Continuing from the previous lesson (which provides important context to this article), in Romans 6:19-22, Paul continues with more examples of how messed up it was for the recipients of his letter (i.e., what we have as the book of Romans in the Bible, today) to have served sin in the past, and how much greater the rewards are of serving righteousness (being slaves to God, in a positive sense).
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
Romans 6:19-22 NIV
As mentioned in the previous article, the Romans would have had a good understanding about slavery and servitude, as instituted by the Roman Empire. In the passage above, Paul is using an example that his audience would understand, in order to make a point.
Today, I don’t think that slavery in the first century of the United States’ history (and similar forms of slavery elsewhere in the world and in history) is anywhere close to being a good example what it means to be a slave to righteousness. However, as suggested in the previous article, maybe choosing to work for someone is a reasonable metaphor (even if it is incomplete) for us to start with, instead. Maybe we can come up with a metaphor that helps us envision what it means when we choose to fully serve righteousness, giving ourselves completely over to God’s direction.
In that light, consider this: when we work for someone, we trust them to be good managers and treat us well, in return for giving us the chance to do good for others. Now, even the best boss here on earth isn’t Jesus Christ, and we usually get to go home at the end of a day of work, but maybe this helps us start forming an idea of what it means to serve righteousness. On the other hand, if we sign up for a job where we are verbally and emotionally abused, and where we are asked to do unethical things that harm others; well, that’s kind of like being a slave to sin.
You can decide for yourself if this helps you picture what it means to give your life over to God as your master, following His instructions as you work together with Him to spread His love in this world (which really needs it!).
I think that these verses also provide an answer to those who claim – whether directly or implicitly – that following their own desires (i.e., being selfish and sinful and wicked) is better than following God. You may have heard people say that they think it will be more fun to party with their friends in Hell, or that they only have one life so they are going to do whatever they want with it. These are those who say “YOLO” (You Only Live Once), believing that this life is the best that things will ever be. (Having said that, we do only have one chance to live out our mortal lives, and while God gives us plenty to enjoy on this earth, each of us should make good use of our life in order to make a positive difference in eternity. Following God’s direction is a great way – and perhaps the only way – to achieve this.)
Instead of celebrating the results of selfishness, though, what does Paul ask about the time his readers were “free” from righteousness’ control? To paraphrase Paul (with apologies to Dr. Phil), “How’d that work out for you?” Having come to their senses (see Luke 15:17, which is part of a parable that is discussed further in Who’s the Hero, Here?), these Romans were ashamed of what they had done (as do most people when they realize the depth of their sin). Their previous path was leading them to death. For someone who believes that doing whatever their sinful nature wants is a great way to live, history – and reality – provides countless examples of those who ended up with only regrets.
The good news (given to us by God) delivers freedom from that life, though, and provides holiness to any of us who will accept His gift. Now, I’m not sure if a lot of people who don’t know God are actively seeking holiness. In fact, they might not even know what it means. However, it is an amazing way to live, and I think that all of us can appreciate the benefit of the results of holiness: eternal life (see verse 22).
So, I hope that you have enough faith in God to trust Him completely. This doesn’t just mean that we say that we believe Him. It means that we actually trust Him enough to let Him decide what we will do, for the greater good of His plan. It can be tough to place our decisions in the hands of another, but we cannot do any better than letting God direct our ways.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 6, 2022
- The Lookout, March 6, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.