“But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” (Romans 6:17–18, CSB)
There is an enemy in our midst. His perpetual goal is to dim the light of God in the world and enslave us. There is nothing gained from our enslavement, just empty promises and death. Our enslavement doesn’t only harm ourselves. Just as Eve took that forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam, we are active in enslaving others and leading them towards death (6:21). Not only that, but sin always has collateral damage in the lives of those around us.
But thank God, Christian, that’s who you used to be. As certain as your sin produced rotten fruit and your only end was death, now Jesus’ gift produces good, satisfying fruit and your only end is life with him (6:22-23).
The counterpoint in these verses is what I find compelling. Most Christians will say that they consider themselves free from sin, but few will say that they consider themselves enslaved to God. Paul shows us here that our “all in” attitude is a direct consequence of our salvation. Sanctification is visible in our life through our love for and obedience to God’s way of living.
You obeyed. We are not our own anymore. God has bought us at a great price. The Spirit awakens our heart to proper gratitude and love for the gift of grace. Once a rebel at arms against God, we throw down our weapons in surrender. This language of obedience is used often in the New Testament with regard to our salvation. Peter says that our obedience to the truth is what purified us (1 Pet. 1:22). The truth is the message of the Gospel and the commands of God. When this message is heard, a fork in the road appears: believe or disobey.
From the heart. There is no obedience without affection. Obeying God without loving God is empty. This is the argument that James makes in his faith vs. works discussion. Works without faith. Faithless works are meaningless to God. Think about the strong words God had the prophets deliver to Israel and Judah–I hate your sacrifices. I hate your festivals. I hate your songs. The peoples’ actions were all devoid of affection for God. True faith will obey God and be productive.
But grace makes the law lovable to us, so there is then no sin any more, and the law is no longer against us but one with us. – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
That pattern of teaching. We have a God who has given us clear designs for our daily life. He has told us how to think, feel, and act. These teaching are not pragmatic, constantly adjusting to changes in the world. They are a firm foundation that we build our life upon. They are consistent, a pattern that we can step into and apply. These teachings are not loosely organized requiring us to wade through exhausting commentaries, they are systematic and simple.
To which you were handed over. This phrase can be read in two ways. (1) Our pattern of living has been passed down to us by faithful men and women. Not just the prophets, apostles, and church fathers, but also your grandma, parents, and Sunday school teachers. We now enter into this responsibility of reproducing and passing down our Christian confession and God’s pattern of living. Making disciple-makers. (2)This is the new master that we have been given to. As a Christ follower, there was never a time when we had free agent status, and we chose to start following Christ. You must be a slave to Christ, or you have not been set free from the Enemy!