Free from Sin, Slaves of Righteousness, Part 2
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 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? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 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 righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Last week we tried to answer the question raised by verse 14: What does it mean to be "under grace" but not "under law"? My answer was that being "under law" means that we are bound to make lawkeeping the righteousness by which God justifies us. "Under law" means that justifying righteousness comes from our own lawkeeping. On the other hand, being "under grace" means that our justification is a gift of grace on the basis of Christ's righteousness, Christ's lawkeeping, Christ's perfect obedience of faith (including his atoning death). (See the 11-26-00 sermon.)
Don't Let Sin Master You, Because Sin Is not Going to Master You
Now today's question is: Why does being "under grace" guarantee that sin will not master us? Notice the logic of verse 14: "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." This is a promise: "Sin shall not be master over you." It is not a command like "Thou shalt not kill." It is a promise of what must be and will be for all who are under grace. We can tell this because verse 14 is given as the basis of a command in verse 13: "Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." That's a command. Now verse 14 adds the reason: "For sin shall not be master over you."
This is the striking way that New Testament ethics is structured. "Don't let sin master you, because sin is not going to master you." If that strikes us as strange, which it does at first, it's because we come to the Bible with our man-centered bias toward self-determination. In other words, we come with the bias that if the Bible tells us to make a choice (like "don't present your members to sin"), then in the moment of that choice we, not God, have the final say. And if you come with that bias – that genuine, responsible choice means ultimate self-determination – the connection between verse 13 and verse 14 will probably make no sense. Don't yield to sin (verse 13) because sin will not be master over you (verse 14).
But if you learn from Scripture to see the sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man in such a way that God is ultimate and decisive, then this is the way you will learn to talk about the choices of the Christian life: I choose not to let sin reign in my body, because God is at work in me and will not let sin reign in my body (see Philippians 2:12-13; 3:12; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
Now keep in mind that we have seen this same way of thinking already in verses 1-2. Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" Do you see how Paul argues? You can't go on living in sin, because when you were united to Christ by faith, you died with Christ to sin. And so, since you can't go on living in sin, therefore don't continue to sin that grace may increase. You see the reasoning: Your death with Christ ensures that sin will not be master over you. Therefore, don't let it be master over you. O may the Lord give us grace to adjust our thinking in line with Biblical thinking!
"Under Grace," so Sin Is not Your Master
So the question today is: Why does being "under grace" ensure – guarantee – that sin will not be master over those who are under grace? Verse 14: "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." What is it about being under grace that guarantees that sin will not be master over us?
I will mention three things, two from the wider context of Romans, one from the immediate context.
1. When we are under grace the wrath of God is entirely removed from us, so that all God's action toward us is saving action.
All his power flows in the service of his mercy, and not the service of his wrath or punishment. He is for us and not against us. Therefore our chief enemy, sin, will not defeat us.
Romans 8:1 says, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" – that is, for those who are "under grace." And what does this imply about our future? Let Romans 8:31-32 answer: "If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" In other words, if God did the hardest thing in justifying us – putting us under grace – at the cost of his Son, then he will do everything necessary to save us, including not letting sin be master over us.
Being "under grace" means being out from under wrath. And when we are out from under the wrath of God, all his power stands in the service of his mercy to help do whatever it takes to get us to glory (Romans 8:30). So the first answer is: being under grace guarantees that sin will not be master over us because being under grace means being out from under wrath, and having all the power of God on our side and not against us.
2. Second, when we are "under grace," paralyzing guilt that makes us hopeless in the fight with sin is taken away.
This was my argument from Romans 6:6b-7. So I will not dig into it again here. Notice the last phrase in verse 6: ". . . so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." That's the goal we are after in this chapter: real freedom from sinning. Then comes the foundation of this liberty in verse 7: "For he who has died is freed [literally: "justified"] from sin." Which is the same as saying, "For he is under grace, not under law."
In other words, justification by faith alone is the foundation for not being a slave of sin. Which is another way of saying that being "under grace" is the foundation for not being a slave of sin. And the point I made some weeks ago was that one reason that some people are enslaved to sin is that they feel so hopeless they won't even make the effort to change. That is what the teaching and the reality of justification by faith alone is meant to overcome. So the second reason we see that being "under grace" guarantees that sin will not be master over us is that being under grace means being out from under the kind of guilt that is so paralyzing and hope-defeating, we don't even take up the fight with sin.
3. Now, finally, when we are under grace, God is at work in us to will and to do his good pleasure.
That's a quote from Philippians 2:13, but let me show it to you from the immediate context of Romans 6:14-19. The key verse on this point is verse 17: "But thanks be to God . . ." Notice that carefully. What is he going to thank God for? What has God done? "Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed (literally: to which you were handed over)." What is he thanking God for? He is thanking God for their obedience to the teaching of the apostles. And it is not mechanical, but "from the heart."
This is what happens under grace. When the wrath of God is removed, and paralyzing guilt is taken away, the saving work of God is sanctifying work. That is, God inclines your heart to obey the form of teaching to which the apostles handed you over. "Thanks be to God that you became obedient" from the heart!
You see this again in the wording of verse 18. Notice the passive verbs. Who is doing the acting in these verbs: "And having been freed from sin, you became slaves of (literally: were enslaved to) righteousness"? Here again it is God at work. God "freed" you from sin. God "enslaved" you to righteousness.
So there are two supports for this third point. When we are "under grace," God works in us to do his will. That is why sin will not be master over us if we are under grace. We see it first in the words of verse 17: "Thanks be to God that you became obedient." And we see it secondly in the words of verse 18: We "were freed" (by God!) from sin and we "were enslaved" (by God!) to righteousness. This was God's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
To sum up, then, we've been asking why being "under grace" guarantees that sin will not be master over us. Reason one: because under grace, the wrath of God is entirely removed and the power of God flows to us in saving, helping, keeping mercy, not punishment. Reason two: because under grace, paralyzing guilt is taken away and we are given hope that it is worth it to fight sin. Reason three: because under grace God himself comes into our lives and inclines our hearts away from sin and toward righteousness.
So let me close with three short exhortations.
1. Do not jump to the conclusion that when Paul says, "Sin will not be master over us," it means that we will be perfect in this life. Paul makes plain in Philippians 3:12 that he is not perfect nor has he already attained his goal, but he presses on. He says that we are being changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). And when we get to the struggling Paul of Romans 7, who says, "I do the very thing I do not want to do," we will see that even though he says sin is the culprit (7:20), he takes responsibility for his complicity and says, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (7:24). We will not be perfect until we are transformed fully in the presence of Christ (1 John 3:2).
When Paul says that sin will not be our master, he does not mean that the defeated and dethroned foe is driven from the castle at once, but in stages, and the Christian life is to fight that fight and to fight it as those whose victory is sure: "Sin will not sit on this throne."
2. When you hear that God is sovereign and that he has guaranteed that those under grace will not be defeated by sin, do not jump to the conclusion that the battle is a charade, and nothing hangs on your choices. Don't say, "Let us sin that grace may increase" (Romans 6:1). Don't say, "Let us sin because we are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:15). In other words, don't come to the Bible with the assumption: if it does not depend on what I choose ultimately, it does not depend on what I choose at all. That is man-centered, unbiblical thinking. Rather say, "Since it depends on God ultimately, there is hope that I, a dead and hardened sinner, may choose what is good and live a life pleasing to the Lord. Let the sovereignty of God make you hopeful that change is possible, not passive as if no change were necessary.
3. Finally, realize that Paul is teaching us in this chapter how to live for the glory of God, not the glory of ourselves. That is why God's action is ultimate and ours is dependent on his. That is why God doesn't say, "Just do it." It is why he says, "Because you are under grace, do it." And: "Because you have died with Christ, don't do it." And: "Because you are enslaved to righteousness by God, do it." "Just do it" is man-centered. Do it because "God is at work in you to do it" is God-centered. Putting it this way keeps the work of God front and center in your life. That is where he will get the glory.
I close with the way Peter put it in 1 Peter 4:11, "Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
That's our goal – the glory of God through Jesus Christ. So, know that by faith you are "under grace," not "under law." Therefore, sin will not be master of you. Fight it by faith because victory is sure.