Slaves of righteousness. 6:15-23
In chapters 5-8 we learn of the "newness of life" that is ours in "union" with Christ Jesus, a life that is a natural consequence of a person's eternal right-standing in the sight of God. In our passage for study Paul explains how a believer is free from the slavery of sin. Once we were slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to God, and as a result, we tend to live in a way that honors our master. We were all once "slaves to sin" which promoted an "ever-increasing wickedness"; our end was inevitably "death". Yet now we are "slaves to God", a slavery which promotes an abundance of right-living, and ultimately, "eternal life."
v15. As in verse 1, Paul outlines a criticism that was made against him by law-bound believers. These believers took the view that Paul's teaching on justification (that a person is set right with God on the basis of Christ's faithfulness, apart from the law) promotes careless-living in the Christian life, inevitably undermining holines/right-living and thus the appropriation of God's promised blessings in Christ. In this verse, and the first verse, Paul relates two supposed implications of his teaching, here the implication that sin doesn't matter. Since believers live under the canopy of God's saving grace (his covenant mercy), then careless living is of little importance to God. "No way", says Paul; of course sin matters to God. In the rest of the passage Paul sets out to make the point that a person who is right with God is naturally orientated to live in a way that is honoring to God. A believer's standing with God in Christ promotes right-living, not careless-living.
v16. The logic of Paul's argument is simple; a slave is subject to their master. There are two slave-masters; we may be subject to one master, or subject to the other. If our master is sin, then our slavery is to sinning with corruption as its end. If our master is God, then our slavery is to obedience with godliness ("righteousness") as its end.
v17-18. Paul is thankful that his readers have properly heard the gospel and therefore are transferred from the possession of sin (living in rebellion against God) to the possession of "righteousness" (right-living before God). A person who puts their trust in Christ stands eternally right in the sight of God. Such a person, through the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit, begins to express that righteousness in their lives.
v19a. At this point Paul qualifies his use of the slavery image. A Christian's relationship to God is not at all unjust, humiliating and degrading, as is slavery; it is a service of perfect freedom - liberation.
v19b. So, as free men and women, standing approved before God, Paul encourages us to enslave ourselves, not to "ever-increasing wickedness", but rather to "righteousness", right-living, thus shaping in our lives the "holiness" we possess in Christ. In simple terms, "be what we are." Here then is the nub of Paul's argument: "Righteousness leading to holiness" is a natural by-product of a believer's justification. Willy-nilly sinning is not the fruit of justification.
v20. On the other hand, a person who is a slave to sin is quite unable to live a righteous life. Paul would certainly have in mind his law-bound critics who think that Biblical law has the power to shape holiness in their lives, when in fact, it only ever makes sin more sinful.
v21. As slaves to sin, their end is death.
v22. As for the "slaves to God", those who have been set free from sin, set free from its condemnation and its power under the law, the return we get leads to sanctification and ultimately eternal life.
v23. In summary then, the end of sin is death, the end of grace is life.
It's all too simple
Believers have always found it difficult to accept a full understanding of the doctrine of justification since the doctrine, of itself apart from Biblical law, seems to ignore sin. If a believer has already been credited with perfect righteousness for eternity, if all their good works, all their faithfulness to the law of God, cannot in any way either please God, or progress their Christian life, then why worry about sin? why try to do good? Why strive to live a righteous life? Why not sin that grace may abound? cf. v1. Why be fussed by a few sins here or there? cf. v15.
The truth is that not only does our faith in Christ gain God's eternal approval for us, but it results in obedience rather than disobedience; it results in faithfulness, good works. A believer is blessed with the indwelling presence of Christ. The Spirit's compelling love, when activated through the instrument of faith, leads the believer, not to a life of sin, but to a life of grateful service to God. Sure, we will fail, and sometimes fail badly, but our whole orientation will be toward faithful service, to be that person we are already in Christ.
If there is nothing we can do to make God either love us more or less, why bother trying to please him?