Freed From the Power of Sin

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Romans 6:15–23 (NLT) Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Under the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses was the governing power.  Now, believers are set free from the Law.  We are no longer under the Law, but that does not mean that we are lawless.  And in fact that is what the Jews accused Paul and Christians of being.  If we are not under the Law of Moses, they reasoned, then we must me lawless, as the Gentiles were deemed to be lawless, and therefore, sinners.

The key word in this passage is righteousness (dikaiosune).  (Rom. 6:16) Vine defines righteousness as “the character or quality of being right or just”.  The English word righteousness was formerly “rightwiseness,” which clearly expresses the meaning.  Righteousness is one of God’s communicable attributes (Rom. 3:5), that means that God is able to communicate, to give God’s own righteousness to humanity.  And righteousness is only available through God, and in fact, righteousness cannot be gotten in any other way, except by grace through faith.  For the Scriptures say, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”  (Isa. 64:6)

In this passage, Paul is using righteousness in a judicial sense, referring to the activity of God to set people in a right relationship with himself, or to the righteous standing that believers enjoy as a result of Chrsit’s work (Rom. 1:17; 3:21, 22).  This is essentially the same as in the Old Testament (Hebrew tsedeq or tsedaqah, meaning righteousness), meaning the right behavior that God requires from God’s people.  In this case, obedience to the Law.

The second key word in this passage is the flesh (sarx) (v. 19).  The flesh refers to human nature, and especially to the sin nature, that is, the inclination to sin that characterizes all humanity apart from Christ.  Paul uses the illustration of slavery to show that humanity is enslaved to sin.  He defines sin as both impurity and lawlessness.  But now we are no longer slaves to sin, instead, we are slaves to righteousness (v. 18).

Apart from Christ, the person who is a slave to sin cannot choose any other direction except to sin.  How can we ask people who are slaves to sin to behave in any other way except sinfully?  They have no choice.  We cannot expect sinners to behave in any other way.  If we expect alcoholics and drug addicts or prostitutes or “name your favorite sin here” to meet our standards of behavior before they come to Christ (or rather, before they come to our church), then we are placing an impossible barrier to the Gospel before them.

I wish that the church that I serve would be filled with sinners.  We hope that our churches are welcoming to sinners, to strangers, to those who are on the margins of our society.  But the fact is most churches are only welcoming to those who are like the ones who are already filling the pews.  This creates a barrier to the Gospel.  And this barrier is itself sin.  If Christ himself showed up in my church dressed as a beggar, how would he be received?  Would we offer the best seat in the house?  Or would we turn him away and throw him out?  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is instructive.  (Luke 16:19-31)  We are all the same before the throne of God with nothing about which to boast.  We come to the throne of grace as sinners saved by grace alone.

But sin always has a cost and a penalty.  The eternal consequences of sin are death (Rom. 5:12-21; 6:16-23).  Wages are something that you earn.  In other words, sinners are working for a penalty that they have earned:  death.  And Paul is remembering perhaps God’s warning to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “If you eat of the fruit of this tree you will die.”  This death is not primarily physical death, but death in a spiritual sense means eternal separation from God.  But thank God, there is a remedy for sin, and it came through Jesus Christ.  And eternal life is not something that you can earn, but is the free gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (v. 23)

John Wesley believed that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the greatest outpouring of God’s grace upon the earth.  In Christ, the power of the sin nature was broken.  So Christ cancelled the debt of our sin and guilt before God.  He took the penalty for our sin, so that we would not have to pay the price (redemption).  For Wesley, this is the work of divine grace that turns us away from sin and draws us toward God, that pardons and renews us through the free gift of faith in Jesus Christ, that moves and enables us to seek and receive the benefits of new life in Christ.

Yet, while the power of sin is broken in our lives, we are still sinners in a fallen world.  Our sanctification, that is, our being remade into the image of Christ, is a lifelong journey that is only accomplished by walking in the Spirit day by day (Rom. 8).  Our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ signifies the power that makes the life of faith and holiness possible.

Lord, help me to live each day in the light of my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in your righteousness, and to live as I should, not to bring shame upon your name, but to glorify you through holy words and actions.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

 

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