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2 Ways to Live

January 29, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans

Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 6:15-19



We live in a world that talks constantly about individual autonomy. From philosophy classes to Hallmark cards to Disney movies, we are constantly told not to let society at large, parents, schools, or religion tell you what you should be. Choose your own path. Therefore, our great stories romanticize the person who breaks free of every social restraint and responsibility to be who they want to be.

Many of them are very compelling. We don’t like responsibility, and we don’t like people telling us what to do. Who doesn’t sometimes feel the urge to break free from restraint and just be who I want to be?

But ironically, we can only think this way because someone chose to love us sacrificially instead of living solely for themselves. It’s not hard to see that a society built on love and responsibility will exceed one built on radical autonomy and individualism. Radical autonomy is selfish, dark, and destructive.

But is it even possible? Can anyone truly break free from all restraint, clearly see the best path to happiness, and pursue it with reckless abandon? Paul answers in today’s passage (read). True autonomy is simply impossible.

But to fully appreciate this, we must set the passage in context. Remember that Romans 6 consists of two major sections which each begin with an important question. The first question is in v. 1. In other words, if God’s grace will always be greater than whatever sin I may commit, then what’s the point of fighting sin? Paul answered in vv. 2–14 that continuing in sin denies God’s fundamental intent in the gospel to free us from sin and to form his righteousness in us. Therefore, notice the promise in v. 14.

It’s a powerful conclusion. But God knows the weasel in all of us, and he knows how sinners will twist this grand conclusion. Therefore, v. 15 asks a 2nd important question that Paul will answer in vv. 15–23 (read).

I.  The Question (v. 15)

This question anticipates a foolish response to the assertion in v. 14, “You are not under law but under grace.” Last week we saw that this means that Christians no longer live under the OT law, which told people what to do but gave them no power to do it. Instead, we live in the age of grace. In Christ, we have the power to overcome sin and pursue genuine righteousness.

It’s an awesome truth, but unfortunately, people often twist the age of grace into something very different from what God intends. The basic question Paul anticipates is this. If the death of Christ set aside the OT law, does that mean God no longer expects us to obey rules and we are free to pursue sin? Did the death of Christ free us from the need to pursue holiness? Does grace mean I am autonomous, free to do whatever I want?

It’s a very relevant question because many modern Christians believe v. 15 even if they wouldn’t admit it. They understand freedom from the law to mean that God has largely opened the floodgates and given us the freedom to create whatever Christian life we think is best.

For example, I had a conversation recently with a woman who claimed to be a Christian and had apparently been in an evangelical church for some time. But she really wanted me to convince her boyfriend to move back in with her so that they could continue an immoral relationship. I was stunned that she assumed I would be supportive. Many professing Christians believe that grace frees them from obligation to God’s commands.

Sure, that’s an extreme example, but I could cite plenty of lesser examples that bleed into churches like ours. Many Christians justify profanity, immodesty, ungodly entertainment, and other things by sweeping them under the rug of grace. They believe grace gives a level of autonomy.

Is that true? Paul thought you may ask. Notice his answer in vv. 15b–16.

II.  The Answer (vv. 15b–16)

Paul first answers with the emphatic, “May it never be.” You could also say, “Perish the thought” or “God forbid” that we would use grace to excuse sin. It is reprehensible that anyone would draw such a conclusion.

Then v. 16 follows with Paul’s primary reason why grace does not give us autonomy to do as we please. I’d like to break his argument down into three truths. First…

Everyone is a slave. In other words, no one is truly autonomous. Instead, everyone is a slave, and you can only choose between two masters. You can either choose to be a slave of sin or a slave of God.

Now Paul will note in v. 19 that slavery is an imperfect analogy. That’s what he means when he says, “I am speaking in human terms.” Every analogy breaks down at some point. In this case, serving God doesn’t have any of the negative connotations of slavery. That’s because God is not a cruel, greedy master. Instead, he is a loving Father who always pursues our good.

As a result, don’t get stuck on the analogy. Instead, focus on the point. You must choose between two masters. You can either choose to be a slave of sin, or you can choose to live in service to God. There is no third option where I am my own master, where I am autonomous.

Paul got this fact from Jesus who said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (or any other rival with God)” (Matt 6:24). There are only two ways to live. Jesus also said that the unbeliever is not truly free when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).

But maybe you aren’t sure you buy that. Most unbelievers don’t look like slaves. They look free, like they are doing whatever they want, and like no one is telling them what to do. How can Jesus and Paul say they are slaves?

First, it’s worth saying that the culture is lying when it claims it wants to help you be free. It can talk all day about giving you freedom, but the moment you reject their philosophies, they will jump down your throat and demand your allegiance. You better believe it’s a religion.

That said, aren’t unbelievers making free choices? It is true that they generally do what they feel like doing, but the problem is that their feelings are the fruit of an evil game of Satanic manipulation.

We live in God’s universe, and we are accountable to him. However, sin blinds people to this reality, and sin enslaves them by deceiving them. They think they are free, but sin is truly pulling the strings. Therefore, it leads them down a path of destruction while blinding them to its end. Unbelievers are not free; they are deceived slaves. Everyone is a slave. The second truth in v. 16 is that…

Your life reveals your master. This is important because many people think that simply calling yourself a Christian makes you one. But God says that what really matters is not what you claim be true but how you live.

Verse 16 states, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey.” The point is simple. If you live enslaved to sin, sin is your master. But if you are striving to obey God, God is your master.

I want to emphasize the word striving because whenever this issue comes up, sensitive souls immediately focus on every sin issue in their lives. Every failure becomes a reason to doubt your salvation.

But we know that v. 16 does not demand perfect obedience because every command in Romans 6 assumes that we still must make a lot of spiritual progress. No one obeys God perfectly. So, don’t let Satan use this verse to create doubt that God didn’t intend.

That said, a true Christian longs to please the Lord, and he strives to do so. Therefore, if that’s not your heart, and you are just playing the game, it should be concerning. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:20). Genuine faith always includes a heart to please the Lord, even as we often fall short. Your life reveals your master. The third truth of v. 16 is that…

Your master reveals your eternal destiny. Verse 16 concludes, “Either of sin…” Verse 23 is clear that Paul is ultimately thinking of 2 eternal destinies (read). So, v. 16 is saying that the slave of sin is on his way to hell, and the slave of righteousness is on his way to heaven.

I must be clear that v. 16 is not saying that we can earn eternal life by pursuing righteousness. Verse 23 states that we earn hell, but God gifts us heaven. Only the blood of Christ received by faith can give you a home in heaven. Obedience does not determine my eternal destiny; it reveals it.

That said, v. 15 asks, is it okay for Christians to live in sin since we are under God’s grace? Paul answers, absolutely not. If sin is your master, you will face God’s eternal judgment. That’s very heavy, but it is so important because I’ve talked with many people who have no interest in truly obeying Christ, but they have no doubt that they are right with God and headed to glory. Please don’t fall for Satan’s lie. He would love for you to think you are fine when you are not. True Christians strive to obey. We are slaves of righteousness. And v. 19 will say that we must live it out.

I realize that’s heavy stuff. If you are spiritually weak and immature, it might be crushing. But aren’t you thankful that Jesus knows our weakness and is patient toward it. Therefore, right after drawing a line in the sand in v. 16, vv. 17–18 follow with strong encouragement.

III.  The Encouragement (vv. 17–18)

It seems like Paul knew that some of Romans may also be intimidated by v. 16. Therefore, Paul reminds them of how God’s grace had already been active in their lives.

This isn’t the only time the Scriptures do this. God often follows his strongest warnings about the need to live out our faith with great encouragement. For example, Hebrews 6:1 –8 is one of the strongest warnings in the Bible for professing Christians. But v. 9 follows, “Beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” Hebrews 10 offers a similar encouragement.

So, it’s worth emphasizing that yes, the NT consistently teaches that the fruits of your life are a vital reflection of whether or not you are truly saved. But generally speaking, when God lists the fruits that will be evident in a Christian, his goal is not to create doubt but assurance. That’s the point of 1 John. He lists several fruits in order to help us see evidence of spiritual life. The point is that we would know that we have eternal life.

That’s what Paul is doing here. He stops to rehearse what God had done in the Romans, and what he has done in every genuine believer. He does this because we easily forget, but we must remember. First, we were all once…

We were slaves to sin. When God found us, we were not lovely and attractive. All of us were born slaves to sin and bound for hell. But then God’s Spirit did a mighty work to break the chains of sin. He opened our eyes to the glorious beauty of Christ, and notice how we responded. “You became…”

We obeyed the gospel. This is an interesting description of what it means to get saved. Notice how God-centered it is. First, the “thanks” does not go to us, but to God because he is the one who saves.

As well, it’s not clear in English, but the Greek is very clear that the last verb is not saying we committed to the teaching of the gospel, but that God committed us to “that form of teaching.” In other words, at conversion, the Spirit creates a responsive heart that submits to Christian truth. He is the one who ultimately moved me from being a slave to sin to a slave of God. He made me “a new creature in Christ.”

As a result, I “became obedient from the heart.” That’s an interesting way to describe conversion. The gospel isn’t a command is it? Isn’t it merely an offer of a gift? Actually, you can’t receive Christ without responding to his lordship in repentance. Therefore, the gospel includes the command to submit to Christ’s lordship.

And praise the Lord that the Romans had done that. God obeyed the gospel based on God’s work. And every Christian in this room should also remember and rejoice in God’s gracious work. He loved you when you didn’t love him. He sought you when you despised him. He transformed your life and your eternity. And finally, v. 18 reminds us…

We became slaves of righteousness. Notice once again the initiative of God. When the Romans got saved, God “freed (them) from sin.” He doesn’t mean they stopped sinning entirely. Remember that when sin is in the singular, it generally refers to sin’s enslaving power. So, God broke sin’s stranglehold.

And he also made them “slaves of righteousness.” Leon Morris says, “Those set free do not wander in a moral vacuum. They are slaves to righteousness.” We belong to God. We serve a new master.

Again, Paul’s purpose in vv. 17–18 is to encourage the Romans by reminding them of what God had already done in their lives. That’s why he begins v. 17 with “thanks be to God.” They could look back and see evidence of God’s work. He opened their eyes to the gospel and set them on a different path.

We should be encouraged the same way. Yes, slavery to God and righteousness sounds intimidating. How can I possibly live up to this text? Remember what God has already done. He drew you to himself. Think of all the times he has convicted you of sin and notice how much he has changed you. God is at work. So, remember what he has done. Give thanks. Be encouraged.

And if you have never received Christ, I pray that you will experience the journey that vv. 17–18 lay out. It doesn’t matter how religious you are what kind of family you came from. Without Christ, we are all “slaves of sin.” But Christ can rescue any sinner from that slavery and give him new life that will transform your life today and for all eternity.

You don’t do anything to earn it; instead, you simply come to Christ with empty hands and receive, as v. 23 states, “the free gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Please receive him today. The gospel is a truly great treasure.

Returning to the text, Paul has asked an important question. He answered the question in v. 16. Then he pauses to give great encouragement in vv. 17–18. Give thanks for what God has done. But don’t stop there. God’s work must lead to your work. Notice the challenge in v. 19.

IV.  The Challenge (v. 19)

Last week, I talked about the tension between the indicative and the imperative. We see it again between vv. 18, 19. God made me a “slave of righteousness.” But that doesn’t mean I’m already perfect or that spiritual growth just happens apart from my effort. No, I must apply what Christ has provided.

Specifically, just as I once “presented (my members) as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness,” God now commands me to “present your members as slaves to righteousness.” That’s the same verb Paul used in v. 13, and he will use it again in 12:1. It pictures someone presenting an offering at the altar. I am to present my “members” (my body but really all of me) as a “reasonable sacrifice to the Lord.”

But notice that this time, Paul doesn’t say to stop presenting yourself to sin and to instead present yourself to God. He says “just as…” He draws a comparison. The believer must serve righteousness with the same devotion that he once served sin. We aren’t in this halfheartedly. No unbeliever should pursue sin more passionately than a Christian pursues God.

Can you say that? Think of how zealously some of your friends live for themselves. Do you pursue God with the same passion? I hope that you do.

We must do so because notice the contrasting ends of both lives. First, pursuing lawlessness simply results in “further lawlessness.” Satan wants us to believe that lawless is the way to live. That’s freedom and autonomy which will breed happiness and joy.

But the lawless person is not truly free; he is enslaved to sin and deception. And rather than leading to joy; lawlessness only spirals into further destruction.

We talked about this last summer in Romans 1. One of God’s deadliest judgments is to not restrain man’s rebellion. What we think is autonomy is instead a march to pain, misery, and destruction. We see the evidence all around us. Rebellion against God only multiplies. As a result, the world is not getting happier; it’s increasingly lonely, angry, depressed, and unsatisfied. Lawlessness is not a path to freedom; it is a path to misery.

In contrast, God promises that pursuing righteousness “results in sanctification.” We’ve been conditioned to think that sanctification is not a reward; it’s a means to a reward. It leads to the eternal rewards and all the truly good stuff of heaven. And maybe if we are really serious about sanctification, God will also give us some good stuff here, like health, wealth, and fame.

But sanctification (which is simply another word for holiness) is itself a great reward because God’s greatest blessings are through sanctification. Namely, holiness enables us to glorify God to the fullest capacity as we were made to do. And holiness alone brings us into the nearest presence of our Savior and into all his goodness and grace. “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps 16:11).

Deceitful lusts might make holiness look distasteful, but a right view of the goodness and glory of God will make holiness look beautiful while causing sin to turn our stomachs in disgust.


I began by noting that our world dangles autonomy before us as an attractive, all-satisfying path. We can be so drawn to its appeal that we convince ourselves of nonsense like the idea that God’s grace frees us to pursue a level of autonomy. But God says there’s no such thing. Everyone has a master. You can choose sin’s tyrannical rule or the loving authority of our heavenly Father. If you have never received Christ, please repent and receive him as Lord and Savior. He will transform your life for the better. And if you are saved, don’t get discouraged. Press forward and Live out the transforming intent of the gospel.

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