Sin wraps us in chains and drags us places we dont want to go. It truly turns us into slaves, people held in bondage unable to do as we please. But becoming Gods slave is a very different matter. He who gave us a free will so we could choose to love and obey Him in the first place, does not take that freedom away when we become born-again. God has absolutely no desire to have little, mindless human beings running around serving Him. The idea is repulsive to Him. The Bible clearly teaches that what He longs for are children, adopted sons and daughters who serve Him because they love Him and become holy because they want to be like the One they worship (Jn 15:15; Ro 8:14-17, 23, 29; Gal 3:26; 4:6, 7; Heb 2:10). And because this is His nature, our service of Him will always be free-chosen. So if Im to become the slave of obedience that Paul describes I must constantly choose to submit myself to Gods will.
But such glorious freedom brings with it its own form of danger. If I have freedom to obey then I also have the freedom to disobey, and when I disobey I open the door for a powerful force to come in and recapture me, a force which will try to take hold of me and pull me away from God if I continue to indulge in it. Thats the danger Paul is warning us about in this passage. He assures us that God is more than able to protect us from these deadly forces (Ro 8:31-39) but now hes reminding us that we must be diligent to let Him.
Last week he told us how to die to sin. He said we must by faith bury the old self with Christ; we crucify that old, selfish, rebellious spirit we inherited from Adam (Ro 6:1-7). But this week he tells us how to stay free from sin. He says the way well avoid sliding back under control of those old forces is to choose to enslave ourselves to God. Lets discover what he means.
What does Paul say? (Ro 6:12-23)
Lets unpack the meaning in some of these key verses so we can hear what hes saying. v15; vs15-16; v19; v19 (cont.); v23 (see Daily Bible Study).
What kind of sin?
Pauls statements here are pretty intimidating. After all, every one of us does keep on sinning in various ways. If Jesus is the standard, I always fall short. So Paul must be focusing on a particular category or degree of sins, the kind of sins that can re-enslave and lead us back to spiritual death. Fortunately he lists some of these elsewhere:
(Gal 5:19-21): immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing (Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God; Gal 5:21).
(1Co 5:9-11): covetous, swindler, idolater, reviler, drunkard, (swindler)
(1Co 6:9, 10): fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate/homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers (again: will not inherit the kingdom of God)
John adds to this list (Rev 22:15): dogs, immoral, murderers, idolaters, those who practice lying. He says these will be kept outside the gates of the heavenly city.
When we read such lists its important to keep the following distinctions in mind so we dont fall under a false, self-imposed condemnation:
Practicing (I have given myself permission to continue), ongoing, habitual
Stumbling (overwhelmed and violated my own standards)
Repentant, struggle against it (I dont know how to stop)
Pauls meaning is clarified even further when we read these key passages:
1) John 8:34-36; 2) 2 Peter 2:19-22; 3) 1 Corinthians 9:27-10:13
How sin re-enslaves
How is it possible for a person who loves God and has chosen to surrender to Him end up back in such a condition that they are in danger of being out of grace? Here are at least some of the steps in the process:
1) Distorted thinking: Sin warps our thinking. In order to keep doing it we have to choose to lie to others, in order to lie to others we have to lie to ourselves, in order to lie to ourselves we have to silence our conscience, in order to silence our conscience we have to decide that Gods standard is wrong, at least, for us because of our special circumstances, and in order to believe that, we have to stop listening to the prophetic warnings that come through His people and His Word.
Lying, violating rules and boundaries
Wisdom, reasonableness, self-perspective decline
The person disappears, like an addict who is no longer the person you once knew
later in life when they come back you want to ask, Where were you during those years? Who was that person living in your body?
2) Increased appetite: Appetite grows with the eating, the more I feed it the stronger the compulsion becomes. The focus of my appetite becomes more perverse and less related to any normal human need.
3) Declining faith: Continued sin brings increased condemnation and shame. I find it harder and harder to believe He still forgives me.
4) Separation from family, friends and church: Being around other believers makes me feel guilty, so I avoid those situations and become isolated or form new circles of friends who do what I do.
5) Self-justification: I become very judgmental of others, focusing on their weak points and calling them hypocrites. I make a virtue of my sin by saying, At least Im honest about it.
I believe if we were to distill what Paul is saying here (Ro 6:12-23) it would be this: The only sure way to stay completely free is to abandon myself to God, to daily make myself His slave. Here are some practical steps to do this:
1) Settle the matter in my heart; will I live for God? Will I bring my body into submission to His moral standards? Will I seek to do what He asks me to do day by day?
2) Refuse to harbor hidden sins: Get serious, get help and do what I have to do to get out.
3) Establish sound spiritual disciplines: Realize when I neglect my spirit I grow weak and vulnerable. I accept the fact that I need to go to church, worship, hear the Word, read the Bible, pray, give and serve.
4) Never forget: There is an addictive power in sin and I can indeed be captured again. And the devil has an agenda to tempt me and to try to addict me.
Never stop fearing sin
Respect its power
Humbly recognize my own vulnerability
Set clear boundaries and procedures to avoid temptation
Theres no neutral ground in this worldsomeplace we can live in the middle without serving anyone but ourselves. Were like helpless serfs trapped in a battle between two powerful kingdoms, and the only real choice left to us is to choose which master we will serve. Will we remain rebels and fall deeper and deeper into bondage, or will we joyfully surrender ourselves to serve and obey God
completely, so completely that you could call us His slaves, but, of course, He only calls us His children.
1) Have you ever been held captive by a sin? How did the knowledge that you were out of control effect you? 2) Name something you do only because God wants you to do it. Name something you dont do because God doesnt want you to do it. (Please, nothing too personal here.)