For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:20-23 ESV
When we choose to live as slaves to sin, obeying the desires of our sinful nature, we are “free’ when it comes do doing righteousness. Giving in to our sin nature can make us feel as if we are getting the sense of satisfaction and self-fulfillment we long for, but the real outcome is far from pleasant. Paul says, “the end of those things is death.” And Paul is not just speaking of immoral acts. He is addressing any and all deeds done by men who are apart from Christ and attempt to gain a right standing with God through their own human efforts. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Without Christ and His saving work, men are incapable of doing anything to gain God’s favor. Even their best efforts on their best day are soaked in sin and end up delivering death in the long run. But we must remember that, even as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the capacity to allow ourselves to be enslaved to sin again. We can even find ourselves attempting to earn a right standing with God through our own efforts. And even that is considered by God to be sin. It is self-righteousness. Paul wrote the church in Galatia and warned them of this very thing. “Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years” (Galatians 4:8-10 NLT). He was concerned that they were going to go back to their old way of trying to work their way into God’s good graces. Even our good deeds, when done in the flesh and apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, end up being sinful in God’s eyes.
Paul reminds his readers, and us, that we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” We are not just free from sins of immorality, but also the more dangerous sin of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. We are now slaves of God. We have been bought by Him and the price He paid was the death of His own Son. He bought us out of slavery to sin and death and now we belong to Him. We live to do His will, not our own. We have been freed from having to do the will of sin and our own sin nature. We are free to obey God. And He has given us the power to live obediently by placing His Holy Spirit within us. And Paul tells us that “the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Living as slaves of God results in our progressive transformation into the likeness of Christ. By living in the power of His indwelling Spirit and according to His will, we grow in holiness. We become increasingly more set apart and distinct in our spiritual maturity. And ultimately, we will experience our final glorification when we become like Christ – completely sin-free and no longer encumbered by these natural bodies that are prone to decay, disease and death, and driven by sinful desires. Living under the control of sin and our sinful nature produces nothing but death. In this life it produces the damaging and deadly deeds of “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). And for those who have not accepted God’s free gift of grace made available through His Son’s sacrificial death, a life lived enslaved to sin in this life will produce spiritual death in the next one. The wages of sin are always death. And the ultimate meaning of death is separation from God. The real outcome of a life enslaved to sin is eternal, never-ending separation from God and His love, grace, and mercy. But “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we turn from self-salvation and turn to God’s plan for making us right with Him, we gain the ability to walk in newness of life now and the promise of eternal life to come. And it is all provided for free. It costs us nothing. But it cost God the life of His Son. He offered His Son in our place as the sacrificial payment for our sins. And all we have to do is accept His offer of salvation through His Son, by faith. No more trying to earn our salvation. Instead, we simply accept the salvation provided for us by God through Christ. And when we do, we enjoy the fruit of our own sanctification now and the guarantee of our ultimate glorification in the future.