Slaves no More
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
7th Sunday in Trinity 2018
July 15, 2018
Romans 6:20 “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.”
This is the second time St. Paul speaks to us about sin in his Epistles from the Lectionary. Although it may seem repetitive, the weight of the topic demands a thorough treatment.
St. Paul speaks to us about being free from righteousness, while we were servants of sin. Recall that we spoke last week about being a “doulous”, a slave or servant to sin. We mentioned that since we were no longer servants to sin because of Jesus, sin had no power over us. We were to count ourselves dead to sin, but alive to new life in Christ. We also mentioned that while sin still occurs for all of us, sin’s power of captivity had been broken. This is good news.
Today, we hear that when we were servants to sin, we were free from righteousness. What a fascinating concept! It is probable that most of us have never thought of ourselves being a servant (or slave) to anything. Now, here comes St. Paul and tells us that we either are, or have been, slaves to sin; that being the case, we were free from righteousness. Calvin tells us: “This is the liberty of the flesh, which so frees us from obedience to God, that it makes us slaves to the devil. Wretched then and accursed is this liberty, which with unbridled or rather mad frenzy, leads us exultingly to our destruction."[i]
Personally, we are very careful about any personal protestations of righteousness, for several reasons. Among them is the fear of being a hypocrite, for as soon as one proclaims himself righteous, a personal act of some sort gives evidence to the contrary. Thus, hypocrisy. Also, according to Isaiah, our supposed righteousness is but “filthy rags” to God. The more we grow in grace, the more apparent God’s Holiness becomes to us. One of the great paradoxes of the Christian Faith is that the more holy we become, the more sinful we feel.
There is a kind a righteousness that we can claim, without fear. That is the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Why imputed? We can do nothing truly pure or good, but Christ already has. The Father imputes righteousness to us because of Him. Thus, we can claim it without hesitation. What a blessed relief! We need not feign righteousness, or struggle to appear so. We simply accept the righteousness of Jesus with joy and gratitude.
We are called to have a new master. One commentator says, “As the same metal becomes a new vessel, when melted and recast in another mould, so the believer has become a new creature.”[ii] Rather than being the rebels we were before, free from righteousness, now we are the servants to righteousness in Christ.
St. Paul describes a dualism. One path leads to separation from God. The other path leads us to eternal life with Him. Paul asks, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” If we continue to be slaves to sin, we know the result. It is not a happy conclusion to our earthly lives.
On the other hand, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
We have a new orientation. This new way leads to fruit unto holiness, which is the opposite of the fruit of sin; namely a tortured conscience or a feeling of dis-ease with God. Sin does this, if our consciences are not seared by sin. The fruit of holiness is different. We have more peace, and godly love for ourselves.
The apostle ends the section with a startling, but true phrase: (Romans 6:23) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Going to the Greek, “wages” here is ovyw,nion (opsonion), meaning the wages given to a soldier for service. What a thought! Those who truly serve sin, or have become its soldiers, are paid back with death. Not a good bargain.
Rather than making this bad bargain, we have something better (Romans 6:23) “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We are not soldiers to sin, but rather like Hymn 552 (Silver Street) says, “Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armor on; Strong in the strength that God supplies thro’ his eternal Son.”
We have righteousness; not of ourselves, but of Christ. We are not free from this, nor do we want to be. Instead, we accept gratefully our wages of righteousness, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.