?

Those are great questions.  That issue, which many people have wondered about, is discussed in a straightforward way in the Second Lesson for today’s service from Romans.  In the first five chapters of Romans, the apostle Paul does a masterful job explaining basic law and gospel.  After that explanation, Paul virtually expects someone to ask, “Why does it matter how we live?”  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!”  That’s how Paul begins the discussion, and he continues with an illustration about servitude.  Basically, he asks his readers to ask themselves who their master is?  Does sin control their lives, or does God’s Word control their lives?  Paul’s question is one we also ought to ask ourselves: Who is your master?  Are you controlled by sin, or are you controlled by righteousness? 


The illustration Paul uses in these verses is one that probably sounds like an odd illustration to us today—slavery.  Paul says that he is using an illustration that will help his readers grasp the concept he is teaching them.  “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves.”  Slavery was a common reality in first century Roman society.  This wasn’t like the forced slavery of early American history.  A person might have willingly entered into a servant position to gain employment or to pay off a debt.  But the person who worked as someone’s household servant did not have any power to “call the shots.”  They understood what Paul meant when he asked, “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?”  A slave doesn’t get to follow his own will.  He has to follow someone else’s will and wants.  And Paul says they really only had two choices: slavery to sin, or slavery to righteousness.  Either sin or righteousness was going to be the master of their daily living. 

If these are the choices for a person’s daily life—following sin or following righteousness—then we really ought to examine what each one means.  What happens when a person decides to let sin be their master and control their thoughts and lives?  Paul’s readers knew the answer to that question, because there was a time in their lives when sin was their master.  “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!”  I don’t know too many people who don’t have memories from the past that they are ashamed of.  Paul’s Roman readers looked back on a time in their lives when they let sin control their actions, and they were left with shame.  But worse, their sin-controlled lives left them with death—and not just physical death, but the permanent separation from the love of God for all eternity known as hell.

If you spent your Saturday working around the house or outside in the yard or garden, you probably got dirty or sweaty and wanted to clean up when you were all done.  And after you took a shower and put on some clean clothes, you didn’t want to get dirtied up again.  That’s obvious.  But the things that are obvious in everyday life are not always so obvious in spiritual life.

We know that the blood of Christ has cleansed us from sin, so instead of thinking that Jesus’ death has saved me from sin, I act as if Jesus has saved me for sin.  What difference does it make if I put on my church façade on Sunday morning and act like I can’t even spell “Christian” the rest of the week?  So what if I praise God on Sunday with my tongue and then use that same tongue to spread lies and half-truths and rumors and gossip the rest of the week?  So what if I show up to church occasionally, just so that I get my required Sunday in every month or so?  So what if I have an unforgiving heart toward others even as I expect God to forgive me automatically?  “So what?” you ask—and Paul answers, “Those things result in death.”  The Lord Jesus did not go to hell and back to give you license to sin, but when we treat his sacrifice as license, we proclaim that sin is our real master and eternal death is our future.


Paul talked about two kinds of “slavery” in our reading.  The first was slavery to sin.  Maybe you’d expect the second to be slavery to God.  But that’s not how he describes the second choice—at least, not at first.  He says, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  So what can we say about this other kind of “slavery.”  For starters, it means that sin is not their master.  It is also something that happened to them, not an active choice that they made: Paul said, “You have become slaves to righteousness,” not, “you made yourselves slaves to righteousness.”  God the Holy Spirit brought them to faith and made them into a brand new person.  Paul says in our reading, “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.”  The Greek word used here for “form of teaching” refers to a mold.  If you bake a cake with a mold, the mold will form the cake to look like the shape you’ve chosen.  When the Holy Spirit calls people to faith and then makes them “slaves of righteousness,” he takes their lives and molds them to follow the pattern or form that God’s Word calls us to obey.

As you watch a sporting event on television, a graphic sometimes appears comparing two players or two teams’ statistics with each other.  How do two pitchers compare during a baseball playoff game?  How do two quarterbacks compare during an NFL game?  At the end of our Second Lesson, Paul also makes a comparison of the two kinds of “slavery” has he been talking about.  Now that we’ve heard about slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness, it’s time for us to hear Paul’s comparison.  “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.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Romans used to be slaves to sin.  As Christians, they were now ashamed of their old way of life.  The “paycheck” they got for sin was death—hardly pay!  But they had been brought to faith in Christ and molded and formed by faith into a new person.  They were formed to live holy lives that honored God.  Yet, with all this talk about holy living, Paul concludes with the big picture in mind.  Their holy living was a key part of their Christian lives, but it was not the reason they received forgiveness and eternal life.  That blessing was entirely a free gift that God had given them through faith in the saving work of Christ on the cross.

Americans cherish freedom.  A word like “slavery” brings to mind a part of our history we’d rather forget and ought not to repeat.  For that reason, it may be hard for us to grasp Paul’s “slaves to righteousness” and “slaves to God” illustration the same way his original audience did.  And yet being “slaves to God” is anything but slavery!

Look at what it means to be a “slave to God.”  You are the adopted son or daughter of the God who sent his only Son into this world to be your righteousness and holiness.  You are the adopted son or daughter of God who gave his righteous Son on the cross to be the sacrifice that washed away your sins and the sins of the whole world.  You are the adopted son or daughter of God who raised his Son Jesus from the dead to deliver to you the promise of eternal life that is your through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  You are the son or daughter of God who was adopted at the font and taught in the Word and nourished at the altar.  God is your master: he has brought you under his gracious rule and into his eternal family.  That doesn’t sound like slavery to me.  That sounds like spiritual freedom and eternal joy!

The 33 miners trapped a half mile below the ground in Chile are likely going to be rescued this week, after over two months of being trapped underground.  When the rescue crew gives them instructions for their safe recovery, are those men going to feel that their freedom is being taken away because they have to listen to someone else’s orders?  I doubt it!  Their obedience to the rescue workers’ instructions will mean their freedom, not their bondage.  In the same way, our freedom from sin is not bondage to some divine dictator who is going to take the fun out of life.  Our freedom from sin allows us to serve each other in love, to live our lives with a thankful heart, to avoid the earthly consequences that often accompany our old sinful ways, and to be the revived soul that God has made us to be.


The big picture thought for today’s service is the Christian’s life of humble thanks.  We live our lives honoring God, but we do so humbly.  Jesus said at the end of today’s Gospel, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).  When we serve in the church or serve our families or serve our neighbor, our renewed Christian attitude is not, “What’s in it for me?  Where’s my recognition and appreciation?”  Rather, our attitude is, “This is who God has made me to be, and I’m grateful to be his child.”  He has washed you in the blood of his Son and made you righteous and holy through faith in his Son.  Jesus’ righteousness is your master.  So be who you are!  Amen.



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