February 18, 2024


Passage: Romans 6:15-23

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
17 But 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 6:15-23, ESV

I am a Southerner through and through.  I was born and raised in Georgia, educated in Tennessee and North Carolina.  I have served churches in Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas and preached to churches in Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, to conferences in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  My favorite vacation spots are in Florida and Louisiana.  My mother lived for a time in Virginia and I visited her there.  My life has been spent and significantly touched by all thirteen of the old Confederate States of America.

The Old South was, in the words of Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times.  The best was its saturation with Calvinistic Christianity.  Biblical roots ran deep and Reformed churches were the order of the day.  Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians believed the Bible back then, and the fledgling Southern Baptist Convention was a denomination built on the doctrines of grace, reveling in the sovereignty of God while proclaiming the gospel worldwide.  The worst thing about the South, though, was its colossal blind spot, slavery.

President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee should had taken the advice of General James Longstreet who said, “We should have freed the slaves, then fired on Fort Sumpter.”  But, they did not.  Instead, the South tried to sanctify slavery as a state’s right.  When President Lincoln, whose original plan was to ship African-Americans from America back to Africa, discovered most Southerners did not own slaves, and most Northerners did not want slaves, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation to turn the tide of the war to the North.  In the end, the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was passed and slavery was no longer sanctified in the reunited United States.

So you might be surprised to learn today that in the Bible, slavery is still sanctified.  I am not talking about chattel slavery, which the Scriptures clearly classify as an unquestionable evil.  I am not talking about debtor or domestic slavery, which was regulated in the Old Testament and still present in the New.  I am talking about sanctified slavery, whereby a saved person becomes a slave of the Lord, better known by its biblical name, sanctification

Sanctification is the second stage of salvation.  Christians are justified as a gift from God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  One day, when we die or when Christ comes again, we will be glorified in His presence.  Between those two great days, we spend our days as sanctified slaves, or bondservants, to God and His word.  And remember, if you are not being sanctified, then you have not been justified, and you should not expect to be glorified.

The context of sanctification prevails throughout chapters six and seven of Romans,  This text mentions the term twice (vs. 19, 22).  It sanctifies slavery, if you will, as the better of two forms of bondage.  As it turns out, we are all slaves.  But only one kind of slavery is sanctified.

All People are Slaves (vs. 15-16)

Paul begins the second half of chapter six in the same way he started the first half.  He sarcastically and vehemently dismisses those who think they can have justification without sanctification, forgiveness of sin without repentance from sin.  You simply cannot have one without the other.

Then the Apostle pulls out that word, which when translated into English seems most repulsive, slave.  The actual Greek word Paul chose is doulos, which was actually Paul’s favorite word to describe himself, a doulos of Jesus Christ.  It is often translated bondservant, which is a little more palatable than slave.  It refers to someone who serves as a slave not by force, but by choice.

God has given to mankind the freedom to choose.  Ironically, we all chose to be slaves.  Paul puts us in one of two camps.  “You are slaves of the one you obey … sin … or obedience.”  Then he puts forth the payoff, which we will put off until the end of the chapter, where the gospel is encompassed in a nutshell.

The point now is we all choose to either rebel against God by being slaves to sin, selfishness, and the violation of Scripture; or, we choose to rebel against Satan and this present world by being slaves to God, by following His Son and obeying His word.  When you accept the gospel and are justified, you proceed to a life of obedience to God.  This is called sanctification.

All Christians are Sanctified (vs. 17-19)

By the same grace of God that justified us by faith, all Christians are sanctified, thanks be to God.  Sanctification here is seen as a switch of slavery.  As a lost person you were a slave to sin, but now as a saved and sanctified person you are a slave of righteousness.  The change is owed to a changed heart.

Justification changes the heart, via spiritual regeneration.  Then in sanctification we “become obedient from the heart.”  As Paul wrote elsewhere, Christians are “bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6).  Heart here is scene as the center of one’s being, which also includes the mind and the will.

A sanctified mind searches out the will of God from the Bible, and from pastors and teachers who know it well.  A sanctified heart loves the word of God, and values God’s will above all other standards.  A sanctified body carries out the will of God, as instructed by the mind and inspired by the heart.  Obedience, purity, righteousness of life is the result.  This is called sanctification.

The Fruit of Sanctification (20-22)

In sanctification there is great warning and great reward.  The warning of sanctification is shame.  The reward of sanctification is eternal life, or glorification.

Shame is a negative word, biblically and socially.  But it has a useful purpose.  Without shame, slaves of sin will remain in their bondage.  They will lie, cheat, steal, engage in immorality, neglect God and the things of God, then say with a straight face, I’m a good person, I’ve done nothing wrong.  Without shame there is no repentance, without repentance there is no justification, without justification there is no sanctification, and without sanctification there is no glorification, only eternal death.

Sanctified people, slaves of righteousness, can still do the unrighteous things they did before they were made righteous by grace through faith in Christ.  However, they cannot do them without shame.  Godly shame leads to repentance, repentance to a right relationship with God and others  Shame is sometimes the evidence that sanctification is still going on in the true Christian.

Because of the bitter fruit of shame, the better fruit of glorification, or eternal life, is something the sanctified can expect to enjoy.  Sanctification is delayed gratification, something this present world knows nothing about.  It will be worth the wait.  It will be infinitely more pleasurable that any sinful pleasure to be had on earth.

The Gospel in a Nutshell (vs. 23)

The chapter closes with one of a handful of verses in the Bible, like John 3:16, that serve up the gospel in a nutshell.  It contrasts the absence of justification, sanctification, and glorification with the gift of all three.

The first half of the verse if for those who choose to be slaves of sin, selfishness, hypocrisy, all who do not want God to rule as Lord over their lives.  Enjoy your sin if and while you can.  There will be no justification to wash it away, no sanctification to restrain you from it, no glorification in the end, only death.

The second half of the verse if for those who are being sanctified, because they have been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore will be glorified, enjoying eternal life with the Lord and His saints, the sanctified, forever and ever.

One of the greatest artists in American history is a Yankee who played the Rebel.  Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota, to Jewish parents, a heritage from which he has never hidden.  In or around 1979, the rebel rock and roller became a Christian, a sanctified servant of the Lord.  His Christian faith is reflected strongly in his song lyrics from that time onward.

His first album after conversion was Slow Train Coming.  The song that got the most play is entitled, Gotta Serve Somebody.  Here is the familiar first stanza and chorus:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Unsaved people serve the devil, whether they know it or not.  Saved people are sanctified slaves, which means they serve the Lord.  Whose slave are you?

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