This chapter is so very thick with meaning. It has applications to our daily lives and it is simply astounding that it is still relevant after having been written so long ago. Its relevance is a testament to its divine authorship. Who else but God could have handed to His creation something so deep and powerfully meaningful? This chapter pulls us out of our physical state and speaks to us on spiritual terms, waking us up to the spirit inside of us and how to direct it to God.
The previous chapter ended with the exposition that the law was put in place to reveal man’s sin. The law, being inadequate to remove our sins, was replaced by the law of grace under God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the context for the beginning question of this chapter: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul answers his own question with an emphatic “Certainly not!” The passion here comes from the onus that is put on us to appreciate the free gift of salvation from God through Jesus and not to deny the effort and impact of the event by continuing in our sin. How could we, with clear consciences, continue in sin knowing of the perfect and sinless sacrifice that was offered on our behalf?
In verses 1-14, the instruction consists of the following primary ideas:
- The importance and meaning of baptism
Through baptism we receive the blessings of Jesus Christ: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” These verses make it plain: how are we to come in contact with salvation through Jesus if not through baptism? There is also an idea here about how we are changed through salvation, with Jesus as our model. Note the comparison of Christ’s death and raising to our own spiritual death in the waters of baptism, only to raise up with new life.
- The importance of leaving sin behind
Once we have our new life in Christ, sin has no part in it. A theme is begun here on slavery to sin, which is a component of the bigger idea that we are meant for service. One way or another, you will serve a master and this essence boiled down is the idea that we will serve either God or Satan, either righteousness or sin. These two macro ideas of course have many subtexts and serving Satan can look a lot like NOT serving Satan due to the trickery of temptation and the infinite guises of righteousness that sin can take. Serving righteousness is often simpler but also more difficult. Our encouragement here is to point our hearts, minds, spirits, actions, purpose, and energies toward God and away from self, from fruitless distractions, and from influences without a godly component. A good rule of thumb here to get us started can be taken from Phillippians 4:8-9: “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
- Use your abilities in the service of God
The language in verse 13 is fresh and compelling: “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The vague meaning of “instruments” is intentionally wide-reaching. The ideas are building on Christ’s raising from the dead. Now that we have been baptized into Jesus Christ’s death, we are encouraged to use all of our faculties for good. This includes our mental skills, our physical energies, our limbs, our speech, our feet, our words, our kindness. Free will means freedom of thought, movement, and action. God has bestowed us with this blessing that feels all too common to us. The “radical” idea here is to use our freedom to honor our Creator. We are meant to ask ourselves: What rules my body? Is it my desire to follow God or do I give my physical desires free reign to rule my body? What rules my thoughts? What do I care about? What concerns me? All of these questions, answered honestly, will give us an indication of where we are spiritually with our God. Am I near to Him or am I drifting away?
Verses 15-23 play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Since we have God’s grace that forgives sin through our relationship with Jesus, this means that all of our sins, past and future, are bound to be forgiven! Right!? Wrong. Paul explains to the Romans here (and not so gently) that since they are now in the relationship with Jesus, they have now become slaves of righteousness, having been set free from sin. Returning to willful sin dissolves the relationship of grace from God through Jesus Christ, for as we know from Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Here again is the responsibility we have to use our faculties in service to God, and not to simply bask in His grace, hoping for forgiveness: “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” The message is clear: after we believe and commit ourselves to God through Jesus, we are to serve God with the physical, mental and spiritual gifts with which He has blessed us.
As the chapter concludes, Paul follows the logical result of the paths of sin and righteousness. The fruits and wages of sin are death, pure and simple. But when we pursue righteousness and virtue, we receive holiness and everlasting life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Put in these terms, the right choice to pursue righteousness and turn away from sin is obvious. It is easy to see, but difficult to practice. I pray for our success as slaves of righteousness.