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Grace and the Freedom to Serve God: Romans 6

Updated on July 6, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Freedom through Responsibility

I just got my driver's license renewed recently and am reminded by that of what a privilege it is to have the freedom in this great country of ours to travel anywhere the public roads can take us. We are free, that is, as long as we follow the rules of the various States in which we travel.

Can you imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if people actually did whatever they wanted to do on the highways? Let's say I decided to drive on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic. Or maybe I wanted to overlook a red light at a busy intersection. Or, I might choose to drive 75 miles an hour passed a school zone where many children are on their way to or from school.

The truth is that I am not free to do whatever I want to do on the roads of America. I am free to do what is legal and safe. Anything else could result in traffic jams, crashes, injury or death, and the loss of my freedom to drive.

It's the same way in the spiritual life. Christ has freed us from sin. But he hasn't released us from sin and death in order for us to be allowed to do whatever we want. Rather, we are freed to do what He wants.

It was Peter Marshall, the former Chaplain of the United States Senate, who gave this prayer:

"Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."

If we read the 6th chapter of Romans, what Marshall is saying here is basically Paul's argument as well.

Paul's Argument in Romans Chapters 1-5

In Romans 1-5, the Apostle Paul has been writing about the Gospel. This is the good news that righteousness is obtained, not by works, not by the Law of Moses, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone on the cross of Calvary.

Paul has explained in earlier chapters that the wrath of God is coming on sin and that the whole world is condemned. He talks about how the law was given, not to make a person righteous, but to show how truly sinful we really are. Good works can never save because the Holy God demands absolute perfection and all have sinned and fall short of that glory and perfection (Romans 3:23).

Not only that but we all are the offspring of Adam, the first man, through whom we inherited a sinful nature. And through him, sin has entered the world, for all of us have sinned. (5:12-19).

The consequence of this sin is death, both physical and spiritual. We physically die and our bodies are separated from our souls. We are also now spiritually dead, which means we are separated from the one true God. If this is not remedied it will lead to eternal death or separation from God in Hell.

Without some intervention, man's situation is hopeless. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Before the Law, death reigned from Adam to Moses. After the Law was given through Moses, sin was only magnified. And death continued to be man's penalty for breaking the Law.

But, thanks be to God, "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20). Adam's offense may have produced judgment and condemnation but by Christ's one act of obedience, grace came to all resulting in justification and life to everyone who accepts the free gift through faith in Jesus.

A Misunderstanding of Grace

Sadly, like any great doctrine can be misunderstood and misconstrued, grace was and continues to be misunderstood as well. Paul's critics said that the setting aside of the Law and works for salvation means that there is also a reason to set aside holy living. Their question asked was:

"If my sin causes grace to abound, then why don't I just continue to sin?"

Basically, their argument is that the more I sin, the better God looks. So why stop sinning?

It is this total misuse of God's grace that Paul is addressing in chapter 6 of Romans.

I. The Believer is Dead to Sin and Alive to God (6:1-14)

The Apostle answers these critics with a direct assault against their logic. He wants to make sure that people know that his Gospel isn't a license to sin, but a reason to live a life pleasing to the God who has saved us.

In this passage, we have the basis for our ability to live a holy life. Paul is leaving the realm of justification in which we are legally declared righteous because of what Christ has done and he is getting into sanctification or the continual process whereby we are being made holy or set apart by the Spirit who lives within us. The ultimate goal of this sanctification is that we become like our Lord Jesus Christ and live a life pleasing to God the Father.

The Apostle's answer to the question of continuing in sin that grace might increase starts with the familiar phrase of his (mē genoito) "May it never be!" It could be paraphrased as: "Perish the thought!"

He then goes on to say:

"How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (6:2-4).

In order to understand this passage, we need to realize that Paul is not talking about water baptism here. He is rather talking about the baptism described in I Corinthians 12:13 whereby the Spirit places us into the Church, the Body of Christ. He says in I Corinthians:

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

Paul says further in Ephesian 4:4 that:

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

In all of these passages, Paul is talking about the baptizing work of the Spirit of God and teaches us that He unites us with Jesus in a real though mystical way.

Lawrence Richards uses the illustration found in marriage here to describe what takes place. He says that a woman who marries a millionaire becomes legally one with him so that his wealth becomes hers just as if she had participated in earning it.

In a similar way, the believer who is united to Christ by faith becomes one with Him, so that he is considered to have participated in Christ's death and in His resurrection. So we can now live a new life of righteousness.

In Scripture, theologians have pointed out three aspects of sanctification. The first is positional sanctification. That is what Paul is talking about here. When we accept Christ as Savior, we are declared to be holy or set apart for God. This is our position, not because of what we have done, but what the Holy Spirit has done within us in making us one with Christ.

The next aspect of sanctification is experiential. This is a progressive work of the Spirit in which he makes us spiritually mature. Romans 12:1,2 talks about this when we are told to become living sacrifices in light of all that Christ has done for us. The Spirit produces godliness in the life of the believer. All of us in Christ are on that journey and some are farther along than others.

Ultimate sanctification or glorification is the final stage of the sanctification process that is realized at the resurrection.when the believer gets a new body and is completely transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 1:13-14 and I Corinthians 1;22)

Many have also broken these different aspects of the Christian life into:

  1. Justification: Salvation from the penalty of sin.
  2. Sanctification: Salvation from the power of sin.
  3. Glorification: Salvation from the very presence of sin.

All three aspects of this process can be seen in Titus 2:11-13 which states:

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and to live sensibly righteously and godly in this present age. Looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Paul is pointing out in Romans 6 that every believer has started that process which will end in glorification. They have been justified and are being sanctified by having been identified with Christ in his death. Rather than seeing this wonderful process of grace as a means to sin more, it should be seen as us receiving the power to begin to live a life of holiness and one that pleases God who gave this new life to us.

Paul reasons that through spiritual baptism we have died with Christ. Since we have been united in the likeness of His death, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are freed and can now live with the one over whom death has no more dominion.

We don't have to let sin reign in our bodies but can present them as instruments of righteousness because we are not under the Law but under grace.

The bottom line is that people without Christ cannot choose to live a life pleasing to God. We who are Christians are freed to do this and have the Holy Spirit who gives us the power. We don't have to live as we once lived and shouldn't want to do so.

II. The Believer Should be a Slave to God (6:15-23)

The rest of chapter 6 gives an extended illustration from the everyday life of the Roman empire of the day. There were many slaves in Paul's time and the institution was all around them. It was a perfect analogy of what it is like to be under the complete control of sin, as opposed to being in Christ and under the complete control of righteousness. Paul answers another question which he either imagines his critics would ask or he has heard them actually ask it. He starts in verse 15 and says:

"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? His answer once again is mē genoito, "May it never be!"

He goes on to say that you are going to be a slave to the one that you obey. Either you'll be a slave to sin which ultimately leads to death, or of obedience, leading to righteousness (16-17).

The Apostle then gives thanks that, though the Romans had been slaves to sin, they are now slaves to righteousness. (18). He tells his readers that he is speaking in human terms because their flesh is weak and they could better understand this illustration of being in bondage (19). Although we don't live in a land of slavery, it is still easier for us to understand sin in this way because we have some understanding of the institution of slavery.

Paul ends this chapter by giving some benefits of serving righteousness versus the curse of serving sin. He tells us that:

  1. Serving righteousness produces holiness (19).
  2. Serving sin produces death (20-21).
  3. Serving God produces the fruit of holiness, and in the end, eternal life (22).
  4. The wages of sin is death, but God gives the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (23).


I read the perfect illustration that sums up what Paul has to say about sin and how it enslaves us. It came from a book entitled "The Three Edwards" by Robert Costain. He wrote:

During the fourteenth century Raynald III, was a duke in what is now Belgium. As the result of a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward successfully revolted against him. When Edward captured Raynald he built a room around him featuring windows and a door and promised him that the day he left the room his title and property would be returned to him.

The problem with this arrangement was that Raynald was grossly overweight and could not fit through the openings in the room. Raynald needed to lose weight before he could leave the room. Edward knew that his older brother could not control his appetite and sent him delicious food every day. As you may imagine, Raynald grew fatter during this time.

Anytime someone accused Duke Edward of treating Raynald cruelly he said: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.”

Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year. He was a prisoner of his own appetite.

Just as Raynald was enslaved by his appetite, sin will enslave all those who yield to it.

If you are not a believer, then you are still in the bondage of sin. You certainly aren't truly free. And that bondage doesn't end well. It leads to an eternity separated from God. Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior today and get free of that evil taskmaster.

For those who know Christ Jesus, who or what are you serving today? It was Phillips Brooks who said:

"No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable."

May you enter into the highest servitude of all and entrust yourself completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. You will never be disappointed in Him. May God grant you the desire to serve Him the rest of your life!

© 2019 Jeff Shirley


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