Do you ever get frustrated when you are trying to get through some point to a person, whether younger or older, who doesn’t understand an important point that you are trying to get them to understand? I often see it in the eyes of young people, or grandchildren when they are trying to explain something online or on the computer to a person who really has no grasp of the computer or how to use it. I get the feeling when reading through Romans 6 that Paul had some of those same feelings of frustration with the Christians in the first century. There were so many fundamental truths of Scripture that he had preached to them and tried to help them understand that, for some reason, just were not being grasped by many of those who heard or read his messages. Look at verses 15-18 and see if you don’t feel some of that frustration. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness.”
In my mind I see Paul as he sits down writing these words thinking to himself, “Why in the world is this so hard for them to get?” Yet, the whole point he makes is one that challenges us in our own time. It is pretty easy to hear a Christian excusing their wrong actions by saying, “We are under grace now, so it will be alright.” Any concept that leads to the thinking that grace simply covers over my sin and I can be right with God while living in ways that totally reject God’s authority, is deeply flawed. Paul’s words were, “By no means!” I imagine his face getting somewhat red as he declared, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves to someone you are the slaves on the one you obey – whether sin that leads to death or obedience that leads to righteousness.” Rather than grace excusing my sin, it should motivate me to be more faithful and true to God. It should lead to a deeper commitment to be obedient to him. Our obedience to God leads to righteousness in our lives.
I suspect that some who read this passage in the first century and every century since have seen the concept of being slaves and that leads to obedience to God, as an invalid picture. Since we have freedom in Christ, how can we be slaves? But God does call us to such a deep commitment to him that we are ready to follow his lead and obey his commands in every part of our lives. But Paul’s continuing words on this point clarify something that can easily be missed. He thanks God that while they used to be slaves of sin that they have now become slaves of righteousness. But how does one make such a huge transition in life? It happens when we “Obey from the heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.”
Obedience to God isn’t that kind of resentful, begrudging kind of obedience that submits in actions but in their heart they continue to fuss about it for a long time. Do you remember times when your parents demanded some action on your part and you obeyed but was angry about it for a long time? God calls us to obey from the heart. With Christmas season approaching, think of how it feels when you receive a gift from your marriage partner, that leaves the impression they bought it but hated every minute of it? The gift doesn’t mean much if it feels like the giver gave resentfully and hated doing so. It means a ton more, when the partner lovingly, gives with all their heart. Our obedience to God is to be such that it is obvious to the Lord that our whole heart is in the gift. It is that attitude that I will do exactly what God tells me to do, wishing I could do more or better.
Notice also it is obeying the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. I wonder if he was thinking of when a person out of faith and repentance, commits their life to God by being baptized into him. Being buried in the water and raised to a new life in him carries with it tons of symbolism. It is truly a pattern of the teaching that puts to death the old way of life and buries that person to raise up a new man to live a brand new kind of life in him. Earlier in verses 3-4 he made the point that when we are buried with Christ in baptism and are raised with him to live a whole new kind of life in him. It is an entering into the death and burial of Jesus along with him. It shouts the need for revival, New life and a new start in Christ.
When we go through this obedience to God it involves dedicating ourselves to the Lord. He has our allegiance. We are set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Far too often baptism is seen as just a step to be taken to get into the church or to demonstrate our faith. But it goes deeper than that. It is a heart moving the action to devote ourselves totally to Christ as his slaves. Righteousness becomes our goal all the time. Instead of looking for a way out or a way around some of the teaching God has given us, we are committed to following his will all the time in every situation. It isn’t reluctant slavery but one we volunteer for and we are committed to with all our being.
Many years ago a young man won the gold metal in pole-vaulting. After receiving the award he was asked how he jumped so high for the trophy. He answered, “I just throw my heart over the pole and the rest of me follows.” That is a great illustration of the commitment we make to Jesus our Lord.