Summary: 1) The Position (Romans 6:17–22), 2) Practice (Romans 6:19), and 3) Promise (Romans 6:20-22) to those who are either slave to sin or to God.
It has been distressing being in the United States this past week and seeing reports of various public skirmishes. Officials in several states are calling for the removal of public monuments that have become controversial symbols of the Confederacy, driven by the national outcry over the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. that erupted during a protest organized by white nationalists. Systematic efforts are underway to remove vestiges of southern, civil war confederacy, specifically over the issue of slavery.
People come into the world confronted with a different kind of slavery. With the single exception of Jesus Christ, every human being born into this world has been born with a sinful nature. The natural, unredeemed person is under the tyranny of sin. It controls their thoughts, words, actions and total existence. Jesus declared that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34), and because every unsaved person is unable to commit anything but sin, every unsaved person is a slave of sin. It has often been noted that some black slaves willingly fought with their masters during the American Civil War. Not unlike sinners who oppose and reject the One who offers to save them, those slaves fought against the Union forces who wanted to emancipate them.
When we consider our own condition as redeemed in Christ, to realize that we are no longer slaves to sin, it should both comfort and guide us. We should be comforted to realize that we no longer have to continue to sin and we are liberated from the tyranny. Since this is the case, we must live as free men and women who show this liberty in our holy lives. This is also help us to understand and appropriately respond to the unregenerate. As Paul notes in Romans 6, the natural person is a willing slave of sin. People prove that truth every day of their lives as they reject the light of God that they have. Although unregenerate persons often want desperately to escape the unpleasant and destructive consequences of their sins, they do not want to relinquish the cherished sins themselves.
In Romans 6:17-22, Paul here explains and applies the principle he has just stated (v. 16), namely, that a person is a slave either to sin and Satan or free though righteousness to God. In doing so, he contrasts the three aspects of each of those two domains of servanthood: 1) Their Position (Romans 6:17–22), 2) Their Practice (Romans 6:19), and 3) Their Promise (Romans 6:20-22).
A person is a slave either to sin and Satan or free though righteousness to God through:
1) Their Position (Romans 6:17–18)
Romans 6:17–18 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (ESV)
Paul now dispels any idea that Christians stand in a situation of neutrality with respect to the master they are to serve. This verse and the following one reveal Paul’s conviction that they have already made the decision to follow a new master. But Paul does not praise the Roman church for having turned to God; he gives “thanks to God” for having brought them where they are today (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, p. 205). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)
Once, Paul says, “you who were once slaves of sin”; but now you “have become obedient from the heart to the standard/ pattern of teaching to which you were committed/handed over.” “You who were once” is expressed in the IMPERFECT TENSE of the VERB, which described their state of being in the past (slaves of sin) followed by an AORIST TENSE which asserts that their state of rebellion has ceased.( Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans (Vol. Volume 5, Ro 6:17). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.)
You “have become obedient/obeyed” points to the time of conversion, when the Roman Christians first bowed the knee to Jesus the Lord. … Here, then, the focus is on the initial commitment of the Roman Christians to Christ as Lord, including both their “faith” in him and their submission to him. Paul uses “obedient” because he wants to underscore the aspect of submission to Christ as Lord of life that is part of becoming a Christian. (Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 400). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
Believers are saved solely by the grace and power of God. And by His grace, habitual disobedience to Him is in the past tense. Formerly, Paul says, you were once slaves of sin, but no more. Were translates an imperfect Greek tense, signifying an ongoing reality In other words, the unregenerate person is under the continual, unbroken slavery of sin. That is the universal position of the natural person, with no exceptions. No matter how outwardly moral, upright, or benevolent an unsaved person’s life may be, all that they think, say, and do emanates from a proud, sinful, ungodly heart (Ps. 14; Rom. 3:10-12). While all were slaves of sin, all were not slaves to the same sin; but whatever the sin, it alienates from God (Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 262). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.).