Monday

10 February 2014

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v. 23)


Background

Throughout chapters 5 and 6 the apostle Paul is attempting to describe his understanding of grace in which there are two different realms or in today's language, spheres. One sphere is defined by the law, sin and death whilst the other is defined by grace, righteousness and life. By the law, he is referring to the law of the Hebrew Bible, credited to Moses. By sin he is referring to rebellion against God, whilst it is not clear exactly what he means by death. Grace refers to the idea of a free gift, whilst righteousness is about being holy in God's eyes. Paul's concept of life is as unclear as what he means by death, except that they are in stark contrast to each other.

A common question is 'what comes first: forgiveness or a changed lifestyle?' Paul believed that change is only possible when we first hear that we are forgiven but this always left him open to the charge that he was allowing people to carry on sinning because they knew they were forgiven. He denies this very strongly in verse 15 with the phrase "By no means!"

The rest of the section uses an illustration from slavery. In today's world slavery is usually forced upon people. However, in Paul's time, those in dire poverty would frequently offer themselves as slaves simply to be housed and fed. The point is that there is a choice about which form of slavery we choose. At the same time the illustration reminds us that we cannot simply do whatever we feel like doing. If we are slaves to righteousness, we will not carry on sinning (verse 15).

In verse 20 Paul asks if it is worthwhile to simply swap one form of slavery for another. But for Paul the end of being a slave to sin is death whilst being a slave to righteousness means freedom from the things of which we are now ashamed, the promise of sanctification (being made holy) and eternal life. 


To Ponder

  • How do you feel about being enslaved to God?
  • Of what are you ashamed?
  • Do you believe that God has forgiven you?


Bible notes author: The Revd Jonathan Mead

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