16 April 2016

Romans 6:15-23

“But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” (v. 22)

Psalm: Psalm 75:1-7


The notion of slavery is abhorrent to Christians (and to most other thinking people) in the 21st century but in the Roman Empire it was largely accepted as a fact of life. Many slaves were captured in conflict or simply taken from their native lands, but a significant number was of those who sold themselves in order to meet debts that were otherwise unpayable. In a way, therefore, being enslaved was experienced as a form of liberation.

This is the imagery on which Paul draws in this part of Romans. Having decided by accepting Baptism that sin was no longer going to be in charge of their life the Christian had also decided that they would live under a new authority. Paul calls that authority obedience; this gives us what appears to be an odd statement of the obvious - that if one becomes an obedient slave one is a slave to the person one obeys (verse 16). But what Paul's language here does is implicitly highlight that the choice to live obediently, rather than disobediently, seems to be absolutely natural. This is slavery to the good life and it leads to a state of holiness.

Throughout the passages at which we have looked this week, Paul has drawn some stark contrasts - between distrust and faith (Romans 4:20), enemies and the reconciled (Romans 5:10), Adam and Christ (Romans 5:15), condemnation and justification (Romans 5:16), and sin and grace (Romans 6:15). These are mutually exclusive concepts; one can only have one by eschewing the other. Perhaps the starkest of all is the one to which Paul alluded in Romans 5:21 and which he spells out in detail at the end of chapter 6: death and (eternal) life. Once again, Paul makes clear that there are present benefits in living as those united with Christ: after all, he argues, living as sinners only leads to shame. But the fullness of the benefits are yet to be revealed: God is making those who are in Christ holy so that they might share in Christ's eternal life.

To Ponder

  • Once, it was common to see a wayside pulpit or poster on a billboard that bore the legend: "The wages of sin is death". Do you find that a helpful proclamation of the gospel today? If not, why not?
  • Given modern revulsion at the practice of slavery (expressed, for example, in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act), do you find the imagery of being 'slaves to obedience' helpful? Why? If not, how might you express the opportunity and obligation to live as a Christian?
  • Paul uses a number of images to try to make his point about the new life that the Romans have begun in Christ. What other imagesdo you find helpful to express what it means to be a Christian?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..