Under Grace as Slaves of Righteousness


Sermon Text: Romans 6:15-23
Watch Sermon Video: Click HERE to Watch

Main Points:
I. Under grace
II. Slave of righteousness
III. Conclusion: Present your members as slaves to righteousness

The passage we opened and read a minute ago begins with a question, “What then?” And the question continues, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” The answer is a clear negation of the idea, “By no means!

This is a way of speech the Apostle Paul uses especially in Romans when he wants to refine or clarify a particular point he has made earlier. Here, by asking his readers, ‘What then?’, he not only clarifies but also expands the truth he has just taught, that is, Christian’s freedom from sin through faith in Christ Jesus, sin’s disarmament, having no dominion over Christians, and the urge for Christians to present themselves to God.

Nothing’s gone wrong with his explanation of these truths in the earlier part of ch. 6. But he senses that his readers might invent a pretext or excuse for sinning out of the point he had made that believers were ‘not under law but under grace.’ So he goes on in the following verses up to the end of ch. 6, providing a clear explanation of what it means to be ‘under grace’ and how blessed it is to live as ‘slaves of righteousness.’ So, let’s think together about this truth: ‘Under grace as slaves of righteousness.’

We begin with the truth, ‘under grace.’ The apostle teaches that we’re under grace, not under law. With this teaching, we recognise a clear contrast between two, between grace and law. Hearing from the apostle that we’re under ‘grace’ and not under ‘law,’ we grasp that being ‘under grace’ is good and ‘under law’ is bad. Grace sounds like freedom and life whereas law nuances bondage and death; while one is light, the other is darkness; one is happiness and the other curse.

With this impression, some people are confused with the meaning of ‘being under law.’ From their confusion, they’ve developed a negative, if not antagonistic, attitude toward the ‘law’ of the Bible. Paul’s term, ‘being under law,’ does not mean the law written and given in the Bible; it means something else. But some people regard ‘law’ as one evil thing, disregard its contextual meaning, and reject everything that sounds like a ‘law.’ So, they say something like this: ‘Do away with the law stuff, but stick to grace and preach grace only.’ If they hear a preacher preaching on what to do as a saved sinner, they tend to reject that message, pointing it as legalistic. Some extremists in this view tend to reject the OT, claiming it as the book of law and not grace. They reject anything that sounds ‘keeping the law,’ presenting some Bible verses as their proof texts such as Gal. 5:1 which says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” They say that ‘grace’ is ‘freedom’ and ‘law’ is ‘slavery.’

But that’s not what the Lord God through His apostle teaches. ‘Under law’ does not mean under ‘the law’ of the OT or the New as expressed in the form of ‘Do this’ or ‘Do not do that.’ ‘Under law’ means, rather, ‘under the bondage of sin’ which the law of God identifies and reveals clearly under the grace of God. ‘Under law’ means ‘under the bondage of sin.’ ‘Under law’ implies ‘under the curse and damnation of sin’ that the law of God exposes. The apostle’s message is that Christians – you and I – are not under the bondage of sin but under grace.

Truth is that this ‘grace’ is not against ‘law’ and law is not against grace. They are not against each other; rather they’re allies working together for the same purpose. Allies but not as two forces under two separate governments, but under one government. They are not like Royal Australian Army and the US Army, but like Royal Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force. Grace and law stand side by side and fight for the same goal, and what is that goal? To fight against sin and destroy its stronghold! Christian’s joy of victorious life is the result of law and grace working together under one government, under the authority of the Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Law identifies sin; law finds out sin and guides the ‘grace’ of God to come in and destroy it. This is what Rom. 5:20 declares when it says, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass.” Rom. 5:20 further describes the collaboration of law and grace in these words, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” God’s law reveals sin from its hideout, measures its deadly force and serious ill effect so that grace may come in and destroy sin from the hearts of people. V. 20 of our text passage explains the same: “when you were slaves of sin [in other words, when God’s law was not yet active in you], you were free in regard to righteousness [that is, grace was not at work either and the enemy had full control].” Where the enemy is, there grace bombs and fires upon. So, when the apostle asks in v. 15, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”, he means law and grace work together in us and destroy sin and bring victory to all who believe in Jesus Christ. So, we who are under grace cannot sin because God’s law and the grace of the same God work together in us against sin!

So, being ‘under grace’ means loving the law of God, knowing it as the righteous word of God, and as the law reveals all sins from our heart, we repent and delight in obedience to God. Vs. 92-93 of Ps. 119 which we read earlier this morning cannot be understood apart from this truth we’ve just heard. Hear what those verses say which all other verses we’ve read testify and repeat the same truth: “If Your law [that is, God’s law] had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.”

‘Under grace,’ therefore, we Christians live a life of victory over the enemy, that is, sin and death. So, are we who are under grace to sin? By no means!

Having said, we need to focus on what Paul describes all who are under grace. He calls us as ‘slaves of righteousness.’ By calling us ‘slave,’ he focuses on our status in Jesus Christ, that is, we’re wholly and thoroughly bound to Jesus’ righteousness as if we were ‘slaves’ to His righteousness. In fact, he has explained it earlier in 6:1-14, the section we read and meditated three weeks ago. That’s not all; in all of Rom. 5, the apostle taught that all who believed in Jesus were dead to sin and alive in Christ. So, this term, ‘slaves of righteousness,’ is to remind of and emphasise the point he has made, that is, ‘we’re free indeed in Christ and sin no longer reigns over us.’

I want you to have a look at this term, ‘slave of righteousness.’ It’s a strange term. The concepts of ‘slave’ and ‘righteousness’ contradict each other. God sent His Son Jesus to us to free us, to save us from our slavery to sin. Through faith in the Son of God, we’re now free. Then, how could Paul portray us as slaves who are bound without freedom?

You need to understand the historical context of this term ‘slave.’ Some members of the church in Rome to whom Paul wrote this letter were former slaves and some others were masters of their own slaves. That era has long gone, and our time has nothing to do with slavery. Although we occasionally hear about certain extreme relationships between some employers and their employees that might be referred to as slavery, nothing is like the system existent in the first century Roman world. Slaves in that world had no freedom. Although some historical evidence tells us that some slaves were treated well by their masters and could run their own businesses, but still their freedom was so insignificant compared to the concept of freedom we uphold in the 21st century. Zero possibility for them to exceed the boundary set by their masters.

Paul is referring to that ‘zero impossibility’ of slavery when he illustrates Christian’s status in Jesus and relationship with our righteous Lord. This is what he means in v. 19, saying, “I am speaking in human terms.” Of course, Jesus’ righteousness that justifies a sinner, thus, grants him salvation frees the sinner. But Paul wants us to focus on that ‘zero possibility’ Jesus’ righteousness has created in Christians like you and me. We can never lose our Lord’s righteousness imputed to us. His righteousness can never be degraded or even tarnished in us. Once it is given to a believer through faith, once a penitent sinner is saved by Jesus’ righteousness imputed to him/her through faith, that’s the beginning of that Christian’s life in Jesus for eternity. You and I have nothing to do with sin, no relationship with sin at all from the moment of justification. Our slavery to sin has already passed, terminated and gone and forgotten, and now we’re in our new relationship with the righteous Jesus. Jesus broke the dominion of sin over us through His death and established His new relationship with us, our new relationship with Him through His resurrection.

To remind us of this fact, the Lord Jesus has given us the Sacraments we observe, that is, the Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When a sinner is baptised through repentance and faith, when the household of God gather together and receive the bread and the wine from the Lord’s table, we’re reminded that there’s zero possibility for believers to lose our Lord’s favour for that is eternal. So, with this zero possibility, we’re slaves to Jesus’ righteousness.

Because of all these, in other words, because you and I and all who trust in Jesus are ‘under grace,’ because Jesus bound us to be His forever through His righteousness, you and I ought to present our members to God. Our bodily members as well as our non-physical members, such as heart and mind and soul, including our thoughts, emotions, plans, must be presented to God.

Once we were slaves to sin, we gave all our members to sin, didn’t we? Now, having become God’s blessed children, we ought to give all of ourselves to God. We ought to give all to God for two reasons. Firstly, we are sorry to God and feel remorseful for our former way in sin; we didn’t acknowledge the true King and Lord but gave our homage to sin and Satan. And secondly (this is what Paul emphasises here in our text passage), we have no other but God to obey and worship because our former relationship with sin was broken at the cross and new one with Jesus was established on the day of our resurrection together with Jesus the Lord!

Of course, our life as Christians is not that simple; we tend to go back to our old way, sin still seems to be sweet to our eyes. Sometimes, we fall into its temptations. But although we stumble, we must always know clearly that, firstly, we belong to Jesus and our relationship with Him the Lord is permanent and, secondly, our relationship with sin and Satan was completely broken and sin has no power over us. So, we present our members to the Lord.

This presentation is an ongoing and gradual process rather than sporadic events. If you fail today in presenting one of your members to God, you repent from your sin and ask God for His strength and guidance for tomorrow. Such is a blessed and pleasant learning process because in this process you witness God’s love, grace, wisdom and strength. In His providence, you’ll rejoice and, through His goodness, your heart will be comforted and your soul will be firmly established in faith.

In closing, I’d like to read you the words of v. 17 for you to remember as a summary of today’s message; it says, “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.” What a blessed word it is! Having been taken under grace, we’ve now become obedient to God’s word, obedient to the Lord Jesus, as blessed slaves of righteousness’! ***

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