What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. – Romans 6:15-19 ESV
Men have always had a habit of twisting God’s words and using them to justify all kinds of ungodly and unrighteous behavior. And Paul knew there were those who would take all his talk about the law and our freedom from it to rationalize their sin. According to their false interpretation and skewed logic, they might conclude, if “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV), then it just makes sense to keep on sinning. Which is why Paul asked and answered the following question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may about?” (Romans 6:1 ESV). And his answer was emphatic. “By no means!” (Romans 6:2 ESV). Because of our relationship with Christ, we have died to sin. We died alongside Him on the cross and we were raised alongside Him to new life. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to Christ. As a result, we are no longer to allow sin to reign and rule in our earthly bodies. There was a time when we had no choice. Before Christ, we were hopelessly enslaved by sin, and totally incapable of doing anything about it. It was Jesus Himself who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV). In describing false teachers who were having a devastating influence on the local church, Peter wrote, “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT). Peter then goes on to describe those who have accepted Christ as Savior, but who go on to allow their lives to be controlled by sin. “And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life” (2 Peter 2:20-21 NLT).
We are all controlled by someone or something, and we end up being slaves to whatever or whoever it is that controls us. Paul would have us consider that we are slaves to righteousness and, ultimately, as slaves to God. Rather than presenting our members (our bodies) to sin as instruments or tools to accomplish unrighteous deeds, we should present ourselves to God as “those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13 ESV). We have a choice. There was a time when we didn’t. Paul describes our pre-conversion condition quite vividly. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT). But all that changed when we came to know Christ. Paul emphatically and eagerly states, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT). And just as there was a time in our lives when we willingly submitted ourselves to impurity and lawlessness (disobeying God’s law), now we can willingly present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. And living as a slave to righteousness is what leads to our sanctification – our growth in spiritual maturity and increasing Christ-likeness.
Paul gives thanks to God because all of this is a result of God’s grace. Even our ability to live obediently to righteousness is made possible by God. In the very next chapter, Paul will describe what it is like to do daily battle with his own sin nature. He presents an all-too-familiar portrait of the Christian wrestling with his desire to do good and his fleshly desire to live in disobedience to God. And then he cries out, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25 NLT). The answer to his difficulties and despair is Jesus. It is the gift of Jesus, made possible by the grace of God, that provides the freedom from sin’s power and control. This does not mean we won’t sin, it simply means we don’t have to sin. In fact, rather than sin, we can experience an increase in holiness, which is what sanctification is. Sin in our lives should lead to conviction. Conviction should produce confession. Confession should result in repentance. And our repentance should point us toward Christ-likeness, as we turn our back on the false promises of sin and the hope that is found in Christ.