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12/21/04 (Candlelight Service)
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 6, and follow along as I read verses 15-18. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
15 What then? Should we 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, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,
18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Our religion, our real religion, is not only what we profess, but what we live. Unfortunately, many people profess one thing and live another. This does not mean that they are hypocrites. A hypocrite is a person who consciously says one thing and does another. Most people are not deliberate hypocrites. They are simply unaware that what they say they believe may not be what they believe.
This is partly the fault of the church, and the preacher. If someone who has never belonged to a church says to me, “OK, I want to join your church. What do I need to do?” I reply, “You need to meet with the Session and make your profession of faith in Jesus Christ”—which implies that Christianity is saying that we believe in Jesus Christ, and I can almost hear the Apostle Paul shouting across 2000 years, “No, it is not. Christianity is not saying that we believe in Jesus. Christianity is believing in Jesus.” We can easily say that we believe, but it is something else altogether to believe—because what we really believe is what we live. What we really believe is what we spend the days and hours and minutes of our lives on.
Now it may that we do not have a choice about of what we do. We must eat, we must sleep, we must work. Very little in the way of choice is involved in that. But when we do have a choice, what do we spend our time on? I know that we may have more than one answer to that question. We may have many hobbies, we may have may things that interest us, and that is good because that shows that we are engaged in the process of living, and we are curious about God’s beautiful creation. But ask yourself this question: when you have a choice with your time, what takes up most of your time and energy. Your answer to that question is your real religion.
If, in every spare moment, you have your golf clubs and you are on the way to the golf course, if that is what you are thinking about all the time and that is what you would rather be doing, then that is what you worship. Or again, if in every spare moment, all you can think about is getting more money and buying more stuff and having more things, then that is what you worship.
To bring home this spiritual truth, the Apostle Paul uses the figure of a slave. Now to us, slavery seems like something from long ago and far away. Moreover, as a free people, slavery is something that cannot think well of. But that was not Paul’s attitude. The Roman Empire of Paul’s time had few machines, and lots of slaves. It was a slave society. A large percentage of the population of the empire was enslaved. So it was natural that Paul in expounding Christian doctrine would think in terms of slavery.
The slave belonged to his master. His master could use him or misuse him, could even sell him. Thus we read of Joseph in Genesis 39:1: “Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” Joseph was sold as a slave, and he was absolutely in the power of his master. That is the way slavery worked. Now Paul is speaking about spiritual slavery. His point is that when we devote ourselves to something, we, in effect, put ourselves in its power and make it our master. V16: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey.” the Greek word for present here is paristanete—which also means to yield ourselves, to dedicate our selves, to consecrate ourselves. Paul says, “Don’t you know that when you consecrate yourself to something, you belong to it. You have made yourself its slave.”
Now there are probably millions of different things that we could consecrate ourselves to, but Paul sums up all these things in terms of two slaveries. He says that we are either slaves “of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.” Under slavery to sin, Paul would put all that is bad, all that is unhealthy, all that tears down, all that does harm to people. Under slavery to righteousness, he would put all that is good, all that uplifts, all that unites, all that is love. If then we would know whose slave we are, we have only to look at the evidence of our lives. If we have no concern about right or wrong, if we devote ourselves to things that weaken our reason, harden our conscience, and obscure our sense of God, then the evidence is that we are enslaved by sin.
Jesus said the same thing in John 8:34: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” If that is what we are doing, if that is the kind of life that we are leading, then that is our master.
Now we were once all slaves to sin. That is sin ruled us so thoroughly that it was the dominate force in our lives. And that is where most people still are. Sin is their master, sin is their god. And they are content for it to be that way, because they do not think that they are slaves at all. They think that it is those who believe in Jesus who are bound up with things that they cannot do. Those Christians, they would say, are slaves to Jesus. On the other hand, those who are slaves to sin would say that they are free to do anything that they want. But, in fact, the only thing they are free to do is to sin.
We were once all slaves to sin, but when we believe upon Jesus, we share in his death and that is the death of our slavery to sin. Thus, Paul says, in RM6:11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” By taking to ourselves the power of Christ, we are no longer under the law of sin and death, but under the law of right living and living forever. We are bathed in the love and goodness of God, and Paul says in RM6:4, we “walk in newness of life.”
This new life is not just something that we profess to have. It is something that we actually have, and we can tell we have it by the way we devote ourselves to it. That is to say, we can tell if we really have Christ by the way we obey Christ. RM6:17 “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.” This is a description of conversion. Conversion is a change of attitude that leads us to devote ourselves to the gospel, which have been delivered unto us. We are to obey, v17 says, “from the heart.” Thus, conversion is not only saying that we believe. Conversion is real belief that is worked out in our lives, for what we believe in our hearts is what we live.
In v18, Paul goes on to describe this real belief in Jesus, saying, “And that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” That is what conversion is. It is first of all a freedom from the service of sin; it is the shaking off of that yoke and resolving to have no more to do with it. Secondly, conversion produces a determination to devote ourselves to the cause of Christ. When we are made free from sin, it is not that we may live as we would, but rather that we might live as Christ would have us live.
Now conversion may be quick or slow, gradual or instantaneous. Different people respond in their own unique ways to the call of Christ, but however it occurs, conversion is the dividing line between the two slaveries. Conversion is a change of masters, which means tht we no longer want to have anything to do with our former master.
Thus, RM6:15 may be taken almost as a statement of astonishment: “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Jesus is now our friend. Shall we be such evil and ill-natured people that having received such kindness from our friend that we will go out of our way to deliberately insult him? Jesus has opened his arms to receive us, shall we spit in his face? Paul says that the answer is obvious, we shall not.
We shall not continue in sin when we have a new master. Thus, a Christian tries to live as far from sin as possible and as close to Jesus as possible. Unfortunately, we must admit that we never truly succeed. When we accept Christ, we cast off slavery to sin so that we are no longer dominated by sin, but something of our former slavery always remains with us and tries to regain its authority over us. Thus, as long as the Christian remains in this world, we are tempted to sin, and if we are not careful, we can fall into sin.
The ancient Chinese Ying-Yang symbol illustrates this truth. The symbol is a circle that is equally divided into white and black. But over in the white side there is black dot, and over in the black side there is a white dot. The Ying-Yang symbol has a number of meanings, but one is this: there are two slaveries, the white of Christ and the black of Satan. If we choose the black, a little white dot of Christ remains in us to prick us and let us know that we are going the wrong way. If we choose the white, a little balck dot of Satan remains in us to tempt us to sin.
The Ying-Yang symbol shows us that the Christian faces an ongoing spiritual way for his soul. We have chosen Jesus, but the devil still seeks to overcome us and to defeat us. But we do noth have to be defeated. Jesus frees our will from the domination of sin, and we can successfully oppose sin. Before we belonged to Jesus, we could not oppose sin—because we were slaves to sin, but, in Christ, that is not longer so. Now we are in the covenant of grace, and we have a strength beyond our strength, so that we can resist temptation and overcome sin. Thus it becomes our part and our responsibility to do just that.
When we speak of Jesus and the devil, we speak of powerful spiritual forces that may seem to be altogether beyond us, but not so. We always have our part to play. Thus, Paul says in v16, “if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves.” Sinners volunteer for slavery to sin. The devil does not make us do it. The figure that Paul paints is not of the devil as a wicked slavemaster hauling us off kicking and screaming in chains. The figure is of the devil calling to us and of us willingly answering his call. But we do not have to answer that call. Christ calls also. We can follow Christ and become his people.
Thus, whichever slavery we chose, no one puts us in that slavery and no one keeps us in that slavery, except we ourselves. Do not blame God. Do not blame the devil. We make our own choice. We are responsible for our own destiny. If we are enslaved to sin, it is not because we are overwhelmed by dark forces. It is because we chose to be overwhelmed by those forces, and we can choose otherwise.
This is what the Parable of the Prodigal Son in LK15 is about. All the decisions of the prodigal—to ask for his inheritance, to leave his father’s hours, to waste his money on “riotous living”—all of those were his decisions, and h e wound up as a pigkeeper—which is the lowest job of the lowest slave. He wound up in the worst possible slavery, because that is what he decided to do. Then he made another decision. He said, I will go back to my father’s house. Whatever he does to me, after wasting all my money, it cannot be as bad as this. And as soon as he goes back to the father, he is accepted.
As soon as we make our decision to turn back to God, we are accepted. So the process of conversion does not need to focus on God’s acceptance of us, that is a given. What the process must focus on is our choice about which master we prefer.
Now some people hold back from committing themselves to God because of a false idea about the two slaveries. They say that they do not want to be slaves at all. They say that slavery to God or slavery to the devil is no choice at all, since it is still slavery, and no one wants to be a slave. But we must realize that Paul is using the example of slavery as a symbol of certain spiritual realities, and we should not push the symbol too far. Our slavery to God is not a slavery of whips and chains; rather, it is the relationship of a dependant child to a loving father. Thus, Jesus speaks of coming to God as a little child. We are to trust God with a complete childlike trust and obey God in everything. And yes that does mean that we are God’s slaves, but there I snothing bad or unpleasant about this slavery. God acts toward us as our great parent, which means that God wants the best for us and gives us the best.
This brings us then to the rewards of the two slaveries. In v21, the Apostle Paul asks, “So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed?” what were the rewards you had for serving the devil? What is the bottom line? What is the profit of sin? And Paul tells us in that same verse what the bottom line is, saying, “for the end of those things is death.” The result of having sin as master is death. Sin numbs the soul. Sin whittles away at our spiritual power, and if we continue in that way, the result must be death.
To drive home the point, Paul says in v23, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is what a sinner works for. Now of course no sinner would admit that, but that is what he has devoted himself to. But to those who have devoted themselves to Christ, Paul says, “the gift of God is eternal life.” Notice the difference. Paul says: what the sinner has earned by his sin is hell, bue Paul does nto say that the saint has earned heaven. Rather, heavne is the gift the saint has because he is already in God’s house. By our decision to reject sin and accept holiness, we are in God’s house, which is to say that we are in God’s favor. Thus, we receive gifts from God. We receive the gift of eternal life.
Are you ready to receive God’s gifts? Have you accepted Christ as master of your heart and ruler of your life. This is our choice. What choice have you made? Will it be heaven or hell for you? Will it be Christ or Satan for you? Make your choice. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/28/04