Romans 6:19 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.
Some of the Roman believers were slaves, who had been bought and sold more than once. If they were owned by an evil master, then were bought by a good master, their lives would improve dramatically. Likewise, we used to be slaves to impurity, but then became slaves to righteousness.
The problem with being a slave to impurity is that it leads to ever-increasing wickedness. Some people think that age brings wisdom, and wisdom brings virtue. But according to this verse, that is not true. Apart from divine intervention, wickedness tends to be ever-increasing. If wickedness is a bang, everyone wants a bigger bang.
Adolf Hitler, and others like him, were once beautiful children. But thought by thought, word by word, and deed by deed, they became moral monsters over time. Likewise, it is not uncommon for one spouse to say to the other, You are not the same person I married twenty years ago.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is able to change our moral trajectory. Instead of the downward path that leads to the world below, we travel the upward path that leads to God. 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.
Romans 6:22 [Y]ou have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.
When God’s people were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh was their master, and he cruelly oppressed them. He forced them to make bricks, make more bricks, and make bricks without straw (Exodus 5:18). Then God delivered his people, and he became their master. Unlike Pharaoh, God cared for his people, and loved them as his own. God was a much better master than Pharaoh.
In the Roman world, slavery could be good or bad, depending on who your master was. If your master was evil, it could be terrible. But if your master was kind, wealthy and important, you could be treated like family, earn a good living, and even have status. Being Satan’s slave is miserable and degrading, but being God’s slave is a glorious honor. We have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus had to be killed because the wages of sin is death. It was not enough for him to live a perfect life, teach the word of God, and heal people. It was not enough for him to be mocked, spat on, and have the beard pulled from his face. It was not enough for him to be lashed and crucified. Jesus had to die because the wages of sin is death. Jesus never sinned, of course, but he bore the punishment for our sins, so that we could live forever.
Since the fall of mankind (Genesis 3:6) the two greatest problems in the world have been sin and death. They seem normal to us, but we should imagine a world without them. If not for sin, the earth would cooperate with all our efforts, and we would never die (Genesis 3:16-19). With God’s help, we could create a perfect society with enough wealth for the wants and needs of every single person. That is what Jesus came to accomplish. By solving the problems of sin and death, he solved every other problem as well.
Romans 7:5 [T]he sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us.
Whenever people want to be good, they look around for a code of ethics. The Bible has many commands in the Old Testament, as well as in the New. Even Paul was not afraid to lay down some rules, if he thought they would be helpful.
But Paul knew that sinful passions can be aroused by the law. If you tell your children not to look under the couch, for example, they will have no rest until they look under the couch. And when God says, You shall not . . . part of us says, We’ll see about that.
When I was sixteen years old I spent the summer in Utah, and met some nice Mormon youth. One of their rules was against drinking caffeine, so I was surprised to be invited to an unsupervised party, where they would be drinking Coca-Cola. Some of the kids were even known to drink a six-pack. Most people have no desire to drink that much soda, but since it was forbidden, it had a secret charm. Rules can be helpful up to a point, but they can also backfire due to our sinful nature.
Romans 7:7 For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, You shall not covet.
At one time, Paul was convinced that he was a pretty good person. As he reviewed the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) his conscience was clear regarding (1) having no other gods; (2) having no idols; (3) not misusing God’s name; (4) keeping the Sabbath; (5) honoring parents; (6) not murdering; (7) not committing adultery (8) not stealing; and (9) not lying.
But when he came to the tenth commandment, You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17), Paul knew that he had a problem.
Perhaps his neighbor was healthy, wealthy and wise. Perhaps he had a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, beautiful children, and a beautiful horse. Perhaps he had everything Paul ever wanted; and Paul wanted it badly. This may have seemed fine to Paul, until he read the tenth commandment: You shall not covet. That is where Paul discovered his problem: he was a sinner too.
An important function of the law is to reveal our sin, and need for God’s forgiveness. If the law hadn’t said, You shall not covet, Paul would have thought too much of himself. But when he discovered that he could not keep God’s law, no matter how hard he tried, Paul understood that he had a problem. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10), wrote James.
Romans 7:15 For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Even after he came to Christ, Paul was not perfect. And those he led to Christ were not perfect either. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh (Galatians 5:17), he wrote. The battle against sin will not be over until we die, and we will not be perfect until we are in heaven.
Jesus set the divine standard when he said, Be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), and that should be our goal. But God also knows that we are weak. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14), wrote David.
If we think of God as overly stern, we will come to resent him. But if we think of him as our heavenly Father, full of compassion, we will want to please him the rest of our lives. This is how we grow in grace.
Reflection and Review
Why do people often become increasingly wicked?
Why are sin and death our greatest problems?
What is wrong with having too many rules?